Tests at primary school ‘have little effect on children’s happiness and wellbeing’

Primary school tests do not seem to have a significant effect on the wellbeing and happiness of children, a study has found.

Research conducted by University College London (UCL), suggested that there was little difference in levels of wellbeing and happiness reported by children, regardless of whether or not they took Key Stage two tests.

Children in Year Six in England (between the ages of 10 and 11), who took Sats tests, did not experience any significant change in how they felt about themselves, their family lives and their school in the weeks surrounding the tests, the study discovered.

Researchers say that there does not seem to be sufficient evidence to support getting rid of Sats tests “on wellbeing grounds,” in spite of calls from both parents and teachers to scrap the compulsory assessments.

The findings follow calls by both campaigners and children to scrap assessments of four and five-year-olds in their initial few weeks of school. Campaigners handed in a petition to Downing Street calling for these such tests to be done away with.

The new Reception Baseline Assessment (RBA) will begin this year, after its rollout was delayed due to the pandemic. It is a one-to-one assessment for pupils in Reception, the first year of school, taken when pupils are aged four or five.

Following a year of disruption in learning and teaching due to the pandemic, a coalition of headteachers, parents and MPs in April called on ministers to pause Sats and all statutory assessments in primary schools in England. This, they said, would give children time to catch up on missed learning.

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The study examined data collected from around 2,500 children who live in England and 600 pupils in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The tests only take place in England, not Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

As part of the study, children were asked a number of questions about how they felt about both themselves, and their lives in the weeks either side of the assessments.

Almost one quarter (24 per cent) of school children in England reported negative feelings towards their schoolwork before the tests. This compared to 28 per cent of children living in the rest of the UK.

This figure did not change significantly in the weeks before and after the tests took place.

Author of the study, Professor John Jerrim, from the UCL Social Research Institute, explained that the findings went against “conventional narratives” around how the tests can have a negative impact on children’s wellbeing.

He said: “Taken together, these findings provide an important counter to conventional narratives about how the Key Stage 2 tests can have serious negative impacts upon children’s wellbeing.”

Meanwhile, education unions and campaigners have pointed out that the data used is several years old and therefore does not account for a number of recent reforms in primary assessment.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union’s (NEU), said that looking at the impact of more recent testing “would be much more helpful.”

Delegates at the NEU’s annual conference in April underlined how they support the abolition of Sats tests in primary schools.

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At the conference, a vote was made to “mount a vigorous campaign – using the fact that no statutory primary tests have taken place for two years amid Covid-19 – to reignite calls for an alternative assessment strategy”.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education, however, suggested that the tests help to “lay the foundations for success at secondary school and beyond.”

They said: “Our assessment reforms are helping to ensure children leave primary school with a clear grasp of the fundamentals of reading, writing and mathematics, as part of a broad and balanced curriculum. This helps lay the foundations for success at secondary school and beyond.

“Schools should encourage all pupils to work hard and achieve well, but the department has never recommended that they devote excessive preparation time to assessment.”

Additional reporting by PA


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