Head teachers call on Government to cancel Sats exams in 2021 amid Covid-19

School leaders have voted to call on ministers to cancel Sats exams next year amid the pandemic.

Holding statutory tests during this school year would be “nonsensical” and “harmful” to pupils’ mental health, school leaders told the annual conference of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT).

Delegates heard from a number of head teachers before passing a motion calling on the national executive to lobby the Government to abandon all statutory tests in primary schools in 2021.

Michelle Sheehy, head of Millfield Primary School in Walsall, said: “Under the circumstances in which we find ourselves this year, for the Department for Education (DfE) to insist upon statutory testing would be inequitable, nonsensical, and frankly of no benefit whatsoever.

“On the contrary, it would be harmful to the mental health of our pupils and will inhibit the progress they will make. We must not be complicit in this.”

Sats exams for Year 6 pupils – which are used to compare schools’ performance – are due to take place in May 2021.

The primary school tests were abandoned in the summer under lockdown measures.

On the tests, Chris Gaffiney, a head in Staffordshire, told the conference: “They were not missed this year. It’s an opportunity now for us to think differently about how we want to create our school system.”

Speaking at the virtual conference on Friday, Paul Gosling, head of Exeter Road Primary School, said: “I think every time they mentioned Sats and testing, we should say ‘we need the Covid tests in schools’.

“The only testing that should be talked about at the moment is making sure that there’s enough tests so that teachers and staff and children have access to those.”

He added: “We shouldn’t be concentrating on Sats tests for next summer.”

Jim Nicholson, a delegate at the conference, said: “It is absolutely absurd that we’re even having to have this as a motion in the first place, and what it does is reveal the complete disconnect from the Government and their department with actually what’s happening in the real world.”

In a speech to the conference, NAHT’s general secretary Paul Whiteman said Sats exams will drive head teachers towards “serving the data master” rather than serving children they care about.

He said: “Schools and families need solutions now. They need solutions so that their schools are funded properly. Exams are sorted out before next summer. We remove the pressure of Sats so the children can be taught properly.”

A DfE spokesman said: “We are planning for statutory primary assessments to take place in summer 2021, while the statutory rollout of the reception baseline assessment has been postponed until September 2021.

“We have launched a £1 billion Covid catch-up package to directly tackle the impact of lost teaching time as a result of the pandemic, which head teachers and school leaders have the flexibility to decide how to spend in the best interests of their students.”