A NEW report commissioned by campaign group More Than A Score reveals that the final year of primary school is dominated by preparation for SATs, with negative effects on teaching as well as pupil and teacher wellbeing. Year 6 SATs tests will begin in primary schools on Monday 13 May.

As schools are measured on the data provided by the test scores, pressure on teachers is almost inevitably passed on to pupils. Report author Dr Laura Quick said that the report highlights: “the extent to which the need to achieve good SATs results shapes year 6: they affect what and how teachers teach, they affect teachers, and they affect children themselves.”

The report, The SATs Effect, finds the need to prepare for the tests in English and maths leads to a narrowing of the curriculum. In April over half of teachers (54 per cent) reported that they had squeezed the timetable. As one teacher explained: “PSHE, computing, other subjects, PE…just went out of the window”.

As the school year progresses, teachers experience increasing pressure to deliver results – 64 per cent reported feeling this way in April. Other teachers said having to focus on speed, in order to complete the tests under strict exam conditions, was “stressful” and “horrible” for children who are struggling.

Year 6 pupils become increasingly worried about failing. In December, 43 per cent reported children feeling anxious about SATs, rising to 63 per cent in April. Additionally, almost a third of teachers (32 per cent) agreed that SATs preparation has a negative effect on pupil engagement: “it just kills their enthusiasm” said one teacher.

The report also highlights the significant difference in SATs preparation in deprived catchments as measured by the proportion of children on free school meals. In March, only a small proportion of schools in affluent areas (13 per cent) were spending more than six hours per week on SATs preparation but this figure rose steeply to 40 per cent of schools in the most deprived catchments.

Dr Laura Quick concluded: “These findings add further weight to concerns that Key Stage 2 SATs dominate the last year of primary school. The teachers we spoke to believe the high stakes nature of SATs has led to toxic effects, putting the need to supply data to the government before the needs of pupils. Ultimately this can only negatively affect primary education as a whole.”

Alison Ali, spokesperson for More Than A Score said: “The body of evidence showing the harmful consequences of SATs continues to grow. Year 6 teachers are on the frontline, trying their very best to give pupils a fulfilling and inspiring last year of primary school but, at every turn, they are hampered by a system which puts data before love of learning and ultimately brands over 40 per cent of children as failures before they start secondary school. The time for change is long overdue.”

Commenting on the report , Daniel Kebede, General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: “Primary schools are places which inspire children and instil a love of learning. Unfortunately, the report released today by More Than a Score shows how Year 6 SATs make it incredibly difficult for schools to provide the broad and exciting curriculum children deserve.

“Because of SATs, teachers feel forced to prioritise test preparation over everything else. With whole lessons spent answering practice questions and every day starting with a maths paper, Year 6 is no longer the exciting, celebratory year in primary school it should be. Other curriculum subjects, such as art, PSHE and PE, are being squeezed out from the school day as early as January so more time can be devoted to tested subjects. This situation is even worse for schools in deprived areas, desperate to meet the demands of our punitive accountability system.

“SATs, and preparation for them, place unacceptable pressure on our children, making them incredibly anxious and not wanting to come to school. Regarding one reading paper, one teacher said they had ‘never seen so many children cry’. Any government truly serious about improving school attendance must take account of the serious impact SATs have on children’s wellbeing.

“SATs are not a useful or accurate way of assessing what children can do at the end of their primary education. These out-of-date and harmful tests must stop, and learning, not school accountability, must be at the heart of our assessment system.”

* Read The SATs Effect here.

* Sources: More Than A Score and National Education Union