Transfer to Secondary Education in the Absence of SATs? Why Not Wait Till Teachers Assess Pupils as at Level Four in Maths and English?

Transfer Problems for Secondary Schools

In October 2008, Fran Abrams, reported in The Guardian on transfer from primary to secondary schools that: More and more secondary schools use their own tests to assess pupils rather than the 'unreliable' Sats.

Two months earlier, the think tank Civitas, described how:a survey by Anastasia de Waal of 107 secondary schools in which 79 per cent of Year 7 teachers found that up to a third of the children who had just moved up from primary school were less able than their key stage two test results indicated. Most of them blamed teaching to the test in the primary school, which gave pupils an unnatural boost on the day.

While secondary schools are concerned about the inaccuracy of the formal testing, they are also concerned that – as opposition politicians are quick to point out – about a fifth of pupils transferring from primary to secondary education are at level 3 and not the ‘expected’ level 4 in mathematics and English.

Secondary schools expect that new entrants will have good skills of literacy and numeracy. A reasonable assumption is that Level Four, as assessed effectively by primary school teachers, is an appropriate definition of the standards of literacy and numeracy that are needed for pupils to successfully tackle the curriculum of secondary schools. To achieve this for all pupils would then be a proper aim for a primary school – and written into its prospectus as issued to parents.

As noted above, teachers are now skilled in making such assessments without the need of external testing and new teachers can be suitably trained in doing it. Formal tests are not needed to make such assessments – teachers make them in the day-by-day business of teaching children and marking their work.

But What of Those Who Are Below Level Four at Age 11?

Almost inevitably, there will be some children who at the end of year 6, at age 11, have not yet achieved Level Four. For all sorts of reasons they may not be progressing at the same rate as some of their fellows. It is well known by teachers and most parents that children develop at different rates and to 'expect' everyone to have reached a particular level at a particular time is contrary to the substantial evidence of child development.

So, if they need the competence of Level Four for their secondary school studies, they need:

    either to stay another year in primary education

    or to work in a special group when they transfer to secondary school.

The former is probably the better route. What is important is that the school tries hard to avoid any social stigma and strives to overcome the difficulties for individuals who see their mates moving on and having to stay behind. It is an inevitable consequence of the fact that we learn at different rates – the tortoise gets there but needs longer. If the school is organised with a measure of vertical grouping, so that Year Five and Year Six children are in the same class then it is clear to all that some will move onto secondary school and others stay for another year.

Another approach is at the start of Year Six, or earlier, to create a separate class (of smaller numbers) of children needing more work to raise their standard of literacy and numeracy. It has staffing implications, of course, but also raises the question as to why these children should be 'forced' to develop at a rate faster than hitherto.

What is certain is that the current oppressive SAT assessment regime enforced by central government doesn’t prevent about 20% of Year Six children going to secondary school without having quite reached the ‘expected’ standard. Putting more pressure on schools, castigating teachers, and threatening heads with the sack are not helpful. A better way of ensuring that everybody starts secondary education adequately skilled is needed and that requires the commitment of professional teachers working in collegial schools, not direction by central edicts made to government-controlled 'technicians'.

This page was amended on 20 April 2010