The Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP
The Prime Minister
10 Downing Street

A. citizen
100 Any Road
Typical Town


Date:   19th July 2009

 Dear Prime Minister

The Scientific Assessment of School Performance: SATs and Exams Update

I have written before, and a copy of my letter has been published on the website together with a letter from the Department for Children, Schools and Families who were asked to reply for you.

Unfortunately, the DCSF did not argue with my assertion that parents would no longer have a scientifically acceptable assessment of their child's progress in school beyond their primary school.

1.There has been little attempt by Ms Sealey in her letter to address my concerns, which are shared by many parents, that they will no longer have external examination results which they can use to determine whether their child is making progress at their secondary school. On the contrary, Ms Sealey and I quote, observes that: "The Secretary of State has only announced that we have ended schools' requirement to run national tests for 14 year olds, with immediate effect.”[sic]. "Only", as if this event is of little consequence?

2.These examination results are of scientific interest; after all SAT is an abbreviation for Standard Assessment Test or Standard Attainment Test (or task), whereas internal assessments (Teacher Assessment) are bound to be suspect. Here is a grass roots comment from an experienced teacher on the scrapping of SATs at Key Stage 3:

3. "The situation can only get worse now. Who is going to pay for, and do, the one-to-one teaching, and the individual care of pupils? Looks like a money-saving exercise to me that will lower standards. Who is going to test the teachers' performance - I don't see anything outlined? Maybe it’s a move to test teachers more thoroughly - I hope so!"

4. But opinion is one thing; facts are another. I have been given permission to publish a letter sent to a Head of English at a large secondary school, in a relatively well to do catchment area in a Conservative controlled county. The letter reveals the underlying flaws in the notion that internal assessment by teachers (Teacher Assessment) can adequately replace the Key Stage 3 SATs. (I have included the letter as the fifth page in this letter)

5. I sympathise with the parents. How does that English teacher, who should have detailed assessment records for each of her pupils, think that her pupil is being taught by her properly when there has been no improvement in the pupil’s Key Stage 3 levels since year 7? At least she should have referred her misgivings, if she had any, to her head of English.

6. Even though OFSTED has remarked about Record Keeping and Assessment in two earlier inspections of this school there are still shortcomings in English and other departments. How else can one report this sorry state of affairs, except as a failure of the supervision and management of teaching staff? But then, this is exactly the sort of situation that does arise and existing controls fail to rectify. Although OFSTED finds the same problems on each visit there is little improvement.

7. Indeed, the English teacher, is in an ideal position to get to know his or her pupils, as work can be set to reveal the thoughts that pupils have and the activities they engage in. In addition, the English teacher’s contact time is more than that for other subjects. As although English usually has the same amount of lesson time as maths or science that time is more personal. There is no excuse for an English teacher not knowing his or her pupils and certainly no excuse for not being aware of a pupil’s past assessments in English if not that pupil’s levels in other subjects.

8. The observation: “The idea behind SATs is to rest the teachers” is not meant to be humorous. Teachers are entitled to relief from the continuous work that they are obliged to do as part of the way that education has been managed by successive labour Ministers. Does your present Minister of State for Education Rt Hon Ed Balls or rather Minister of State for Children Schools and Families think that children and parents will be better served by placing upon teachers the additional burden of assessment without the feedback that comes from the SATs. The SAT results help to confirm that their assessment of pupils is accurate or not. Moreover, how much extra work will that entail?

9. In this particular example, as evidenced by the parent’s letter, the teacher’s assessment is in fact correct at least on the day that the pupil took the English SAT. How the teacher can explain that she has not managed to improve the national curriculum attainment level for this particular pupil is another matter. But at least, at present, she has the benefit of the SAT result to maintain that her assessment is correct. Assuming that the SAT has been marked correctly!

10.Without the Key Stage 3 SAT, teachers will not have the support of an independent test when making assessments in future.

11. Surely it is the least that the government can do is to ensure that parents are given an assessment of their child’s progress at each Key Stage and that proper scientifically designed SATs are given at Key Stage 3 Key as well as Key Stage 2? This is what we had!

12. By scrapping, the Key Stage 3 SATs parents will only know what their child’s achievement is after taking GCSE and other exams at key Stage 4, by which time it will be too late to alter a child’s opportunities to develop to their full potential and ensure that teachers are performing well.

