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Primary SATs: the good, the bad and the ugly

The papers have arrived, the teachers are stressed. The kids probably don’t have much clue of the pressure the school is under to ‘perform’ acceptably, nor that their results will be published nationally and their school judged accordingly.
This week, Key Stage 2 children, aged 10-11 will be taking their tests. Key Stage 1 children aged 6 and 7 will take them over the next few weeks as determined by the individual school.

What are SATs?

They are ‘standard assessment tests’. They are the way that the government determines the level of ability of our children based on a standard they have set in relation to the national curriculum.
Should we care? As parents, tax payers, school employees, simply as human beings?

The good

Testing children can give an assessment for schools and parents about the level of ability. It can also highlight areas that children struggle with which can help children to develop a personalised study plan and make the teachers aware of areas of the curriculum that might need extra support.
It shows us as tax payers that the millions of pounds our government spends on education is being used effectively on staff and resources to create the next generation.
For school employees it can show how effective their work is. The interventions that are put in place to support children and their learning, the lesson planning, progress meetings, endless paperwork, all whittle down to these tests and their results.
It is good practice for the children to learn about the preparation for tests ready for their secondary education. Some of the children in the GCSE exams I invigilate should have paid more attention!


The bad

Tests are only conducted in English and Maths. They stress out the children, parents and teachers. They bring out an unpleasant competitiveness.
Matthew was only 6 when he sat his KS1 SATs: that seems so young to be making judgements about his ability. The school downplayed the importance of the tests but some children had been told about them by their parents and it soon went around the whole class.
SATs don’t take into consideration special circumstances such as special educational needs and disabilities or social/emotional issues. In the data analysis that is produced, these details will be present to those who care to look, but the narrative behind the results is marginalised.


The ugly

We are teaching children that we only care about their academic ability, not about their personal development as people of the world. Schools are expected to cover this but then not rewarded for their dedication to creationg positive human beings that will go out and face a world that we cannot imagine, doing jobs we may not even understand.
This may give children a skewed sense of what to value in themselves which could have long lasting mental health implications.
At every parents’ evening, I always ask about how my children are getting on socially and am more concerned with theis than the state of their handwriting or use of fractions. I want to know they have friends, have confidence and know how to resolve problems.

Should we scrap SATs?

A resounding ‘NO’ from me!
It can’t be denied that there are flaws in the education system. However, despite this, keeping track of progress and achievement is a crucial part of our children’s lives and good preparation for their adult life (perfomance management, anyone?!)
I would personally prefer a broader and more diverse series of tests across the curriculum so that we teach our children to value their accomplishments in a range of subjects. Remember that Einstein struggled in his early years to even speak fluently but was an excellent violin player and excelled at sciences later in life.
What do you think about SATs and testing children: too much too soon or an essential part of growing up?


  1. I think as long as the parents keep it in preportion, then there’s not undue stress on the kids. I think it’s the parents who turn it into something it isn’t. It also helps you see where you need to focus. #Globalblogging

  2. Here in the States, some colleges are actually doing away with the practice of using SATS as an admission criteria.
    I have persevered in testing my kids because we home school, and I want to make sure we’re on track with everyone by some objective standard.
    At any rate, I administered my last round of standardized tests here in my homeschooling life this spring, and it felt good to put that routine behind me.

  3. There is no perfect school assessment system, Laura. And no matter what way you go, maths and English are vital … so despite the negative side of all this, kids still must be assessessed, in order to see where they are, and more importantly, what needs to be addressed. #GlobalBlogging

  4. We don’t have SATS over here on our side of the pond but I personally think there should be some kind of assessment to gauge a child’s level of ability. But then again, the education system here really sucks and most parents are sending their kids to private schools.


  5. Great post, Laura. Any system is unfair but I suppose to have an ‘objective’ national standard may help ensure like and like is compared – in my days there were huge differences between primary and secondary schools and some pupils had a big wakeup call when they used to be top of the class and all of the sudden when mixed with others weren’t anymore… #globalblogging

  6. I absolutely understand that children need to have practice at exams ready for GCSEs but I’m just not sure that at 7 and 11 is the time to do it. Their teachers have taught them all year and are in a much better position to assess where they are academically. My bigger concern is especially at Year 6, the children spend so much time doing SATs paper practice that their school life becomes boring and their dislike for school begins and this then feeds into secondary school life. I’d much rather they were learning in a really fun way! #GlobalBlogging

  7. Zoe

    Hi Laura,

    I think the SATs put too much pressure on children. I believe teachers should be able to make individual assessments of children, and that this shouldn’t be something that young children are made aware of.

    I agree with the many teachers who’ve campaigned against the SATs.

  8. I think testing our kids is old and archaic. Studying early childhood education and psychology in college I learned about this and am dead set against it. I’m sorry but the real world doesn’t care how well you do in Math and English. Unless you end up in a career of one of these two things, the world doesn’t care. I also want to point out that here in the states, the schools get punished if they fail the states passing criteria, which means they don’t get funding for updated technology and books. This means that the schools that suffer the most from this are the inner city schools because the children there have much bigger worries than passing a Math test.
    As you said, these tests don’t take into consideration of the child’s emotional wellness or a disability so that crosses off way too many children who even have a chance at passing. Yes, they say this is to test the school but they are testing the children and if the child fails because of dysfunction in the home or they don’t test well for whatever reason then the school fails. If the school fails, the government doesn’t fund them. If the funds are gone then the teachers can’t teach what they need to teach and the child fails again. It’s a lose – lose situation for so many children in the U.S. I believe that every single child, regardless of social status, should be given the same level of education but these tests prohibit funding to the poorest of our communities and who inhabits the poorest of our communities are children of color. So it basically discriminates the minorities in this country from even getting a chance at a better future.
    That’s why our education system is one of the worst in the world. Take my oldest for example. His disability means he gets extra time. Yet, He still has to take the Math portion of the this stupid test because he falls below their passing line. However, he does very well in Math class. He gets good grades in Math. But the testing fails him. It’s not fair to him that he has to keep taking a test in order to graduate from high school. Oh but it’s only to test the school right? It’s not. It’s really not just about the school. The testing is wrong on so many levels.
    Sorry to write such a long comment Laura. If they could find a better system of testing the child’s ability on where they stand without punishing the child or the school if they fail, then I would be okay with the testing. But I really feel passionate about this that at the end of the day, these tests are no real measure of what our children can do and they are no real measure of what the schools are teaching our children. There really needs to be another way but we are so stuck as a society on academic achievement and testing that our leaders just can’t see a different way. #GlobalBlogging

  9. Here is South Africa they do national systemic assessments with Grade 3 and 6’s only whuch is similar to your SAT testing which also focus on math and English. Although it is stressful – it is vital to determine what kids need more development in. But you right; there are so many other elements of education that can be assessed #globalblogging

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