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SATs reading test ‘so tough it left pupils in tears’

A SATs test was so tough it reduced primary school pupils to tears and a quarter did not even finish it, says the exam watchdog.

The reading test taken by more than 550,000 10 and 11-year-olds in May last year provoked complaints from parents and led to an investigation by Ofqual.

It has now ruled that it was ‘unduly hard’ to understand for some pupils. One teacher said pupils had been left ‘sobbing’, while others said it had been much harder than the practice papers and had ‘demoralised’ children.

Some teachers even claimed the Key Stage 2 reading test was ‘too middle class’ for some youngsters to relate to because it included a story featuring a garden party.

The SATs test taken by more than 550,000 10 and 11-year-olds in May last year provoked complaints from parents and led to an investigation by Ofqual (stock image)

New SATS introduced last year were aimed at raising standards in numeracy and literacy and made deliberately tougher. But following the furore over the reading test, Ofqual launched an investigation – and yesterday said that it may have been too difficult for some pupils to ‘access’.

In the one-hour test children had to answer 33 questions on three passages of text, including a story about two children sneaking away from a party to row across a lake in the grounds.

Ofqual’s report said ‘multiple ostensibly negligible challenges’ in both the questions and text may have made the test ‘unduly hard to access for at least some pupils’. It added that standards were set appropriately – but the test did seem to be more challenging than the sample materials provided.

The regulator heard evidence that the tests may have proved particularly hard for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities because all of the texts were continuous passages and challenging vocabulary was used.

It was also told that an ‘old-fashioned feel’ to the vocabulary could also have been hard for pupils from poorer backgrounds since these words may not be used at home. ‘As soon as the reading test had been sat, teachers began to express concerns over its accessibility,’ the review said.

Christine Kemp-Hall, executive principal at North Ormesby primary academy in Middlesbrough, said her staff were ‘horrified’ when they had opened the paper.

‘For our special needs pupils it was almost pencils down,’ she told Schools Week magazine.

Archaic words such as ‘ancestors’ would have challenged some secondary school pupils, let alone primary ones, she added.

Another teacher told the Times Educational Supplement: ‘Dreadful! Children who had succeeded in the sample test were sobbing! If ever a test was set up to prepare children to fail, this was it.’

Ofqual raised concerns over whether pupils were given enough time to complete the reading test, if concerns could have been flagged up earlier during the development process, and how ‘potential biases’ against certain groups of pupils – such as those with special needs – could be better identified.

A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘A good primary education lays the foundations for success at secondary school and beyond. It is important to have an assessment system that helps to drive up academic standards.’