Pupils’ Sats results plummet following Covid school closures

·3 min read
Child doing exam - David Davies/PA
Child doing exam - David Davies/PA

Children at the end of primary school have seen a record fall in Sats results in the wake of the pandemic.

Only 59 per cent of pupils in England met the expected standard in reading, writing and maths this year compared with 65 per cent the last time the exams were conducted in 2019.

The decline of around 10 per cent, or six percentage points, in pupils achieving the expected standard is the steepest fall in the main measure of attainment for the Key Stage 2 tests since they were introduced in 1995, analysis by The Telegraph has found.

The Department for Education said it recognised “that pupils have missed a critical period of their education due to the pandemic and the Government is now driving forward work to get children back on track”.

A transitional year

Molly Kingsley, of the parents campaign group UsforThem, said: “This should surprise no one. It was known at the time when schools were closed two years ago that there was no adequate substitute for most children and so it proved.

“Year Six is a key transitional year. How are they going to cope with secondary school? We are setting them up for failure, when we should be setting them up for success.”

While the score for reading ability rose by one percentage point to 74 per cent, the results for maths, writing and spelling, punctuation and grammar tests reinforced concerns about learning loss during the pandemic.

In total, 71 per cent of pupils met the expected standard in maths, down from 79 per cent in 2019, while 69 per cent met the expected standard in writing, down from 78 per cent before.

Expectations for children taking the exams were raised following a change to the national curriculum in 2014. Since 2016, pupils have needed to achieve more to reach the Government’s expected standard.

Alex Quigley, a former teacher who now works at the Education Endowment Foundation, said: “Writing has distinctly gone down. I think although we can’t over-read the results from one year group, people are going to ask questions about the impact of partial school closures. There’s been a suggestion that it has been harder to give feedback on handwriting and spelling, whereas with reading for some people it was easier to sustain from home.”

Catch-up plan

The Government’s target is for 90 per cent of pupils to meet the expected standard in reading, writing and maths by 2030.

Its catch-up plan is centred on a national tutoring programme, which it says has delivered 1.5 million courses. However, the scheme has been criticised with schools reporting problems with an online portal built by Randstad, a Dutch human resources firm. From September funding will go directly to schools, which can then hire their own tutors.

A government spokesman said that children “are already making strong progress with their recovery”.

The latest exams were not adapted to reflect the fact that pupils’ learning had been disrupted.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “It is hardly surprising the percentage of pupils meeting the expected standard in reading, writing and maths is lower than it was before the pandemic.

“It illustrates the very difficult circumstances affecting schools and pupils over the past two years, and it is to their immense credit that, within this overall statistic, reading attainment has actually increased despite the disruption of Covid.”

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