Stop Stressing About SATs!

In less than two weeks Year 6 students throughout the country will be sitting SATS tests. I know from my own experience, how stressed this can make students and their parents. But what exactly is the significance of these tests and what can parents do to prepare their children?

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In order to understand more about these tests, it is first vital to look at their history. In 1988 The Education Reform Act was introduced to bring in a new National Curriculum. Prior to this, Primary schools had been able to teach whatever they wanted and so a National Curriculum was introduced to ensure that all students were taught the same subjects and topics. The Education Act introduced the idea of different Key Stages:

Key Stage 1 from Reception to the end of Year 2       Infants

Key Stage 2 from Year 3 to the end of Year 6             Juniors

Key Stage 3 from Year 7 to the end of Year 9             Lower Secondary

Key Stage 4 from Year 10 to the end of Year 11         Preparation for GCSEs

There needed to be a way to assess pupil’s learning and a way of monitoring that schools were teaching students what they needed to. SATs were designed to hold primary schools accountable and check that when children entered the Secondary phase of their education, they would be prepared for the next stage of their learning. The other significance of SATS was that if pupils fell below the expected standard for their age, then it would also be an indicator that the individual may have a learning difficulty. Viewing pupils’ performance in end of Key Stage tests, would serve as an indication to the next stage of their learning where they were academically. SATs were also an indication of how well a school was performing in league tables.

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SATS were designed as a realistic indicator to teachers and schools. They were not meant to be a way of assessing students in the same way that GCSEs do. Sadly, too many people now believe that they are. As a result of this, schools have started to teach to the tests and have also brought in intervention classes to try and ensure that a child attains a certain level by the end of SATS. Teaching to a test is so wrong. It is not a true indicator of a child’s intelligence. However, I can see why schools do this because ultimately this is one way in which OFSTED rate a school.

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I think it is vital that we consider this as teachers and as parents. SATS are supposed to be a way of monitoring what and how schools are teaching. They are not supposed to be an indication of how academic your child is, but inevitably this is what they have become.

When you are preparing your child over the next few weeks, try to reassure them about this. There will be plenty of time, when they are at secondary school, for them to concentrate on academia. GCSEs are very tough these days. At primary level, there are so many other things that children need to learn apart from SATs. Children need to learn about friendships, they need to learn how to relax in their free time, they need to learn about how to exercise for pleasure, how to look after their mental as well as their physical health. and more than anything else, they need to learn how to be kind. I feel strongly that childhood should be a time of happiness and carefree play. It should not be a time of worry over what level your maths is at and if you have managed to get greater depth in your English.

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My son and daughter have both been through the dreaded SATs tests and with both, I took quite a laid-back attitude. My daughter did an eleven plus examination in the Spring Term of her Year 6. We did get her a single lesson of extra maths once a week because she was exceptionally gifted in maths and she wanted to do new topics that her primary school were not able to teach her. However, when she went in for the eleven plus, I did not think that I needed to hothouse her and make sure that she had spent three hours a night revising. What was the point in sending her to an academically selective school if she was not bright enough because inevitably seven years in that environment would be too stressful for her? In the end she was fortunate to gain a scholarship and she is happy in that environment because they push her and that is what she enjoys. If that had not been the right place for her though, then I would have sent her to a different school. My son went to an entirely different school that was able to meet his needs.

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So, what can you do to help your child in the run up to SATs?

My advice is to focus on their mental and physical health rather than anything academic. No doubt they will worry before, during and after the tests. Let them play outside and wear themselves out so that they will be able to sleep. Keep reassuring them that these tests are there to test schools, not pupils. Tell them that the only reason they are sitting these tests is in order to inform their secondary school what support they will need. And one thing that I always say to my students is ‘Think of the worst-case scenario!’ What is the most extreme thing that can happen when you sit these tests? You will fail and that’s it. Will you lose your home and family? No. Will you lose any of your mental or physical abilities? No. The worst that can happen, is that you may be put in the wrong set when you start at secondary school. However, secondary school sets are never set in stone. Pupils can always be moved up or down. If you really want your child to do something, then encourage them to read.

There really is no reason for children to worry about SATs.

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