As well as Exam time for older pupils with their GCSEs and above it is also SATs time. Standardized Assessment Tests for children in school years 2, 6 and 9. There is a lot of publicity surrounding the pressure that the children sitting these exams feel they are under. Certainly in my own opinion children of these ages should not be put under this kind of pressure. Let’s face it the year 9 pupils are also trying to decide which options to take at GCSE level, choices that could affect their future career choice. To ensure they get that right, they need to work out what they want to do with their life. Most 14 year olds don’t know yet, so this age group are already under enough pressure before SATs come along. As for the year 2 and 6 pupils, they really are too young to put under this kind of pressure, they should be enjoying school. Testing young children has been done for many years. I remember when I was in Primary school we were tested every year. We’d go in one Monday, toward the end of the school year to find it was exam week. One exam every half day for a week. When it was all over, it was never mentioned again. This was of course the 1970s, before SATs. We never felt under pressure it was just something that happened. So why do today's parents complain children feel under pressure at SATs time.
The answers to me is quite simple, and it is more than one answer. We did the exams every year so they weren't a big thing for us, it was just something that happened. There was no build up, no revision, no go home and log on to this web site and practice( there was no web anyway). The exam papers went off for marking and that was it. We weren't told how anybody did. We never got to know if any one failed or who scored the highest marks. The results had no bearing on teachers keeping or losing their jobs and neither did the results have any bearing on the schools reputation with parents, there were no league tables back then. The results were just not published. In fact I still don’t know what exactly they were used for.
So why do SATs have such a reputation for putting children under pressure? Again multiple answers. For a start, unless the school have the pupils sit the extra optional SATs every year they are something unusual, a mile stone for the pupil in their progress through the school system. They are not a surprise. The teachers have the pupils practicing for weeks, maybe months before. SATs results affect the schools standing in the school league tables so the heads want the schools pupils to do well. To that end the teacher’s jobs may depend on the results. If your class all do badly in their SATs you may not be a teacher in that school next year, and will another school want you? Parents want their children to do well so when teachers give them a web address so their children can go online and do more practicing they “encourage” them to do so, after all we don’t want the cousin’s, neighbour’s or friend’s child to do better do we? Add to that the fact as each child gets to know their results and children can be cruel to each other, some worry they may appear stupid if they don’t do quite as well as their friends. Let’s face it, you would only have to do a little worse than the class bully to become a target and if your results are the lowest in the class. How bad would life be then? All this “you must practice, you must do well” piles a lot of pressure on some very young minds, who to be honest don’t have the maturity or life experience to cope with it.
So what to do? The authorities could scrap league tables, then schools and teachers would not be under pressure for their pupils to do well and are therefore unlikely to put the pupils under pressure to do well. Teachers could teach up to the day of the SATs and set revision as homework or revise in class but not for too long every day. Parents, when your little one comes home let them do their homework and then play, they’re children, we should let them be children. While many parents will want to know how their child fared, if the authorities didn’t publish individual’s results the bullies would have no ammunition and parents would not feel their child could have done better than they did or needs to do better than anyone else’s. The children would never feel they've let their parents or teachers down. Remember, if you express disappointment in your child’s marks they may feel that they are a failure or have failed you. The next time SATs come around or their doing GCSEs they may feel under more pressure before they start. Possibly thinking they can’t do well because they’re “no good at exams”. If you don’t know who did better than who it doesn't matter.
There is nothing wrong with testing our children but why don’t we do it in a way that they don’t feel they may come out of it looking a failure. Studies have shown children suffering from test anxiety. One such study is available online for you to read and can be found here. Let’s not put them under pressure they don’t need. Let’s just allow our children to be children, they’ll be adults soon enough.