SATs do not benefit children’s learning and are bad for their wellbeing, say teachers

By agency reporter
July 10, 2018

Children crying, having nightmares and being so stressed they needed extra support to cope with SATs were highlighted by primary teachers in a National Education Union (NEU) survey on the primary assessment.

Responding to a survey of over 1,200 primary teachers, carried out in June and July, nine-in-ten primary school teachers said the SATs-based primary assessment system is detrimental to children’s well-being and nearly nine-in-ten (88 per cent) said they do not benefit children’s learning.

One teacher said: “Pupils at our school have cried, had nightmares and have changed in behaviour due to the pressure on them – and we do our best to shield them from it and not make a huge issue out of the tests.”

Another teacher said: “We've had children crying, making themselves ill and refusing to come to school - even labelling themselves failures – because of these tests.”

Another commented: “We see children in highly anxious states, sometimes vomiting because of pressure. More children displaying signs of poor mental health and we do not put pressure on our children.”

A teacher said: “Some children are so stressed by the experience that special provision needs to be made for them to sit in a small group with an adult to give them emotional support. The number of children needing this has increased year on year.”

Teachers slated the SATs-based system for lowering the quality of primary education. One teacher said the SATs: “are the biggest barrier that we have to high quality and relevant learning.”

Another said: “‘We have been subject to huge pressures to narrow the curriculum and to replace deep conceptual learning with temporary memorisation of facts and procedures to boost SATs results.”

Teachers regard the SATs in year 6 as a barrier to learning that limit pupils’ access to a full curriculum, with 86 per cent saying preparation for SATs squeeze out other parts of the curriculum.

One commented: “After the Easter holidays, in year 6, the children only do literacy and maths until SATs. All other subjects are jettisoned.”

A teacher said: “Children who are not strong in maths and literacy feel as if they are failures due to the emphasis on these subjects at the expense of any others. My class have only done one hour of art each half-term since January.”

Another teacher said: “SATs only test a small range of children’s abilities. They do not teach problem solving or creativity. They do not help produce educated or well-rounded individuals.”

Teachers reported that some groups of children are particularly severely affected by preparing for the tests. Eighty-eight per cent said children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are particularly disadvantaged, 66 per cent said pupils whose first language is not English (English as an additional language - EAL) and 54 per cent said children who are born in the summer so are the youngest in their class.

Teachers’ comments include: “It is painful watching these most vulnerable children being made to feel less than the great human beings they are because they are aware that these activities don't help them to shine.”

“SEND children are generally ‘written off’ because they won't ever achieve the standard, and in preparation for SATs all of the attention goes on the children who will and need to make it.”

“It reinforces to SEND children everything they can't do instead of the focus being on what they can do and what they are good at.”

Dr Mary Bousted, joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: “The Government must recognise that despite a rhetoric that focuses on ‘standards’ and ‘excellence’ they have created a system which is the opposite of what they intended: one that is lowering quality, harming and demotivating many children and creating classrooms in which the love of learning is endangered.

“The harrowing stories we have heard about crying, stressed children should make the Government sit up and listen. Teachers fully accept the need to be accountable for how well children do, but the SATs are not the right way to do this. Instead of raising standards and creating excellence, SATs demotivate and stress children and teachers, do not benefit children’s learning and squeeze the love out of learning.

“Experience in other countries demonstrates that higher standards are produced by assessment systems that trust and enable teachers to develop a full curriculum that engages pupils, not narrow and meaningless test scores.”

* National Education Union


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