The current regime of SATs for children aged 7, 11 and now 4; is not fit for purpose. It is damaging to children’s education and wellbeing, and provides little useful information for parents, schools or Government.

No alternative to SATs? Think again.

We know that assessment in English schools is not designed to help children learn.

Its main purpose is to police schools and teachers, and it does untold damage in the process. It causes stress to children, depresses teachers, and provides little useful information to parents. It narrows the curriculum and penalises schools in the most disadvantaged areas.

This book was put together to open up real alternatives.

What’s wrong with SATs?

  • A narrowing of the curriculum
  • Unrealistic standards
  • Education that doesn’t meet the needs of all children
  • A negative impact on children’s self-esteem, wellbeing and mental health
  • A negative impact on teacher’s wellbeing and mental health


Research about the impact of high stakes testing, for example testing that determines teachers’ pay or the ranking of a school as happens in England, has shown that an increased focus on the demands of the test means that children experience a narrower curriculum (e.g. Clarke et al. 2003; Jones and Egley 2004; Children, Schools and Families Committee 2008; Rothstein et al 2008; Alexander 2010).

The Children, Schools and Families Committee (2008) found that “any efforts by the government to introduce more breadth into the school curriculum are likely to be undermined by the enduring imperative for schools, created by the accountability measures, to ensure that their pupils perform well in national tests”.

Children with low attainment, disadvantaged pupils and those with special needs are affected by this narrowing of the curriculum to an even greater degree as they will tend to spend more time focusing on English and Maths through booster and catch up sessions, at the expense of the rest of the curriculum (Hutchings 2015).


2016 was the first year that children taking SATs were being assessed under the new curriculum that was introduced two years ago.

Children taking Year 6 SATs (at the end of primary school) were taught under the old curriculum with different content and expectations for the majority of their education, but the tests did not take this in to account. This means that children were being set up to fail.


97% of teachers thought that children with special educational needs and disabilities are disadvantaged. Likewise, 84% were concerned about the effect on EAL pupils, for whom English is an additional language, and 74% were concerned about the effects on summer-born children. (NUT 2016a)

This year at the end of Key Stage 1 82% of September born children reached the expected standard in reading compared to 65% of children born in August. In writing it was 76% compared to 54%, and in maths 82% compared to 61%. The standard across all three components (reading, writing and maths) was met by 88% of September born children compared to 74% of their August born classmates. (DfE 2016)


Curriculum narrowing reduces many students’ chances of being thought talented in school (Berliner 2011).

In response to high stakes testing teachers adopt a teaching style which emphasises transmission teaching of knowledge. This favouring those students who prefer to learn in this way and disadvantaging and lowering the self-esteem of those who prefer more active and creative learning experiences (Harlen and Deakin Crick 2002).

Childline’s Annual Report 2013-14 found there was a 13% rise in the number of children expressing concerns about education problems compared to the previous year. 58% of counselling sessions in relation to school and education problems were about exam stress, a 200 per cent rise on the previous year. 16% of Childline’s counselling about school and education problems were with children aged 11 or younger in 2013-14. This was a 43% increase compared to 2012/13.

Children with higher levels of emotional, behavioural, social, and school wellbeing, on average, have higher levels of academic achievement and are more engaged in school, both concurrently and in later years. Relationships between emotional, behavioural, social, and school wellbeing and later educational outcomes are generally similar for children and adolescents, regardless of their gender and parents’ educational level (DfE 2012).


86% of primary teachers said their morale has declined in the last two years and three quarters describe their morale as low or very low. Almost half (48%) of primary teachers said they are considering leaving the profession within the next two years. Workload was cited as a factor by 93% of respondents. Other reasons include the rapid pace of curriculum change (60%) and teacher mental health concerns (50%). (NUT, 2016b)

How does More Than A Score think children should be assessed?

Schools should be held accountable to children, parents, communities and Government. But the current system is not fit for purpose, because the information from SATs is not credible.

In the classroom, we want to see both formative and summative assessment. Formative assessment is ongoing assessment that supports pupils while they are learning. It is based on observing what children can do, and discussion and feedback between learner and teacher. Summative assessment tests pupils to find what they have learned at a particular point in time – at the end of a project or unit of work, for instance. Teachers should be trusted to use their professional expertise in determining the best methods of assessment. In some countries, summative tests can be based on national ‘question banks’. Formative and summative assessments can be combined in an approach that is detailed, rigorous and supportive.

