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NAHT discusses member concerns over SATs and moderation with STA

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Over the course of the summer term, NAHT has been in regular contact with the Standards and Testing Agency (STA) to raise member issues, concerns and requests for clarification. The STA expressed their appreciation that we have this positive and constructive relationship.

We followed up with the STA in late July to consider all issues which had been raised, consider how things might be improved in future and what action, if any, needed to be taken. The following is a summary of the key issues raised and the response from the STA.

Teacher assessment and moderation issues

1. Local agreements

  • A lack of knowledge of their existence in an LA  

Some of our members were not aware of a local agreement which was in place. In some LAs, a representative group of head teachers meets with the LA and agrees this on behalf of all schools. NAHT advised members and branches to ask for clarity regarding whether a local agreement exists, whether any such agreement is updated on an annual basis and whether this has been signed by the LA and individual governing bodies of schools as required by the updated moderation guidance.

  • Members not wanting to sign local agreements

The second issue has been where our members have not wanted to sign the local agreement because of something contained within it. Rather than discuss revisions and changes to make the local agreement acceptable to all schools, some of our members have reported that the LA has made it a binary choice, sign or don't sign, and actually suggested that if schools don't sign they could expect to be moderated this year. Other members have felt pressured with repeated requests from the LA to return the signed agreement.

These issues were raised with the STA who responded that they found this very disappointing. The STA is clear that LAs can't require schools to sign a non-statutory agreement. It needs to be a collaborative process and agreed upon by all parties.

NAHT has requested further clarity on local agreements in training and guidance for 2019. The STA has confirmed that the section regarding local agreements within the guidance is being reviewed with regard to content and clarity. They are also developing their communication strategy to give clear messages regarding local agreements to LAs and schools.

2. Member concerns of the timing and duration of moderation visits

NAHT members have raised concerns over the timing and duration of moderation visits. We are aware that in some LAs, there is an understanding that visits are half a day for each key stage, but there is a lack of consistency across the country.

In particular, we have had reports from members where teachers have been expected to participate in moderation at times way beyond normal working hours. 

NAHT requested further clarity in the guidance from the STA on these issues. 

The STA confirmed that they would expect visits to take place during a typical school day. They will ensure that these concerns are picked up in LA and STA moderator training and will also highlight them through dedicated communications. 

The STA said that they cannot give specific durations in the guidance as these are dependent on cohort size, quality of organisation of the day and depth of discussion required for 'borderline' pupils, but no visit should involve any teachers working outside of normal hours. They will add the underlined text to the guidance.

3. Inaccurate messages delivered in Local Authority training to schools           

NAHT raised a particular concern regarding one LA which, in its KS1 training to schools stated that writing remained 100% secure fit model.

The STA investigated and the LA advised that they would revisit 'a more flexible approach' during their next moderator training events and make sure there is a full understanding across both key stages. In addition, there were another three LAs that were contacted by the STA due to concerns raised regarding the messages they were delivering after the training events. All of these confirmed that they have revisited training and ensured STA messages were delivered accurately.     

4. Issues with particular moderation visits 

Over the course of the moderation window, members reported a range of concerns regarding the conduct of the moderation visit. These included:

  • one teacher discussing the work of only two children with the moderator for over two hours
  • the assessment lead not being allowed to contribute despite their specific support of year 6 groups 
  • inconsistency in the number of pieces of evidence looked at by the moderator as they were running out of time 
  • teachers being left waiting for several hours before being seen. 
The STA has expressed their disappointment and confirmed that all visits should have an agreed start time and duration, with extension only through agreement.  The number of pieces of work moderated should reflect the cohort size and be representative of the number of pupils in each assessed band.

In response, the STA will be delivering more structured, intensive training to the external moderators next year in order to gain greater consistency across the visits, and will cover any specific concerns identified. 

5. Lack of information provided to schools about moderation visit


Some members suffered from a lack of timely information being provided by the LA about the moderation visit, specifically who would be attending. NAHT requested clarity about the information which LAs should provide, and schools should expect. 

The STA confirmed that it expects all schools to be notified by their LA of the date of the visit, who is visiting, their role, start time and anticipated finish time together with the purpose of the visit.  This should be given no later than 48 hours in advance.  The guidance on preparing for an external moderation is explicit and the STA will reinforce this message through training.

SATs test issues

6. Marking of commas in GPS test

NAHT had some general feedback that again this year, commas in grammar, punctuation and spelling (GPS) were marked incorrect because of formation, not placement.  NAHT raised this with the STA and highlighted that in order for children to have the best chance of correct formation, the spacing of words and size of letters in the test must be considered; the space currently left can be very difficult for some children to place an accurate punctuation mark into.

The STA responded quickly to confirm that for questions where the pupil is required to insert punctuation into a given sentence, sentences are double-spaced to allow enough room for the mark to be clearly inserted. They have considered increasing the space further but this makes the sentences more difficult to read. Correctly formed punctuation that is clear, unambiguous and recognisable as the intended punctuation mark is creditworthy. If teachers feel the mark scheme has been incorrectly applied, STA advise a review of marking.

A detailed review of pupil scripts from the technical pre-test indicated that the overwhelming majority of children are able to fit the punctuation mark into the space allowed. For each of the five questions in the 2018 test where pupils were required to insert punctuation into a given sentence, the most common errors were to insert the punctuation mark into the incorrect space in the sentence.

If a pupil does find it difficult to fit the punctuation mark in the space provided, if they correctly indicate in a clear way where the punctuation mark should go but draw it below or above the line, it is also considered creditworthy.

7. Pressure on children            


NAHT members have reported that despite their efforts to make the tests as stress-free as possible for the children, there remains a number of children who are distressed and upset. NAHT highlighted the need to change the impact of high-stakes accountability attached to SATs data and suggested to the STA that a review of the strict rules around administration test security and time limits may help to improve the experience for children.  

The STA responded, in terms of the accountability point, that the Secretary of State announced at NAHT's annual conference on 4 May that there will be a consultation this autumn on a new trigger to identify schools that might benefit from an offer of support which will be in place from September 2019. He also confirmed that, from now, no school will be forced to convert to an academy or re-brokered unless it is judged inadequate by Ofsted. They also highlighted the arrangements for 2018/19 as a transition year, the details of which have been emailed to NAHT members.

The STA trusts teachers to administer tests in a proportionate way that does not put undue pressure on pupils. In regards to test security and rules on time limits, there needs to be a level playing field for all schools, where the integrity, security and confidentiality of the assessments provide an accurate reflection of pupils' results. There is also guidance for schools on how to apply for special considerations should these be required for pupils and many schools successfully use this system.

SATs results

8. Incorrect schools data published

NAHT discussed with the STA the incorrect school data which was published on 10 July 2018, where schools data did not include all of the children it should have. The STA confirmed that this was taken down as soon as the issue became apparent, fixed and went up again at lunchtime with a message on NCA tools.

NAHT highlighted the negative effect this error had on some members and the lack of communication advising schools to recheck the site for the corrected results. It would also have been useful to have clarification from the STA that the published national results were correct.

We suggested that it would be helpful for the STA to communicate directly with NAHT when an issue such as this occurs; we can then ensure a message goes onto our website for members and alert our advice team who are taking calls.

First published 24 January 2018