With the deadline for registering pupils for the KS2 tests on NCA Tools fast approaching (17th March), there is one particular question that I have been asked quite frequently in recent days: Is it better for me to enter my child with (insert description of a particular set of Special Educational Needs and/or Disability here) for the SATs or to disapply them?

The first part of my answer is to explain that there is no such thing as *disapplying a child from the tests. Never has been. (There is disapplication from the National Curriculum – but that is quite different.) What I find people generally mean when they use the ‘d-word’ is to register a child as “working below the standard of the test” (code B in the pupil registration procedure). NB this distinction is more than mere semantics. ‘Disapplied’ could lead one to assume that such a child was discounted from the published data, which is not the case.

Having established that what the questioner really means is “Should I indicate that they are working below the standard of the test, or should we put them in and see what happens? How will it affect my data?”, the next part of the answer is to refer to the statutory guidance, the Assessment & Reporting Arrangements (ARA) document, which states in Section 5.1:

“if pupils are considered to be able to answer the easiest questions, they should be entered for the test. These pupils may not achieve a scaled score of 100, the ‘expected standard’, but should still take the test.”

Furthermore, it states:

“Pupils shouldn’t take the tests if they:

 have not completed the KS2 programme of study, or

 are working below the overall standard of the KS2 tests, or

 are unable to participate even when using suitable access arrangements”

So, regardless of the question of the impact on school data, the statutory position is that if a child is able to answer even just a few questions on the test, they should be entered. Code B is only appropriate where a child cannot access any of the test at all.

There are a couple of other codes that could be used in certain circumstances:

J = Just arrived in the country (and therefore we have not yet been able to establish whether they are working at the standard or not)

U = Unable to access the test, although the child is working at the academic standard of the test (e.g. a sensory impairment or physical disability prevents the child from being able to access the test)

This is all explained in greater detail in section 5.2 of the ARA.

Nonetheless, having explained that there is a statutory requirement to enter a child into the tests if they can access them, the question still remains – how will it affect my data?

The first point to make here is that, whilst we know exactly how attainment and progress were worked out in 2016, there is no guarantee that the methodology won’t be tweaked for 2017. (Confirmation expected in April.)

But let’s assume the system remains the same as last year. By entering the child into the test, they will either

  • achieve a scaled score of 80 or above, or
  • (if they fail to score more than a very few marks) achieve no scaled score.

Assuming that you believe the child to be working above the Pre-Key Stage Standards (and if they weren’t, they probably shouldn’t be sitting the test in the first place) but below the Expected Standard, your teacher assessment would be HNM (“Has Not Met”). If this child then failed to achieve the scaled score of 80, in the 2016 system they were then not included at all in the school’s progress figure (but included in the attainment data). Even if DfE adjust the methodology in 2017 and decide to award an arbitrary scaled score of, say, 79 in this circumstance (which would make more sense in my opinion) you still do not stand to lose by entering the child into the test.

So – the answer to the question is the same, regardless of whether you base your approach on statutory guidance or on what produces the best data outcome: if the child can access at least some of the test, then they should take it.

Of course there are situations where it is not appropriate for a child to take the test because it is quite clear to the educational professionals that the child is working at a lower standard. In such circumstances, of course the child should not sit the test. And one would expect their teacher assessment to be based upon the Pre-Key Stage Standards (not ‘HNM’). Provided this is all done correctly then again there is no incentive, data-wise, to act in a way which is contrary to statutory guidance. If you did put such a child in to the test, knowing that they would not achieve a scaled score, then their Pre-Key Stage Standard assessment would be used in the calculation of a progress measure – just as it would if they had not been entered (code B).

There is further useful guidance on pupil registration here.

Note also that if circumstances change between Pupil registration (in March) and taking the test (in May), you will be able to amend the test attendance register accordingly (for example, if you had entered code B in March and by May come to the conclusion that the child should be taking the test).

*One further point about “disapplication” – the other situation in which I hear this word used (still wrongly) is regarding the DfE Data Checking process, whereby schools can apply to remove certain pupils from the published (validated) dataset. This process takes place in the September after the Summer term in which the SATs took place. The main scenario where a school can apply to remove a child from their data is if the child arrived from overseas during the last 2 years, from a non-English speaking country, and does not have English as their main spoken language. However, this process is entirely separate to the issue of whether or not the pupils took the tests. And it’s still not called disapplication.

Ben Fuller is the Lead Assessment Adviser at Herts for Learning

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