'Spag' folly condemned by teachers in NUT poll of primary school tests

Nicky Morgan & David Cameron

The government’s overhaul of primary-school assessments has turned into a shambles, according to the teachers who will have to carry them out from next month, with complaints that seven- and 11-year-old pupils find the new standards too hard and too confusing.

The new spelling, punctuation and grammar tests came in for particular attack from those who responded to the National Union of Teachers’ request for comment, with 86% of those saying that the education secretary, Nicky Morgan, should cancel this summer’s assessments.

More than 5,000 primary-school teachers in England responded to an NUT request for their opinion, and virtually all agreed that the new assessment levels were inappropriate for the pupils, given their age, and was likely to brand many as failures.

More than 90% of teachers at key stage 1 and key stage 2 said much of the material in the new spelling, punctuation and grammar tests – nicknamed Spag – was too advanced or inappropriate for the age groups being tested.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said many adults would struggle to answer the demands of the new assessments.

“I can tell you that quite a lot of people who ply their trade by writing in English are incapable of getting 100% on the key stage 2 Spag test,” Blower said.

One teacher told the NUT survey: “The terminology for Spag is a constant cause of stress for children who find it all confusing. They are feeling like failures because they can’t remember the four different types of nouns, or they are confused by the fact that some things can have several different terms.”

Another said: “As a year 1 teacher, I am finding myself teaching complicated whole-class grammar in order to prepare them for next year when some of my children still can’t write their names. It’s setting the majority up for failure, no matter how much you prepare them.”

The new assessments introduced this year have been widely criticised within England’s primary schools after delays in publishing the expected levels of achievement for pupils and for confusion over the interpretations to be made by teachers in grading their pupils.

A similar survey of teachers published by the NASUWT teaching union – which is holding its annual conference in Birmingham – found that many teachers saying they were relying on alcohol, caffeine and drugs to help them cope with their job.

A fifth of those who responded said they increased use of alcohol and caffeine to help them manage work-related stress, while 7% said they use or have increased their reliance on prescription drugs.

A further 10% of teachers said they had been prescribed anti-depressants to help them cope.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said the figures showed a “shocking” toll on the health and wellbeing of teachers.

“It is unacceptable that, given the increasing scale of the problem, there is still no sign of either employers or the government taking any effective action to address this,” Keates said.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Richard Adams in Brighton, for theguardian.com on Saturday 26th March 2016 00.01 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010