Why I oppose the SATs resits in Y7 so strongly

It’s a tale of two sittees.

Picture this:

Primary school class
One student relishes the opportunity to sit slap-bang at the front of the classroom all year, as she masters every single academic and developmental KS2 expectation, and prepares for the exciting transition to secondary. Amelia cashes in daily from the wealthy bank of correct answers she seems to have on tap; clearly proud of the intelligent identity she has become renowned for among these parts.

The other sittee, placed at the back of the room, head in hands, never dares putting so much as a toe outside of the 2-metre radius he has established over the last few years with Mrs Davies, the teaching assistant. That safe bond, which may have just edged into the ‘overly-dependent’ zone, is at least a comfort to Tom as he grows increasingly aware of the knowledge gap that lies between him and his classmates. He dreads the move to secondary school, anxious to go-it-alone without the familiarity of class 6R and his trusty neon putty that is supposed to be improving his fine motor-skills (not that his handwriting would be a good advert for this).

The middle of May arrives. It’s SATs week. Amelia and Tom both attempt the reading comprehension SATs paper – one with ease, the other with utter frustration. When results come in, they reflect entirely the early forecasts the classteacher had made back in September. Amelia’s glowing score is worlds away from Tom’s failed attempt, which scored him a total of 3/50. As a result, Tom automatically gains himself a firm place on the list for a chance to resit the test this time next year, after three short terms in secondary. To the untrained ear, this may sound like a good opportunity, but this is no cause for celebration.



I’m not quite sure what the thinking is behind the DfE’s proposal for these resits but, if they know much about children’s development at all, they will know there are no magic fixes. A student who arrives at secondary school unable to read and write, extremely vulnerable as a result of little primary progression (for whatever reason), needs invested support. I’ll forever argue that one of the highest priorities for this transition period is to ensure that ALL students by the end of KS3 can read and write at a functional level. Those few who managed to slip the literacy net in KS2 must slipeth the neteth no longer.

In a good secondary school, baseline assessments and further diagnostic testing will highlight the specific area of weakness in reading that a student possesses. If reading accuracy is identified as the focus area, Tom will be streamed into a rigorous and systematic synthetic phonics intervention, intentionally scheduled for the same time each morning, ensuring that every effort is being made to ensure positive progress. Over the next few months, Tom’s reading development will be monitored using pre and post standardised scores, formative sounds assessments and a regular dialogue with his parents, tutor and mainstream teachers. If successful, he will make good progress and, by the end of the year, will begin to show signs of increasing independence in reading. His confidence will improve, learning for himself that repetition and rehearsal is key to any progress he will make. To compare his reading in the summer term of Y7 to this time last year, Tom has made great gains and can now read at a functional level, carefully breaking words down to decode and make use of the toolkit he has built, to help him read unfamiliar, longer words.

However, what Tom doesn’t show – and won’t for a while yet – is the ability to read with total fluency or at any quick pace close to the demands of a KS2 test. It is not always true, but quite often, that students with reading accuracy difficulties also possess a more limited range of vocabulary. This could possibly be a direct result of a) not being able to access more challenging texts that offer exposure to new words, b) a lack of word variety in the home, or c) a multitude of other reasons! Whatever the root cause, I’m quite certain that students who make good reading progress in Y7 will not be able to demonstrate it through a resit of this paper.


If those in power are set on building evidence to confirm that the ‘catch-up’ funding they offer to schools is being used wisely, this is not the way forward. There are no silver bullets. Just as one meal is not enough to rectify a lifetime of malnourishment, one academic year (which, let’s not forget, sees a colossal change in a child’s life) is not enough to fix years of literacy famine. A more longitudinal approach to measuring progress in this area, I believe, is necessary.

With no recent mention of this proposal on official sites, I’m very much hoping there’ll be news in the coming months of this being another educational U-turn. It would be great if those in office could meet with those in the classroom to consider what success might look like through a different lens.


Posted on May 7, 2016, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Josie – I totally support what you have written here. I’ll do what I can to draw attention to this scenario that you have described so well.

    I would like to add some suggestions. This is not just about the learners themselves being guaranteed the phonics code knowledge and skills they need beyond primary, it is about the teachers themselves in all stages of education being trained and knowledgeable about the English alphabetic code to know best how to address such learners’ full needs.

    As much as it is laudable that we have had successive governments, to various extents, promoting the understanding of the Simple View of Reading, and Systematic Synthetic Phonics, the emphasis for phonics training and provision has been mainly focused on Reception and Year One and this is a mis-judgement. I maintain this is a misunderstanding about the role and importance of phonics teaching for both long-term reading and spelling. Until such time as we get the highest standards of phonics provision throughout primary, then the need to keep highlighting the plight of many older learners cannot be stressed strongly enough.

    I have taken the Education Endowment Foundation to task for its weak and flawed description of the role of phonics for older learners. I reviewed the blurb for ‘phonics’ on the EEF site informally via the International Foundation for Effective Reading Instruction. I have also criticised the organisation for its rationale of ploughing a huge amount of money into the north east of England on the basis of the ‘interventions’ it has assessed. I have asked for the EEF analysis of first-time mainstream phonics provision – and raised the issue of ‘what about the programmes and interventions that the EEF has not assessed?’

    There is considerable lack of joined-up thinking and professional knowledge and understanding regarding a BODY of international research findings of reading instruction over a period of decades. Once again, I suggest strongly that ALL teachers, teacher-trainers, advisors and inspectors – and politicians – should know about the findings of this body of research. With the popularity and growth of researchED, teachers should appreciate that the most important findings to date are based on reading instruction research and best practice – and take this seriously.

    So, I’m with you regarding the resits for Year 7. Until such time as the adults in the teaching profession are equipped to teach reading, spelling instruction – and handwriting – much better, then it is morally wrong to put the emphasis and pressure on ‘results’ of the individual learners who are struggling. It is right, however, that we continue with obtaining ‘national snapshots’ as objectively as possible regarding standards of literacy. These national snapshots keep being couched as ‘discovering what the children can do’, but it is high time that we properly acknowledged that their advantage is to inform us as a teaching profession how our ‘teaching’ is doing. It’s not that I like the idea of ‘high stakes’ testing (we need to change the ethos and view national snapshot testing differently) but I do think we should value finding out the relativity of our teaching effectiveness in literacy. After all, it’s life chance stuff for these kids.

    If anyone is interested, see my quick and informal review of the description of ‘phonics’ on the Education Endowment Foundation site – about the seventh post from the top:


    Keep up the great work, Josie!

    I’ll repost your post via the International Foundation for Effective Reading Instruction.

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