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It’s Assessment Season: SATs and Children’s Testing

SATs time is upon us. In recent times the tests have become a topic of debate, with varying opinions voiced on the nature of testing children.

Despite the spectrum of views on SATs, they are a fact of life for primary educators, with the Year 6 papers seen by some as a ‘rite of passage’ at the end of primary school, signalling secondary education is in sight.

This blog shares some different ways to reassure children about assessments (useful for SATs week and beyond!) and different perspectives on the nature of testing children.

What’s been said about SATs?
2023’s SATs week was widely discussed in the media, when the difficulty level of the reading paper was criticised. Sarah Hannafin, from the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) expressed that the NAHT was ‘concerned’ that ‘the difficulty was beyond previous tests, leaving children upset and even with staff struggling to understand the questions.’

Following the 2023 criticism, the then schools minister, Nick Gibb, said of SATs that, ‘They do have to test a range of ability to make sure we can show what proportion of children are exceeding the standards and so on. But we don’t want these tests to be too hard for children. That’s not the purpose. The purpose is to test the range of ability and the Standards and Testing Agency is charged with making sure that these tests are appropriate for this age group.’

In a 2022 survey conducted by Parentkind, 95% of parents reported that SATs have a negative impact on their children’s wellbeing. In the same survey, 89% of parents said they would support SATs being replaced by an alternative measure, for instance, ongoing teacher assessment that is checked by external monitors.

Some believe that SATs promote resilience by providing experience of assessments – which become more regular in secondary school – whilst offering a measurement of children’s primary learning. Others think the tests only show a snapshot of learning, and fail to measure wider progression, knowledge and children’s attitude to learning.

It has been argued that unnecessary pressure is put on children for SATs, with months of build-up and practise tests, in the hope of reaching high grades.

Helping you through the reality of SATs
As educators, we all know SATs season can be a time of worry and stress of teachers, pupils and parents alike.

Despite the variety of views, SATs are something schools undergo annually, so keep reading for our Education Consultants’ perspectives from their years of teaching, to help children navigate SATs tests and beyond.

Reassuring children about SATs
The summer tests can feel incredibly important to children as they prepare for and sit each paper. Other children may cope well throughout SATs, fixated on the end of the assessment period bringing weeks of play rehearsals, residentials, trips and non-uniform days.

However children are feeling about SATs, it’s good to have a bank of ways to reassure them, should you need to.

  • Talk about it

Reinforce a sense of community and camaraderie in your classroom by making time for a class debrief after the tests. Talking about how the children felt during the assessments can help them calm down and prevent them from bottling their emotions.

You can also tell the children that they can approach and speak to you in private if they need to.

Setting up a worry box in school can offer a different outlet for children – they may find it easier to write or draw how they’re feeling about SATs.

Giving children positive messages in poems, cards or pictures can also be a sweet way to reassure them and be a source of comfort throughout the week!

  • Maintain communication at home

Make sure you communicate with parents and carers during school drop off and pick up times, to create opportunities for conversations about SATs and how children are coping at home, too.

Some parents may want to voice their own thoughts or concerns with you, so you can best work together with parents to ensure the wellbeing of children by talking!

Some children might keep their reactions to themselves until home time, so maintaining links with parents and carers can help you glean how children are really feeling about the tests.

This contact can then inform your approach for class debriefs and discussions throughout the week.

  • Take inspiration from others

Find inspirational people who the children can look to as a source of motivation during SATs week and beyond.

You could highlight people in the news or public figures, and the obstacles and challenges they have overcome to reach their success. It may be that your school uses Picture News, or you might have your own current affairs sessions, that can help you do this.

Discuss with the children what attributes and mindsets the people you’re focusing on may have needed to navigate their obstacles. The children might have their own role models they want to talk about and share with others – perhaps someone at home, or a sportsperson, artist, actor or TV presenter, to name a few!

Learning from others in this way can equip children with the skills and mindsets they need during SATs.

Click here for a message from Jo, as she reminds you of some of the inspirational people we have explored in the news this year, to hopefully give children a boost for SATs!

  • Put SATs into perspective

Remind the children of what makes them special, and highlight important things that SATs cannot test them on, like personality traits and other skills. It might be that within your class are budding space explorers, vets, artists, musicians – remind them of their light that shines regardless of what happens in SATs.

Though it may seem challenging for children who are particularly nervous throughout SATs week, try to remind them of the reality that SATs is a few days of testing, after which you can embark on weeks of fun as their time at primary school comes to an end.

  • Be aware of language and emotions

Children often detect and mirror the behaviour they see around them. Though you may feel nervous on their behalf, try to be a beacon of calm for the children – someone they can confide in and look to for support.

Try to avoid talk of ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ in the classroom, and keep language positive. As a class, reframe phrases like ‘I can’t do it’, or ‘it’s too difficult’ into ‘I’m going to try my best’, ‘I can do it’. Mindset shifts like these can be useful to encourage and boost the children’s confidence.

  • Plenty of downtime

The tests can be a lot to take on for the children. Make sure the time either side of the tests is as relaxing as possible.

Aim to get the children outdoors and away from screens as they unwind. Perhaps organise some team sports to take part in. Alternatively, encourage children to involve themselves in art sessions; it could be that you do this together as a class to maintain a sense of camaraderie.

Good luck

We hope these tips help, and that they reassure you that you’re doing a fabulous job!

As a final note, whilst it may feel like an important time for the children now, remember to share with them that SATs do not define them!

The Picture News team 😊

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