In 2014, gov.uk published a press release stating that “new primary tests will help eradicate illiteracy and innumeracy”. Literacy and numeracy in England became a key concern after a 2012 OECD survey found that current standards were unacceptable. Based on the survey’s findings, the OECD recommended that students “with low basic skills should not normally enter three-year undergraduate programmes.” In addition to these findings, a survey of 291 companies and 1.5 million employees showed that 85% of businesses felt that there needed to be more focus on literacy and numeracy at primary schools in England.
Primary tests and tougher exams
The findings were a huge red flag, which the government felt they couldn’t ignore. The solutions proposed included raising the age young people are required to stay in education and ensuring that anyone who doesn’t gain a C grade or above in GCSE English or Maths continues with the subject. Another was the introduction of tougher primary tests at an earlier age.
The changes in primary tests have caused a fair bit of controversy. The issue has garnered a lot of attention online, and the discussion keeps going. We are only now beginning to see the impact of the new measures. Reported effects upon the youngest band of pupils now sitting primary tests have been illuminating. These reports support the message of campaign groups, such as Let Our Kids Be Kids, who oppose the changes. The watershed of headlines include: ‘Sats: pupils in tears after sitting ‘incredibly difficult’ reading test’ (TES), ‘Dear Nicky, I cried at the SATs hell you put my pupils through’ (Guardian) and ‘Sats: Parents plan ‘stay at home’ school protest over tests’ (BBC News). The latter is about Let Our Kids Be Kids, who actively kept their children out of school on May 3rd, 2016, in protest against the new primary tests. The group also wrote an Open Letter to Nicky Morgan. They warned that they will be taking action to prevent “children as young as 6… labelling themselves failures.”
Recent stats about the state of mental health in schools reveal that ‘rates of depression and anxiety among teenagers have increased by 70% in the past 25 years’. In light of this, parents and teachers worry that more exam stress will not help to improve this. As a result, better access to mental health services is seen as crucial, especially for primary schools. Former government mental health champion, Natasha Devon, openly criticised the new primary tests. At a conference in London, Devon said: “Time and time again over recent years young people – and the people who teach them – have spoken out about how a rigorous culture of testing and academic pressure is detrimental to their mental health.” Soon after the new tests were taken for the first time this year, ComRes researchers for BBC Newsround held a survey. The results certainly enforce Devon’s criticisms.
Let us know what you think
So, what pushed the government to take such measures? Do you agree or disagree with them? Do you think it is correct that literacy and numeracy are determined to be more valuable than mental health at primary school level? Can we find other solutions to illiteracy and innumeracy that don’t involve an increase in exam pressure?
We’d like to hear from you. Tell us what you think in the comments sections. Do you think the new primary tests will be beneficial? Do you have a suggestion that hasn’t been explored by the government?