We want an assessment system which enables teachers in different schools to compare the progress made by their pupils, against national standards. This can be done by teachers coming together to moderate pupils’ work. The results of moderation will feed into a school’s self-evaluation and plan for self-improvement. This in turn will be assisted by supportive inspection of schools. Parents should be acknowledged as partners in children’s learning and need information that enables them to support their children’s learning. For reports to be meaningful to parents, they need to summarise what children can do and understand.

Some schools already produce rich, detailed descriptive reports on pupils’ progress, that use the outcomes of formative and summative assessment to inform feedback to parents and pupils, and to plan learning development.

Assessment in the early years, culminating in the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile, offers an example of an approach that can be used to track children’s learning throughout primary education.

We propose that national monitoring of standards should involve testing only a sample of children. When it comes to the evaluation of national standards in Primary Science, this is what the DfE already does! There is a need to monitor the standards of the primary school system. But there is no need to impose high-stakes testing of every child to provide this information. Tests could include different curriculum areas so that a picture of standards across the whole curriculum would become available, informing teachers’ work.


More research

The National Union of Teachers and Association of Teachers and Lecturers commissioned Dr Alice Bradbury and Dr Guy Roberts Holmes to conduct independent research into baseline assessment. The research showed that teachers and school leaders had serious doubts as to the accuracy of the assessment and its use in measuring progress. Baseline Assessment led to ‘stopping teaching’ and was not seen as helping teachers get to know pupils better.
This research report and the campaign surrounding it played an important role in the Government’s abandonment of Baseline Assessment and the report received the 2016 BERA SAGE Public Impact Award.


This independent research was commissioned by the National Union of Teachers and conducted by Professor Merryn Hutchings.
This is a wide ranging research project that incorporates a survey of almost 8,000 teachers, an extensive literature review and quantitative research utilising case studies of both heads and teachers (not all of whom are NUT members) and children. Taken together, this research demonstrates the negative impact on children and young people in England of the current range of accountability measures in schools.


No alternative to SATs? Think again.

We know that assessment in English schools is not designed to help children learn.
Its main purpose is to police schools and teachers, and it does untold damage in the process. It causes stress to children, depresses teachers, and provides little useful information to parents. It narrows the curriculum and penalises schools in the most disadvantaged areas.

This book was put together to open up real alternatives.

It draws on a wealth of experience and expertise over many decades, in England and internationally. It presents examples of a wide range of assessment methods which actually support students’ learning, rather than constraining it.

Primary schools are a particular focus, given the current crisis, but examples come from – and are relevant to – all age groups.

We hope it will lead to widespread discussion among teachers and heads, parents, school governors, politicians and the general public.

For information on obtaining hard copies of the book please email (prices will vary depending on how many copies are ordered).


The Mismeasurement of Learning is a collection of short essays presenting the evidence and the arguments around curriculum and assessment in primary education. Brought together by Reclaiming Schools and the NUT, essay authors include John Coe, Pam Jarvis and Guy Roberts-Holmes and Alice Bradbury.


OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) (2013) Synergies for Better Learning: An International Perspective on Evaluation and Assessment, OECD Reviews of Evaluation and Assessment in Education. This report compares the experience of 28 OECD countries, analyses the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches, and offers policy advice on using evaluation and assessment to improve the quality, equity and efficiency of education. It draws on a major study, the OECD Review on Evaluation and Assessment Frameworks for Improving School Outcomes.


Wynne Harlen’s report provides a critical review of the assessment system in England introduced between 2014 and 2016, in the light of evidence from research and practice in six other countries. It begins with some ground-clearing discussion of the terms used in relation to tests and other forms of pupil assessment. The next two sections concern the purposes of assessment, particularly formative and summative assessment, the uses of summative assessment data for accountability and national monitoring and the impact on curriculum content and pedagogy. Section four describes how assessment for these purposes and uses is conducted in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, New Zealand, Sweden and France, concluding with an overview of themes running through these examples. The main points from this analysis are drawn together in the fifth section, providing a critical perspective on the system in England in light of alternative approaches in other systems. Finally some implications for policy and practice are identified.


NSPCC ChildLine focused their annual report 2013-14 on children’s mental health. ‘Under Pressure’ highlighted the increase in school related stress, anxiety and other mental health problems, including in primary school aged children, that ChildLine were taking calls about.