What's All the Fuss About SATs?

written by Cat

  1. #parent
  2. #sats
  3. #exam
  4. #school
  5. #stress
  6. #year 2

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You may remember that a couple of weeks ago, Sam posted a picture on Instagram of the SATs test papers she’d been sent home with following a meeting at Barney’s school. Well, this picture elicited A LOT of comments and messages and was a bit of an eye opener for Sam and in fact for me too, due to both our boys taking their Key Stage 1 SATs this month.

When I first heard about the SATs, I kind of thought they weren’t really a big deal, as Fin is only 7, so really how serious could it be? They’re just a classroom test aren’t they? I had heard some vague rumblings of them being “a waste of time” by a few people I knew, but I’d put this to one side and didn’t really give it much further thought.

In January this year, Fin was invited to attend a Booster Club one day a week for an hour after school as he’d been identified as potentially achieving ‘greater depth’ in both maths and literacy. The old parental pride swelled up in both me and my husband and we immediately agreed to him going – “he’s such a clever boy” we cooed. This turned out to be one of the most ill-informed decisions that we ever made, as the stress that followed was unbelievable – see here for The Tale of A SATs Stressed 7 Year Old.

But I digress, back to SATs...what I learned from my experience of the dreaded Booster Club and from talking to friends with kids the same age, albeit at different schools (although all within my local area) is that I definitely needed to find out more information, but that also it seems to play out differently within primary schools across England.

Those friends I mentioned with kids going through SATs at different schools told a contrasting tale, where the tests aren’t being pushed at all, with the teachers not even letting the kids know that the tests are taking place.

At our school, SATs are being pushed HARD; Booster Clubs, regular testing in the classroom, talked about endlessly at school and in various communications out to the parents (Fin is very aware of when they are and what they entail), with meetings for parents to attend, where the previous test papers were given out so the kids could practice them (hence Sam’s post).

I even had one Mum suggest a SATs play date one day after school, where she would gather the kids to take a previous test paper as part of the fun. She meant well, but I declined.

Our school is going for Academy Status, so the cynic in me is wondering if this has anything to do with it. Plus of course, there’s the pressure on schools of the ‘league tables’ which rank primary schools on performance – more on that later.

So, taking account of the amazing response to Sam’s post and the comments we received, I thought I’d better arm myself with all the facts. I must labour the point here that I am steering clear of the debate of whether we should even be testing our kids – I just want to let other parents know about my personal experience and give them the facts they need (as I really didn’t have any!)

For the sake of this article, I am focusing on Key Stage 1 SATs, as they are what is relevant to me currently. Firstly, here’s what I found out about what they are and why the kids take them:

What are SATs?

Standard Attainment Tests were introduced nearly three decades ago to regulate educational standards. The government currently requires children in English schools to take SATs twice a year during their school career, the first time being in Year 2 (Key Stage 1). Following an overhaul in 2016, children are now tested in maths, reading and English grammar, punctuation and spelling.

The papers are designed to be fairly informal; they aren’t strictly timed and are usually taken in the normal classroom setting.

In September 2017 it was confirmed that the KS1 SATs would be made non-statutory from 2023, so schools will be free to choose whether they administer them or not.

How are they scored?

Children are given a scaled score. Their raw score (the actual number of marks they achieve) is translated in to a scaled score, where 100 means the child is working at the expected standard.

A score below 100 indicates they may need more support, whereas a score above 100 suggests they are working at a higher level than expected for their age. The minimum scored is 85 and the maximum is 115.

What happens with the results?

Year 2 papers are marked by the class teacher and schools receive their provisional overall results for the school and individuals by the end of July. For Year 2 SATs, you won’t receive the results unless you ask for them. You will however be told whether your child is working at the expected standard as part of your child’s end of year report.

National, local authority and individual schools' results are published in December.

What’s the controversy with SATs?

Many argue that although they aren’t conventional tests, they do prize time away from other lessons which is time that could be spent teaching, rather than prepping the kids for tests.

Whilst I had been bemoaning the fact that the school was only trying to get their league table results up, I have actually discovered that the results from KS1 SATs are in fact not used in league tables. The score is just used by the Department of Education to measure a pupil / school’s progress over time.

Lots of parents do feel however that the pressure put on children as young as 6 is just too much and many believe that the tests are to measure the school, not the kids.

Our community member @daffodilchloe said the following “As a seasoned year 6 teacher and mentor/moderator for trainee teachers, I shout a resounding NO at your test booklets picture! It is one momentary snapshot of a few of their academic abilities, but serves no other purpose than to the school itself”

A recent survey by Explore Learning of 1,000 parents with children aged 5-14 found that Mum's and Dad's reported their children as suffering mood swings, lack of sleep and exhaustion due to exam time.

62% of parents admitted to worrying about their child’s stress levels and the amount of tests their kids have to do at primary school.

Despite this anxiety, 47% of parents don’t know much about their child’s exam preparation, with 1 in 3 stating they knew very little.

Lia Haskett, Curriculum Development Manager at Explore Learning says “SATs are one of the first real memorable experiences of exam conditions for children and it can be daunting for the whole family. Parents too are affected as they share their child’s stress. SATs and additional tests are there for a very good reason, but it's important to recognise the impact they can have on a child, particularly when so young – and understand how parents can help".

The comments sent to us from community members who are teachers and parents were really insightful:

@hannahkatemc said “as an experienced teacher and a mummy, I would just throw that all in the bin. Share stories, talk about your days, get outside, play in the dirt. Live. Laugh. SATs mean nothing. Childhood is everything!” @reb28cca said “I keep getting sucked down the target attainment hole and have to keep snapping myself out of it…let them be free after school’s out I say! SATs are meaningless and benefit no-one. Children are created to learn like tiny enthusiastic curious sponges and they’ll find their own way and learn so much more if they’re having fun. Fun playing, reading, creating, exploring”

@jennycpenny272 said “I’m a teacher and yes we have to do them, but please don’t make a big thing about them. We know your children, their abilities and interests and their personalities. We have watched and observed them learn all year and we know where they are in terms of their learning. These bits of paper are just something we have to do and are a little bit of evidence which usually just tells us what we already know about your children"

So, whilst we, of course, want all our little troopers to do well, for us here at Up All Hours, the key takeaway is - try not to stress!

Love to hear your thoughts!

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