Exclusive: ‘Deadening, difficult and unfair’ – the experts’ verdicts on this year’s Sats

Academics and government advisers have condemned this year’s tougher Sats papers and claimed that some material was pitched at GCSE level

This week, as the contents of the tests in maths, grammar and reading were published for the first time, TES contacted academics who specialise in the subjects for their opinions.

All were critical of the new regime.

This year’s spelling, punctuation and grammar paper contained “daft” questions that required no grammatical knowledge and “deadened” creativity, literacy experts have told TES.

Professor Debra Myhill, pro-vice-chancellor at the University of Exeter, was consulted by the Department for Education on its original 2013 grammar tests for 11-year-olds and warned then that they were “flawed”.

Now, having analysed the latest test, she is concerned that it will reveal nothing about writing ability.

“Being able to correct an error in a multiple-choice question is totally different from spotting an error in your own writing, which is much harder,” Professor Myhill, the director of the university’s Centre for Research in Writing, said.

She added that there were questions that required no grammatical knowledge.

‘Linguistic pyrotechnics’

Pie Corbett, one of the country’s most respected literacy experts and an adviser to the Blair government’s National Literacy Strategy, was also highly critical, saying that some of the grammatical rules were too complicated for 11-year-olds to grasp.

“Children are submitting to linguistic pyrotechnics beyond the ken of most adults,” he said.

And the maths key stage 2 Sats papers for 2016 have angered a government adviser who told TES that they were full of “tripwires”, contain GCSE-level material and don’t allow children to demonstrate their true understanding.

Anne Watson, emeritus professor of mathematics education at the University of Oxford, said maths GCSEs gave candidates an “easier run-in” at the start of papers than this year’s tests for 11-year-olds.

The Sats reading paper taken earlier this month had already been criticised by teachers for being “too middle-class” and for reducing some 11-year-olds to tears.

Now experts at the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE), which carries out research and training on improving reading, have told TES that the test was skewed towards retrieving and recording information rather than understanding meaning.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Teachers and development experts were involved in the development of the tests to ensure the papers were at an appropriate standard for KS2 pupils. This is because parents rightly expect their children to leave primary school having mastered the basics of literacy and numeracy.

“If they don’t master literacy and numeracy early on, they risk being held behind and struggling for the rest of their lives.”

This is an edited article from the 27 May edition of TES. Subscribers can read the full article here. This week’s TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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