13. I would like to read the scientific basis for justifying the removal of a scientifically designed test to determine the attainment of our children at Key Stage 3. However, I understand that this is the reason:

“The national tests at age 14 in English, mathematics and science, marked externally, were felt to be unnecessary as students also sit national examinations at age 15 and 16 (GCSEs and A-levels). The government felt that these examinations adequately demonstrate performance at secondary school”.

So that sums it up. The SATs are irrelevant because the Government believes that their purpose is to demonstrate performance at secondary school?

14. Well, I think, and I am sure that parents think also, that the SATs are meant to determine progress by measuring their child’s attainment and that this information may be used to investigate why their child is not reaching the predicted level for their age. Whether this is because of poor teaching or other factors, parents surely have the right to this data and not the possibly inaccurate or even biased assessment by the child’s teachers under a TA (teacher assessment) scheme.

15. Furthermore, the abolition of the KS3 SATs will also mean the removal of the school league tables for this crucial time in a child’s education. Parents will no longer have a means to check whether the local school is performing well or not, except for GCSE and other examination results at the end of Key Stage 4. Head teachers and Governors will no longer have the benefit of SAT results to improve the performance of their staff; it will all instead, be rather vague.

16. What we do have is another upheaval in the management of education that both teachers and parents could well do without.

17. What we actually have at present is a National Curriculum that we should compliment our government in introducing and developing, but what we are losing is a well-established means (Key Stage 3 SATs) to measure the attainment and progress of all pupils from when they enter primary school until when they leave their secondary school.

18. I would go so far as to suggest that even the Key Stage 4 “tests” (GCSE and other courses) do not necessarily provide data with the same level of scientific importance as that which can be obtained from Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3 SATs. The removal of the Key Stage 3 SATs will surely impact on the further development of the National curriculum.

19. The management and production of resources to keep the educational system in England working is presently in place and working. For example, CGP publish a range of educational support materials at a reasonable price that both schools and parents use. These materials would not have been published in the absence of a well-defined national curriculum.

20. Why interfere with a working assessment system by removing SATs, which are an independent test? I don’t really believe that the government think that SATs at key Stage 3 are irrelevant. What I do think is that the failure of the Minister to manage the marking of last year’s tests has fuelled the notion: let’s scrap them, problem sorted! Furthermore, it sounds like, we’ll have a cheap alternative - Teacher Assessment, provided that is, teachers are prepared to play ball?

21. I can well understand the reluctance of many teachers to support SATs – its all more work and it’s also a stick to beat us with when as evidenced by the parent’s letter results do not match up to parent expectations. Perhaps also, we cannot afford these tests; when I was at school, we had a few one-sheet reports a year, with remarks such as “Maths: satisfactory”.

22. By all means, continue to develop the National Curriculum and make modifications to it. But to scrap the means to accurately assess progress and attainment of children that are following that national curriculum is to return to the bad old days when parents had no real say in their child’s education, and to disable an important means to monitor the working of the National Curriculum is surely, with respect, nonsense!

Yours sincerely

A. Citizen

The original reply from the DCSF is republished below The reply from the DCSF is published below


department for children, schools and families

Castle View House East Lane Runcorn Cheshire WA7 2GJ

Tel: 0870 000 2288

Our ref: 2008/0092192 25 November 2008

Dear Sir

Thank you for your recent letter, addressed to Gordon Brown, about the abolition of National Curriculum (NC) tests, sometimes known as SATs. It has been forwarded to the Department for Children, Schools and Families for reply as we are responsible for school issues. I have been asked to reply on this occasion.

I should explain that the NC tests for 7 year olds in Key Stage 1, which are administered as teacher assessments, and the Key Stage 2 tests for 11 year olds have not been withdrawn.

The Secretary of State has only announced that we have ended schools' requirement to run national tests for 14 year olds, with immediate effect. The current compulsory national tests at the end of Key Stage 3 will be replaced by improved classroom assessment by teachers and frequent reporting to parents in years 7, 8 and 9. There will be a stronger focus on one-to-one tuition and catch-up support for children in the first years of secondary school. This will be more flexible for schools, more personalised for individual pupils, and provide more scope for teacher assessment and professional judgement.

He also announced that we plan to introduce new School Report Cards, as part of wider changes to strengthen schools' accountability to parents and the public, raise school standards, and reform pupil testing and assessment. We will set out detailed proposals on report cards for consultation with schools, parents and the public by the end of this year, leading to a White Paper in spring 2009.

Thank you for writing in with your views.

