Do Key Stage 2 tests negatively affect children’s wellbeing?
By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 24 September 2021
Over the last couple of years, Key Stage 2 tests have been cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. They are, however, due to come back with a vengeance in 2022 – most likely to the delight of some, but to the despair of others.
The return of the Key Stage 2 tests is likely to be met with renewed accusations that they cause children a huge amount of stress along with calls from organisations such as More Than a Score that they should be scrapped.
But is there really good evidence that the Key Stage 2 tests negatively affect children’s wellbeing? Actually, the existing quantitative evidence on this matter remains pretty scant.
In my new paper published today I hence undertake a thorough investigation of this issue. Using data from the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) – whose English participants completed Key Stage 2 tests in 2012 – I explore how various different aspects of children’s wellbeing varies around the Key Stage 2 test date.
Importantly, because the study is UK-wide, I am able to compare results for children who live in England (where Key Stage 2 tests are conducted) to their peers who live in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales (where Key Stage 2 tests do not take place).
What does the evidence say?
Figure 1 provides an overview of some of the key findings from the paper*. Running along the horizontal axis is the number of days the MCS survey was completed before/after the week of the Key Stage 2 tests. The vertical axis presents the percent of children who:
- Said that they felt happy in the last four weeks (panel a)
- Said that they do not feel good about themselves (panel b)
- Who felt unhappy with their school work (panel c)
- Who say that they do not like school a lot (panel d)
There are two key features of note.
First, the lines for England and the rest of the UK fall very close to one another, and often overlap.
Second, there is little evidence of clear variation around the time that the Key Stage 2 tests take place. There is, in other words, little sign that children in England become happier – either in general or about school specifically – once these tests are over.
Taken together, these findings provide an important counter to conventional narratives about how the Key Stage 2 tests have serious negative impacts upon children’s wellbeing. There is little sign – at least from this analysis – that this is really the case.
With any accountability system, it is important that we as a society weigh up the pros and cons. While Key Stage 2 tests may provide valuable information about the academic achievement of schools and their pupils, it has been claimed that this also leads to a narrowing of the primary curriculum and negatively impacts upon the wellbeing of both pupils and teaching staff.
Unfortunately, despite the rhetoric, we currently have only a limited understanding of this trade-off.
What this blog has illustrated, however, is that concerns about a negative link between the Key Stage 2 tests and children’s wellbeing may – on the whole – be somewhat overblown.
* These results can be found in Appendix E of my published paper. I have chosen to present these within this blog as they provide results in an easy-to-understand accessible format that can be understood by the broadest possible audience.