Sats suggest Covid disruption affecting primary school attainment in England

Just 59% of 10- and 11-year-olds reach expected standards in literacy, writing and maths in this year’s assessment

The Covid pandemic and disruption has undone many of the improvements in primary school test results within the last five years, according to this year’s Sats assessments taken by pupils in England.

Just 59% of 10- and 11-year-olds reached the Department for Education’s expected standards in literacy, writing and maths, the lowest rate since 2017 and below the 65% recorded in 2019 before the pandemic.

The national curriculum assessments – also known as Sats – are taken by state school pupils in year 6, at the end of their time at primary school.

While the subject results showed a surprise improvement in reading ability, the results for maths, writing and spelling, punctuation and grammar tests has confirmed fears of pandemic-related learning loss.

Some 71% of pupils reached the expected standards in maths, according to provisional figures published by the DfE, down from 79% in 2019. Spelling, punctuation and grammar standards were met by 72% of pupils, compared with 78% three years ago. And 69% of pupils were assessed by teachers as meeting standards in writing, down from 78%.

But there was an increase in standards of reading, with 74% at or above the national standard, compared with 73% in 2019.

Robin Walker, the schools minister, said the improvement in reading was “tribute to the hard work and dedication of our teachers, pupils and parents,” while the results in maths and writing were “disappointing but not unexpected”.

Jon Andrews, head of analysis at the Education Policy Institute (EPI), said the results suggested there was still work to be done in helping pupils further recover from the disruption of the pandemic.

“This challenge will become greater if rising inflation squeezes school budgets,” said Andrews.

“What we cannot see from today’s publication is how the pandemic has affected different pupil groups and different parts of the country.”

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Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “With rising costs and dwindling resources in schools, the government’s decision not to invest in plans drawn up by their own ‘catch-up tsar’ may yet prove a costly decision for the life chances of those children hit hardest by the pandemic.”

Sir Kevan Collins, appointed as education recovery tsar by the government, resigned last year in protest at the failure of ministers to give full financial backing to his proposals.

Rachel de Souza, the children’s commissioner for England, made a plea for more help to repair development losses among young children, telling MPs that “more resource should and must go there, I think it’s very serious indeed”.

Asked by parliament’s education select committee if the government’s catch-up efforts were working, De Souza said: “We have to recognise that a large amount of money has gone in but we need even more.”

Stephen Morgan, the shadow schools minister, said: “While school staff have worked hard to mitigate the pandemic’s impact, the government’s decision to short-change post-pandemic support threatens to cast a long shadow over opportunity and attainment for children.”


Richard Adams Education editor

The GuardianTramp

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