Sally Weale Education correspondent
Tue, 16 May 2023 at 9:00 am BST
The schools minister, Nick Gibb, has promised to review a controversial Sats paper, which is said to have left some pupils “in tears”, after teachers and parents expressed widespread concern about the difficulty of the test.
The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said the English paper, which was taken by 10 and 11-year-olds in year 6 last Wednesday, was so difficult that teachers had struggled to understand the questions.
The minister said he had not yet seen the paper, but acknowledged the concern expressed by schools and said he would look at it when it becomes available next week once the assessment window is over.
Gibb, who was speaking to reporters during a school visit, said the papers were carefully checked to ensure they were age appropriate and designed to test a range of abilities, but he acknowledged the tests should not be “too hard” for children.
Sats papers are compiled and delivered by the Standards and Testing Agency, an executive agency that works independently from the Department for Education (DfE).
The difficulty of the reading paper prompted a flurry of complaints online from parents and teachers with one person saying on Mumsnet that her daughter found the paper “awful”. Kerry Forrester, a headteacher at a Cheshire primary school, wrote to her local MP expressing concern about the “negative impact” on the “mental health and wellbeing” of her pupils.
On Friday, the DfE appeared to defend the difficulty of the tests saying they were intended to be challenging.
On Monday, however, Gibb said: “I will certainly look at this, because I know that there has been concern expressed by some schools.
“They do have to test a range of ability to make sure we can show what proportion of children are exceeding the standards and so on. But we don’t want these tests to be too hard for children. That’s not the purpose.
“The purpose is to test the range of ability and the Standards and Testing Agency is charged with making sure that these tests are appropriate for this age group.”
The National Education Union (NEU) described the paper as a “punishing experience” for staff and pupils. Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the union, said: “This is not a system that is concerned about children and their learning.
“There are better ways of assessing pupils. There are better forms of school accountability. It is about time the government started looking at them.”