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Scrap primary tests for ‘digital SATs’ at 14, says think tank

EDSK also renews calls for GCSEs and A-levels to be replaced by a four-year 'baccalaureate'

EDSK also renews calls for GCSEs and A-levels to be replaced by a four-year 'baccalaureate'

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Primary tests should be scrapped in favour of regular online tests for five to 14-year-olds and “digital SATs” for year 9s, a think tank has said.

The EDSK think tank, run by former government adviser Tom Richmond, has published a paper calling for a “10-year plan to reform primary and secondary education”.

It also renewed calls for GCSEs and A-levels to be replaced by a four-year “baccalaureate”, with exam for older pupils also “digital by default”.

It comes as the government is developing plans to replace A-levels and T-levels with a new “advanced British standard”, and after Labour said it would review curriculum and assessment if it wins this year’s election.

The report identified a “number of strengths” of the current approach to the curriculum, assessment and accountability that should be retained by the next government.

They include the “emphasis on academic rigour”, the use of external exams in primary and secondary schools and allowing students to specialise with three A-levels in their final year at school.

But the report also raised “serious concerns about the impact of the current education system on students and teachers”.

‘Overloaded with content’

The “relentless focus on high stakes tests such as SATs in primary school and GCSEs in secondary school is encouraging schools to ‘teach to the test’ and narrow the curriculum to spend more time on exam preparation”.

The national curriculum and GCSEs are also “overloaded with content, with over half of GCSE teachers saying they struggle to get through their course in time”.

“The enduring obsession with pen-and-paper tests is also at odds with other countries such as Australia, Denmark and Wales, who have already dropped written exams in favour of national online testing.”

EDSK said the next government should “set out a 10-year plan that preserves the most valuable aspects of the current primary and secondary education system but reforms those parts of the system that are holding back students and teachers”.

SATs at the end of primary school should be replaced by “regular online testing” from the ages of five to 14. These should culminate in “low-stakes ‘digital SATs’ for 14-year-olds in almost all national curriculum subjects to inform their future subject choices”.

Bacc to the future?

For pupils aged 14 to 18, GCSEs, A-levels, BTECs, T-levels and apprenticeships “should be replaced by a four-year ‘baccalaureate’ that brings all academic, applied and technical courses into a single framework”

All students would have to study “core” English and maths to 18 and would start in year 10 with six other subjects of their choice, dropping a subject a year to “gradually specialise”.

Tom Richmond
Tom Richmond

Students would “typically” end with three subjects in year 13, or two if they are studying a large technical choice or apprenticeship.

To “dramatically reduce the existing exam burden after age 14”, students would only take a high-stakes external exam when they drop a subject or when they reach the end of the baccalaureate at age 18.

External exams within the baccalaureate would also be “digital by default, meaning that students will take shorter digital tests rather than lengthy pen-and-paper tests in most cases”.

Richmond said “many mistakes have been made over the last 14 years, not least the unacceptable bias against vocational and technical qualifications as well as the excessive burdens on students and teachers created by high-stakes written exams”.

“Relieving some of the exam pressures on teachers could also be a critical component of tackling the recruitment and retention crisis in the coming years.”

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One comment

  1. Vicki

    Do the government/think tanks realise that; schools are underfunded, there is a teacher retention and recruitment crisis, that workload is a major factor causing teachers to leave, that most state schools have very few computer facilities?

    Do they also realise that massive curriculum changes such as these take a huge amount of teacher time to prepare and implement and cost a considerable amount of money to properly resource?

    It doesn’t seem like these two situations fit together very well!