Some Thoughts on SATs in Primary School

Education and testing are rarely far from the news headlines at the moment.  The government appear to be making it up as they go along (Did you see the fuss over exclamation marks a few weeks back?) and teachers are essentially left fumbling in the dark as they do the best they can to get their pupils through tests which are completely different to last year and will likely be completely different to next year.

No teacher wants to “teach to test” but at the same time Ofsted, government targets and performance related pay all mean that in reality they have no choice.  This year things are tricky.  The tests and curriculum have changed.  We are now expecting our children to study subject areas which wouldn’t previously have been touched for another year or more.  Levels no longer exist and test results will be reported as “scaled scores” making it really difficult to compare assessment year on year.  Both the end of KS1 and end of KS2 tests are something of an unknown this year with schools doing the best they can to prepare from sample tests.

I’ve been teaching for almost 13 years now.  I’ve taught almost every year from Nursery through to Year 6.  But my favourite year to teach, and the one I’m most experienced in, is Year 2.  I’ve taught and assessed Year 2 SATs, been moderated and generally know my stuff inside out.  Or I did.

Now the goal posts have changed.  As I mentioned, the curriculum has changed over the last couple of years and this is now being reflected within the assessments – both the statutory tests and the new “tick list” teacher assessments.  These check lists mean that teachers are no longer trusted to make a best fit judgement of their pupils but must provide three separate pieces of evidence for each and every item on the list.  Previously your Y2 SATs writing tests concentrated on your creativity, your content, your sentence structure.  You were marked on how well you engaged the reader or understood the features of different text types.  Now?  There is no set writing task, this is assessed throughout the year (with that tick list) and if you don’t join your handwriting you can’t achieve “deeper learning” even if your content is akin to that of JK Rowling.

There is a heavy focus on SPAG (spelling, punctuation and grammar) with our 7 year olds now sitting a spelling test and a separate multiple choice test asking them to do things like identify verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs along with adding missing punctuation.  None of these things are new ground for Year 2 children but this would normally just be assessed within their own writing.  Year 5 and 6 however is a different matter entirely and I hold my hands up to having had to google some of the grammatical features they are being taught and consequently tested on.  I’d love to know how many adults could confidently explain a “fronted adverbial”, “modal verb” or a “subordinating conjunction” (all examples lifted from the Sample KS2 SPAG Paper 1)

What is this madness?  What are we doing to our children?  The immense level of expectation being weighed on our children at an age where in other countries they might only just be starting formal schooling does not sit comfortably at all.

Of course this year I have a personal interest in the Year 2 SATs.  This year Ben, my not even 7 yr old boy, will be taking these tests and I have a constant internal battle with wanting him to achieve and succeed, to get good marks on these tests and his end of year reports and actually knowing that the outcome of the SATs is inconsequential when it comes to the individual child.

The SATs, along with Teacher Assessment, are used to monitor progress, to set targets (and ultimately will affect the level of pressure Ben faces in Year 6) but are they a measure of his success?  Do they test his enjoyment of reading, his sense of humour, his happiness.  No.  Of course they don’t.  And that says it all really.  Yes I’d love for his school report to be awash with high marks at the end of the year but more than that I want to know that he’s a nice person, that he behaves himself and that he has done his best.  That he has achieved what he should have done, not what the government and their ever moving goalposts have decided is appropriate.

I know that if Ben were in my Year 2 class some six years ago he would have been doing absolutely fine and I would have no concerns that he would be getting top level 2s and maybe even some 3s.  This year he will be graded “Working towards the expected standard”  / “Working at the expected standard” / “Working at greater depth within the expected standard” ….. make of that useful judgement what you will.  How do you even track progress with judgements like that?

I’m glad that Ben’s school don’t seem to be making too much fuss about his end of KS1 tests, he doesn’t seem to be all that aware of them and frankly that’s the way it should be.  Teacher Assessment should still form the bulk of information contributing to your child’s level at the end of the year – the test should inform and support Teacher Assessment rather than being the linchpin though you wouldn’t think that were the case from the amount of attention paid to them.  As long as Ben comes out of the end of Year 2 with a smile on his face and the knowledge that he has tried his best, I’ll be happy.

Have you got children sitting SATs this year?  I’d love to know what you think.

EDIT: And tonight’s news, just hours after I published this post?  “Government caves into demands to scrap primary school spelling test“.  So, I refer you back to my very first paragraph . . . “The Government appear to be making it up as they go along.” and rest my case.

(With thanks to MB & GD for their support whilst I was writing this!)

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27 Comments

  1. Pippa Ainsworth
    April 21, 2016 / 3:49 pm

    Great post, I always find it interesting to read your thoughts as a parent and a teacher. We have all of this to come next year but, with the current fiasco, I do wonder if my oldest will sit the same SATs as this year's Year 2 or if the government will be forced to rethink.

  2. April 21, 2016 / 3:57 pm

    I have a child sitting SATs – and it's the 6th of ours who have passed through Primary school. He's 7 and actually had his Maths SATs this week as a pilot school. Thankfully he wasn't stressed and has so far been fine with the whole thing, but he's asked to practise some papers, and I can't help but be disturbed by that. He does know pressure is there and he wants to do well. With our older children a couple of them panicked about tests and didn't want to 'disappoint you' – unless they'd just scribbled on the paper that was never going to happen, and frankly if that had been to make a point we'd have tutted, but smiled. These are little children and they should be spending the time learning to share and be helpful, having fun and messing about with their mates, not panicking about how they are going to score in a test next day/week/month – they have the whole of their high school and adult lives for that.

