5 reasons children shouldn’t sit SATs

Could the current crisis present an opportunity to banish SATS for good? Natalie Bone, Junior School Head at Sidcot School, explains why children shouldn’t sit SATS and outlines their potentially negative impact.

As adults, we are all familiar with the pangs of anxiety felt upon entering a silent examination hall full of chairs and desks. That anxiety was no doubt borne from the idea that the next few hours could significantly impact our future.

It’s this feeling our 11-year-old children are experiencing when sitting their SATs.

The pressure is immense for children so young, which begs the question…is this the best way to measure a child’s knowledge and understanding?

There are a few points to dissect here. Firstly, it is becoming clear that parents would rather primary schools were judged on pupils’ happiness rather than test results[1]. Instilling a ‘love of learning’ is considered much more important to parents than how well youngsters perform in tests.

Secondly, a recent survey highlighted that four in five primary school heads had been contacted by parents with concerns that preparing for SATs was making their child stressed and anxious[2], resulting in sleepless nights, crying, and perhaps even disdain for education.

So there is a growing and very real concern that SATs are having a negative impact on our children’s wellbeing. Yet we’re also told the purpose of SATs is not even to assess children, and that they should “be treated as any other generic spelling or times table test”. Those were the words of Roger Taylor, chair of the examination regulator Ofqual.

So if the purpose of SATs is not to assess children, then what is it and why are we opting to put our children under such strain? In this article, I want to highlight five reasons why, as an experienced junior school teacher, I feel passionately children shouldn’t sit SATs:

Children shouldn’t sit SATs because they don’t benefit children’s understanding

For years we’ve been led to believe that SATs help us assess a pupils understanding of a subject, but that is not necessarily the case. Unfortunately, the pressure placed on a child to perform on the day could easily sway performance and therefore doesn’t deliver a true reflection of a child’s understanding.

Instead, a teacher who has helped a child learn and progress consistently throughout the year will have a much clearer idea of whether or not that child has understood a certain subject. It is extremely damaging to judge a pupil’s progress on the result of one exam. If they have an off day, that shouldn’t impact their potential for learning in the future.

SATs are the biggest barrier to high quality, relevant learning

It is alarming that UK junior schools have essentially become exam factories. In our experience, studying with an emphasis on passing exams is a large barrier to quality learning. We believe the most crucial ingredients when developing our children is allowing them the space and time to succeed.

That is why at Sidcot we don’t believe in SATs or Common Entrance tests. These processes only act as a distraction to our pupils and add unnecessary stress to both children and parents. Instead, we believe it’s important to deliver small class sizes and assess a student’s educational progress throughout the school year.

We find children benefit hugely from the space in their day to explore, to question and to be curious. After all, it is these skills that are crucial to our childrens’ futures, rather than their ability to regurgitate facts and figures to satisfy someone else’s need to judge.

Time, as we know, is also crucial in anyone’s development and it is important to understand that everyone learns at different speeds. Tailoring teaching to suit the learning style of each individual child is paramount, as is using a variety of teaching methods to engage pupils and develop learning environments that suit everyone.

SATs often have a negative impact on children’s mental health and wellbeing

At Sidcot Junior School, we’ve long held the view that putting children through the stress of SATs exams is not an effective way of helping them grow and learn as people. Yet research often highlights examples of children crying, having nightmares and being so stressed they require extra support to cope with SATs. The negative impact on children’s mental health and wellbeing is clear.[3]

It is especially worrying that teachers themselves are beginning to express concerns about the welfare of our young children. Putting them under such strain at this age is only going to discourage a love of learning, at a time when it is so important to encourage it. Of course, it is important to ensure children make good progress, however doing so over a longer period of time, in a more natural setting, will help them feel the confidence they need to grow.

SATs are not a reliable way to measure achievement

SATs were created to evaluate a child’s educational progress. The problem is SATs data can be extremely unreliable. As adults, it is almost impossible for us to perform perfectly at a set time, and it’s the same for children too. In the classroom, there may be a child who is excelling but on the day of the SATs test, they don’t perform as well as they could.

From SATs anxiety to illness or other issues, it’s unfair to mark them down when they have shown consistently throughout the year to be achieving a higher level.

SATs do not help produce educated or well-rounded individuals

We don’t believe teaching should be solely focused on helping children to pass exams. We want to look beyond that.

Our focus is to create well-rounded individuals. Qualities we like to promote include being curious, problem-solving, emotional intelligence, empathy and resilience. We want our students to understand the importance of honesty, courage, humility, respect and integrity. From these qualities, educational success is born.

From our experience, it is extremely difficult to fit in lessons that encourage these kinds of values when there is so much academic pressure for a child to perform for a SATs test. It’s our aim to develop well-balanced children who are prepared for life.

If you’d like to see how Sidcot Junior School could help your child meet their full potential, feel free to visit us at one of our upcoming Open Mornings.


What is your view on SATS? Do you think children shouldn’t sit SATS or are you all for them? Do share in a comment below.

Author bio

Natalie started her career after university in Sales and Marketing and then moved into Finance. She made the switch to teaching as she was driven to make learning vibrant and enjoyable – a style evidenced in her Maths teaching, encouraging a contagious enthusiasm in her students. This led to some great opportunities in some of the leading schools in the South West. 

Natalie has now found her home at Sidcot Junior School where creativity in learning truly blends with the promotion of self-esteem and the establishment of good values. She is determined to provide an environment where children can thrive and become prepared for all aspects of their future lives.

Natalie likes taking care of plants, dogs, horses and her two children aged 19 and 20. She is married to creative Matt who runs a successful Art Department and they enjoy simple countryside living in Somerset.

References

[1]https://www.itv.com/news/2020-01-23/parents-more-concerned-about-pupil-happiness-than-test-results/

[2]https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/sats-exams-stress-school-children-mental-health-ofsted-ks2-a8913751.html

[3]https://neu.org.uk/assessment/sats-do-not-benefit-childrens-learning-and-are-bad-their-well-being-neu-survey

Picture credit: School photo created by master1305 – www.freepik.com

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