Schools minister Nick Gibb has said he will “look at” complaints from parents and teachers about the difficulty of last week’s SATs reading paper.
Teachers and school leaders reported that children had struggled with the test on Wednesday, warning it was far more challenging than those sat in previous years.
Pressed by journalists this week about the reports, Gibb said he would “certainly look at [the criticism] because I know that there has been concern expressed by some schools”.
But he added that the Standards & Testing Agency had tested the questions last year “with a large group of children, then monitored the response of those children”.
“They found 85 per cent enjoy taking the test.”
The Department for Education has also defended SATs, which are used to measure children’s educational achievement in years 2 and 6.
A spokesperson said: “Our test development process is extremely rigorous and includes reviews by a large number of education and inclusion experts and professionals including teachers.
“We trial tests with hundreds of pupils over several years to ensure that all tests are appropriate.”
But they added that while it was “important that schools encourage pupils to do their best”, “preparing for these exams should not be at the expense of their wellbeing”.
The DfE stopped short of offering to review complaints, including those from leaders’ union ASCL, which claimed children had been left distressed and teachers “very anxious” about the impact of the reading paper.
Gibb said he had not yet seen the paper himself, but added “we don’t want these tests to be too hard for children”.
Staff ‘struggled’ to understand SATs questions
“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 NAHT has also raised concerns with the DfE and test regulator Ofqual.
The school leaders’ union said it was “very concerned” after members said the choice of texts was “not accessible for the wide range of experiences and backgrounds children have”.
Sarah Hannafin, NAHT head of policy, said the difficulty was “beyond previous tests leaving children upset and with even staff struggling to understand questions”.
Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson, headteacher at Anderton Park in Birmingham, said it was the “hardest” paper she’d “ever seen” in her 29 years in the sector.
She said some of their highest attainers did not finish the test.
When similar concerns were raised in 2016, an Ofqual review found the reading test was probably “unduly hard” for pupils with low attainment and special educational needs.
Ofqual said this week that it routinely monitors the standards maintenance process and reviews “key evidence” on test accessibility.
“We conduct additional research and analysis into the validity of national assessments where appropriate and report on our findings.”