  3. April 21, 2016 / 7:07 pm

    I don't ever remember doing my year 2 SATs but I remember the year 6 ones! I think what the government have done with the exams across all years is ridiculous. It seemed simple when I did each set of my exams but now it's all confusing to have it all keep changing. That said, I was very often always taught what I needed for my exams and nothing was ever explained for me to understand why it was needed. I don't believe that little ones should have proper examinations, instead they should just be taught and then I'm sure the teacher will be able to tell if they are progressing or not from their work. Exams can be very stressful and shouldn't be a thing practiced from a young age!

  4. April 21, 2016 / 8:33 pm

    I have to say I hated any sort of tests at school – I just don't do testing situations well at all – I'm better in a more relaxed situation. x

  5. April 21, 2016 / 8:40 pm

    My son is taking his Year 2 SATs this year. His school have fortunately kept it very low key for the children, but he's fully aware of them even though at a meeting with the teachers we were told that they call the practice papers 'quizzes' and 'special work', not tests. Luckily he's not bothered by them so I'm not worried about him but I think it's a shame that the school has to spend so much of their teaching time prepping the children for these tests when there is so much else that they could be doing.

  6. April 21, 2016 / 9:10 pm

    The thought of LP sitting exams in a couple of years terrifies me. I can only hope that throughout she just does her best x

  7. April 21, 2016 / 9:27 pm

    I think there's far too much pressure on children with all the exams they make them do (and as a parent it seems they are for no real reason or benefit to the children) My daughter is starting her GCSEs in September which are also changing, at her options evening the teachers didn't even know how much will be coursework / exams or even what exactly they'll be teaching them!

  8. April 21, 2016 / 10:31 pm

    You make some really good points. We don't have those types of SATs in the U.S.

  9. April 21, 2016 / 10:58 pm

    Great post. I don't have to deal with any of these now thankfully but I am one of the few that do want the tests to stay on.

  10. April 22, 2016 / 7:51 am

    Brilliant post Colette. I'm not at that stage yet as Roo is only in reception but I've always felt that there is just too much pressure on young kids to have a certain ability to test well, when they should be learning at their own pace and not just how to sit a damn test! H x

  11. Dannii @ Hungry Healthy Happy
    April 22, 2016 / 9:32 am

    There is so much pressure on tests, and it's really affecting kids mental health I think.

  12. April 22, 2016 / 9:28 am

    It's a real shame that teachers have to teach purely for exams these days, even with really young kids. Absolute madness.

  13. April 22, 2016 / 12:25 pm

    I was not a fan of SATS and personally I thinking testing year two children is not a valid indicator of a child's so called intelligence specifically when the SATS don't in-cooperate topics like creativity and are more focused on logical skills.

  14. April 22, 2016 / 2:32 pm

    I remember I was stressed about doing well in SATs at the time even though they mean nothing overall really. I do think it's silly they need to know the name for all those complicated verb structures. I'm a languages student at university and I still don't know any of those haha

  15. April 22, 2016 / 5:03 pm

    Great post. Always interesting to know these things from a teacher too

  16. April 22, 2016 / 7:24 pm

    I'm a TA so I focus a tonne on core work before SAT's they're really nothing like they were when I took them, they're so much more advanced. Children these days are doing work for 10 year olds at age 6/7! It's insane!

  17. April 22, 2016 / 8:38 pm

    Is it small wonder so many parents are seriously considering home schooling? My girls are still too young but I am considering it. There is wayyy too much pressure on children in the younger years. They are children!

  18. April 22, 2016 / 11:43 pm

    I don't have kids so I can't imagine how stressful it must be. I can't even remember doing my SATs when I was a kid x

  19. April 23, 2016 / 8:51 am

    Some of the homework my 5 year old step son comes home with is insane for his age but he whizzes through it which amazes me X

  20. April 23, 2016 / 2:12 pm

    I am not a massive fan to be honest. I think that the pressure can get too much for some children, or the parents can add to the pressure unknowingly.

  21. April 23, 2016 / 3:36 pm

    My daughter is 11 so is just about to do her SATs and is absolutely dreading May, she is stressed out and so worried. Worst thing is she is a really bright girl and well advanced above her age so I'm thinking if a child like her feels like this I can't imagine what a poor child who actually struggles must feel like. Half of the stuff my daughter comes home with is nothing like I used to learn back when I was younger, I am stumped with helping her at times especially with the ways she's always got to show her working out in a weird way or the way they ask them to get to an answer now compared to when I was taught. I can't wait for it all to be over so we can all sign a sigh of relief before all the secondary school testing starts xx

  22. April 23, 2016 / 7:29 pm

    i thought they stopped doing SATs? or was it just for year 9?

    • April 24, 2016 / 12:03 pm

      Yes that was just Year 9, years ago I think.

  23. April 24, 2016 / 9:13 pm

    Gosh there is so much pressure and it saddens me because from what I've read our European neighbours are not going through this-we need to put our children first and testing from a young age is not the way forward. Brilliant to read your experience as both a teacher and a parent x

  24. Deborah Nicholas
    April 25, 2016 / 10:00 pm

    It seems like way too much pressure on kids these days to perform well all the time. Give them a break and they ma surprise!

  25. Candace
    April 26, 2016 / 12:12 pm

    I agree that to some degree that had to be some form of tests but I really believe SATs put way too much pressure on the children. Both mind didn't do SATs as we were living in Wales for year 6. They did have tests but the were relaxed and I think this is much better for all concerned. Why the English schools ha d to put so much pressure on I really don't understand.

  26. May 4, 2016 / 12:22 pm

    This is what scares me not knowing enough about the english curriculum but then I guess it looks like I am in the same boat as everyone else even though I am an expat. I don't want B to ever fall behind in school but I also don't want him to ever feel the stress of it on test at such an early age. It's hard to find balance can't imagine how hard it is for teachers with it always changing. Thanks for linking up to Share With Me. #sharewithme

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