Reading results fall in Sats tests that sparked difficulty rowon July 11, 2023 at 1:14 pm

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Some parents and teachers said this summer’s reading paper was so tough it left children in tears.

Children taking testImage source, Getty Images

Reading levels among Year 6 pupils in England have fallen after a controversial Sats paper, which some teachers and parents said was so tough it left children in tears.

Results show 73% of pupils met the expected standards in reading, down from 75% in 2022.

Levels either increased or remained the same in all other subjects.

Overall standards in reading, writing and maths are the same as last year, and remain lower than pre-Covid levels.

This year, 59% of pupils reached the expected level in these three subjects combined.

By 2030, the government wants 90% of children leaving primary school to reach the expected standards in reading, writing and maths.

Concerns were raised about the length and complexity of this summer’s reading paper, the contents of which were first seen by the BBC.

One question asked 10 and 11-year-olds to find a similar word to “eat” in a passage that contained both “consume” and “feeding” – although, according to the mark scheme, both answers were acceptable.

The scoring of this year’s reading paper suggests it was harder than last year’s. Just 24 marks were needed to meet the expected level, compared with 29 in 2022.

The Standards and Testing Agency deemed the relative difficulty of the reading paper to be appropriate.

The Department for Education (DfE) says its tests are developed over three years, and this year’s papers were trialled with around 1,000 pupils.

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‘She’s bound to be disappointed’

By Alice Evans

Mum Victoria and daughter Georgina

Image source, Victoria Williams

Victoria Williams’s daughter Georgina was one of the pupils who was unable to finish the Year 6 Sats reading paper.

She found out on Tuesday morning that she had scored 108 in reading – comfortably past the 100-mark boundary needed to reach expected standards, but not quite the “magic” 110 score that her school had told her she was capable of.

Her mother says Georgina will be “bound to be disappointed”, especially after being “so upset” on the day she sat the test.

The recruitment manager, from Princes Risborough, in Buckinghamshire, said Georgina had told her the paper had been “awful” and that she had been crying to herself during the test.

“There’s this enormous build-up to the Sats, which is debatable sort of how healthy that is,” Mrs Williams told the BBC.

“She felt she had let herself down. She couldn’t understand why she hadn’t been able to finish the paper, because in all the practices she had managed to do so.

“We had to do a lot of reassuring and propping up and reminding her that it’s not that important.”

Mrs Williams said she was concerned the bad experience might stick with Georgina – “my children don’t seem to forget these things” – but hopes fun activities like the end-of-term play are “enough to counter any disappointment”.

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In other subjects, the proportion of pupils reaching the expected level was:

  • 73% in maths, up from 71% in 2022
  • 71% in writing, up from 69% in 2022
  • 72% in grammar, punctuation and spelling, the same as 2022
  • 80% in science, up from 79% in 2022
Bar chart showing that the percentage of pupils reaching the expected level in their Year 6 Sats in England has remained the same as last year at 59%, lower than the 65% who reached the standard before the Covid pandemic.

Tiffnie Harris, of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the results reflected the impact of the pandemic.

“Schools are straining every sinew to improve results and we appeal to the government to support them by urgently addressing the national crisis caused by teacher shortages and inadequate funding,” she said.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said it was “encouraging to see attainment levels improving in some key subjects” after the pandemic had disrupted pupils’ education.

He said the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) had been “crucial in helping those pupils most in need of support”.

Last month, MPs stressed that about 13% of schools in England did not take part in the NTP in 2021-22, and urged the government to take faster and more effective action to help students catch up.

What are Sats?

Standard Assessment Tests, or Sats, are tests that children take in Year 6, at the end of Key Stage 2. They are national curriculum assessments in English grammar, punctuation and spelling, English reading and maths.

The government’s Standards and Testing Agency says the purposes of Sats tests are to:

  • help measure pupils’ progress
  • identify if they need any extra help in certain areas
  • assess schools’ performances
  • produce national performance data.

Children also sit Sats in Year 2, at the end of Key Stage 1.

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Did your child struggle with the reading test? You can share your experiences by emailing haveyoursay@bbc.co.uk.

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