Primary school children who found a Sats reading paper too hard need to develop “exam resilience”, a leading headteacher has said.
Mouhssin Ismail, who has been described as “Britain’s most inspiring headteacher” and is working with Eton to open state selective schools in the north and the Midlands, intervened in a row over a Sats reading paper after the exam was published by the Government.
Teachers have complained that the one-hour test, sat by 10 and 11-year-old pupils last week, was so difficult that it made pupils cry. The exam was due to be published on Monday, but was made available early after the backlash from teachers.
Mr Ismail said: “Exams are meant to assess a full range of abilities, so being tough for some is absolutely right.”
He said that pupils should sit more mock exams, which “develop their exam resilience”.
In a statement on Twitter, he said: “You should see what some Y5s [Year 5 pupils] do to prepare for the 11+ and they cope/thrive.
“Some pupils complain and rather than use it as an opportunity to develop their mental resilience and teach them that finding things tough is part of the learning process we affirm this negative behaviour.”
He added: “But let’s be honest it’s not about the toughness of the paper, it’s a hatred by some adults for exams and Sats.”
Mr Ismail is the executive principal of Star academies and founding head teacher of Newham Collegiate Sixth Form Centre in East Ham, London, which has one of the highest success rates in the country for pupils getting a place at Oxbridge.
Children had to answer 38 questions about three set texts in the Sats English paper. The exam texts included The Rise of Wolves, which was shortlisted for the 2019 Scottish Teenage Book Prize.
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said the SATs had been a “punishing experience for many pupils and staff”.
She said: “In the words of one member, ‘as a teacher, it’s the most stressed I have ever felt’. Children, even if they’re confident readers, have struggled to complete papers.”
James Bowen, assistant general secretary at the NAHT school leaders union said: “We have had clear feedback from school leaders that this year’s paper was not pitched appropriately for a large proportion of pupils and even highly proficient readers struggled with it.
“It is essential that test papers are accessible for the large majority of pupils.”
The Government defended the reading paper after it was published on Thursday.
“Evidence from these processes indicated that the tests were of similar difficulty to previous years,” the Department for Education said. “As a result, we are confident the test was set to an appropriate level of difficulty.”
The Department said it takes three years to create the tests. During that time the texts and questions are “rigorously trialled twice”, with more than 1,000 pupils seeing each question in the second trial.
Gillian Hillier, chief executive of the Standards and Testing Agency said: “As is the case every year, we will use data from the marked tests and trials to ensure the score needed to meet the expected standard reflects the relative difficulty of the test. As is routine, this process will be observed by Ofqual and school leader and teacher trade union representatives.
“We will continue to engage with schools, unions and other stakeholders to understand their views on the papers this year, and in regard to all aspects of primary assessment.”TIOB News