Primary schools in England are holding half-term and Easter holiday revision classes for pupils as young as six to prepare them for standardised tests known as Sats, the Guardian has learned.
The use of holiday “booster sessions” for pupils in year two was robustly condemned by the Department for Education (DfE) and major teaching unions, with one union leader describing them as “an extraordinarily bad idea” with no positive impact.
One primary school in north London has invited its year two pupils to attend voluntary revision sessions during next week’s half-term holiday, well in advance of the tests on maths, literacy and grammar due in May.
Another primary school in Birmingham is offering parents of year two pupils free childcare for the half-term break, combining maths and English revision classes in the mornings with more conventional holiday activities such as sports coaching and cooking lessons in the afternoons.
But the DfE said schools should reconsider holding revision sessions intended to improve Sats results. “Pupils in year two should not be spending their holidays revising for key stage one assessments. They are only used so we can understand how primary schools help pupils to progress. They have no bearing on individual pupils other than showing where they may benefit from additional help,” a DfE spokesperson said. “We trust teachers to administer and prepare for these tests in an appropriate way and this does not include encouraging revision during holidays.”
Chris Keates, acting general secretary of the NASUWT teachers’ union, said: “This extraordinarily bad idea has always very much been the exception rather than the rule across the primary sector. It would, therefore, beggar belief to learn that more schools are considering instituting such programmes.
“Children should have the opportunity to spend their free time playing with their friends and spending time with their families, not stuck in pointless Sats drilling sessions that, in any event, are very unlikely to have any positive lasting impact on their educational progress and achievement.”
The advent of holiday classes before the assessments at the end of key stage one echoes the upsurge in holiday revision for year six pupils sitting Sats at the end of key stage two. One London primary school, part of the Harris Federation multi-academy trust, last year held Sats “booster classes” during the February half-term holiday, attended by pupils in year two, five and six, with the classes running from 9am to 3pm.
Another primary in London held hour-long workshops for parents with pupils in year two “to discuss how you can best support your child in mathematics, reading and writing” in preparation for Sats. Parents were told the school would provide morning and afternoon sessions for invited pupils on school days as well as “Easter school” over the holidays.
A spokesperson for the Harris Federation said: “There is no Harris Federation policy on this type of thing, with leaders making decisions locally according to what they believe is right for their own school communities. Three of our schools have either run these sessions or plan to do so, but the overwhelming majority of our 22 primaries have not.”
The DfE has previously said the tests will cease to be compulsory from 2023, a move supported by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), which represents many primary school leaders.
“The very fact that some schools feel compelled to run key stage one revision classes over the holidays shows exactly why Sats at the end of year two need to be scrapped altogether,” said James Bowen, director of policy at the NAHT. “A high-stakes assessment halfway through a child’s time in primary school is an unnecessary distraction and actually gets in the way of learning rather than supporting it.”
The tests taken at the end of key stage one – when most children will be seven years old – are intended to help teachers assess pupils’ progress. They include two tests in each of maths and reading, lasting from 20 to 50 minutes, and a test of spelling, punctuation and grammar. The tests are marked internally, unlike key stage two Sats.
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said pupils were being subjected to “weeks of test practice” because of the importance placed on Sats results. “As long as the future of a school depends on its Sats scores, the pressure of accountability will often be transferred on to the pupils,” Bousted said.