Yours sincerely

Julie Sealey

Public Communications Unit

Parent's letter referring to the School's poor performance:

Mr. A. N. Other
Head of English
A Secondary State School
Any Road

Dear Mr. A.N. Other

 It is genuinely with great regret and disappointment that I have to write this letter. Unfortunately, the problems that I have highlighted previously in the English department have now come home to manifest themselves in my daughter’s lack of progression over the course of years 8 and 9 and ultimately her English KS3 SATS result of 6B!!!  I am sure you will agree this shows a dramatic picture of under achievement.

 Whilst I feel the figures produced sometimes lack credibility, (the Ofsted report highlighted this) they are all I have to go on regarding my daughter’s progression at your school. Below I present them in their stark reality.

My Daughter's Progress at Your School
Year Assessment event Level of Attainment
Year 6  KS2 SATS 
Year 8  November 07  6A 
  February 08  6B 
  July 08  6B 
Year 9  November 08  6B 
  February 09  6B 
  KS3 SATS June 09  6B !!! 
  Predicted at KS3  7C 

 I had picked up on this lack of improvement earlier in the year yet decided to sit tight and take a view on the situation feeling confident from our previous conversations that she would come out on target come Summer 09.

 Unfortunately, as you can clearly see from these figures my daughter has gone backwards since November 07 at your school.  Incidentally, I also feel the predicted 7C is a prediction below her ability, my daughter is a bright, articulate and motivated girl who has achieved 7A’s and 7B’s in English recently, yet we have still arrived at this point. We are all disappointed and at a loss for words at this figure. Is this also an indication of the progression leading us through to GSCE and A level?

I would like a meeting with yourself and Ms Teacher and a thorough explanation of the process that has led us to these results.

 Finally, I sat in the Head Teacher’s office in the Summer before my daughter started at your school and he assured me that she would be given the opportunity of achieving two 7’s and an 8 in maths. Clearly we have been let down in some form, the question is why?

 Yours sincerely



Reply from DFCSF from Ms Sealey in response to my objections to her earlier reply


department for children, schools and families

Castle View House East Lane Runcorn Cheshire WA7 2GJ

Tel: 0870 000 2288

Our ref: 2009/0069112  13 August 2009

Dear Sir

Thank you for your further letter of 19 July, addressed to the Prime Minister, outlining your views on National Curriculum (NC) tests. Your letter has been forwarded to the Department for Children, Schools and Families for response as we are responsible for all school issues.

We have always said that the assessment system is not set in stone. An Expert Group was set up by the Secretary of State to advise the government on the future of testing and assessment and its role in school accountability. It was established for a period of six months and widely consulted head teachers, teachers, parents, subject associations and academics, as well as schools engaged in stage not age single-level test pilots. The findings were published on 7 May.

The Expert Group reported that current NC tests are educationally beneficial; vital for public accountability and a key part of giving parents objective information on their children's levels of attainment and progress. The Expert Group also stated that the School Report Card should be developed and introduced as soon as possible to shift the focus of public accountability away from league tables. The full report and its recommendations can be viewed on the Department's website at

On 30 June the 21st Century Schools White Paper was published. This sets out how we will help create a system which responds to the challenges of a changing global economy, a changing society and rapid technological innovation. A system in which every child can enjoy growing up, can achieve and which develops the potential and talents of every child and young person and gives them the broad skills they need for the future.

The introduction of the School Report Card, along with an overall score, should move us on from the narrow, simplistic view that allows the media to focus on a single academic indicator. An overall score would establish the clear importance of reaching a rounded understanding of each school's performance, rather than one drawn simplistically from a narrow range of indicators, or a single indicator.

We recognise that parents and other stakeholders will rightly have different views about what - for them - constitutes good outcomes for a school. Different parents will be looking for different strengths, reflecting the specific interests, aptitudes and needs of their children. By reporting all the underpinning performance data on the School Report Card, different users will still be able to look at the particular aspects of performance that interest them most -identifying areas of a school's work that are particular strengths; or areas in a strong school that continue to need improvement. The inclusion of an overall score will, however, allow that detailed consideration to take place in the context of a general understanding of the school's overall performance.

You can view the White paper and supporting documents at:

Ministers are always pleased to hear from people who take a keen interest in education, who offer their views and suggestions on how the current education system could be improved.

Thank you once again for writing.

Yours sincerely

Julie Sealey

Public Communications Unit

There are a number of observations made in this letter that need to be explained more clearly by The Department for Children Schools and Families. The least confusing  way to write a response to Ms Sealey's further letter on this issue is to republish it below with my comments inserted. Update: due to pressure of work I have been unable to discuss the reply in detail.