Monday, 8 May, will be the start of SATs week for thousands of 10 and 11 year old children across the country. The Guardian recently reported that a survey by ‘The Key’ of 1200 teachers found that 82% of staff reported an increase in children’s mental health issues around the time of exams.
We know SATs can be a stressful time for all: parents, teachers, and children, yet it doesn't have to be so. There are ways in which the whole school can prepare children for the SATs: planning for progression in order to cover the skills and knowledge needed throughout the school; moderating and discussing work across the school so that expectations are explicit in all year groups; and ensuring children understand that tests are only a snapshot of what the children can do. Tests cannot test everything!
With SATs just around the corner, here are a few ways you can help to reduce the pressure for children and staff alike:
Stress, anxiety and fear surrounding SATs can be escalated with the added pressure of unnecessary homework. Fun, light-hearted activities, where children can spend time being children, are the best type of homework to set before the SATs tests. There has been a recent influx of social media activity about the types of homework set around SATs, with staff working hard to help their children not to worry.
Mrs Thom, who works at Bucklebury Primary, Berkshire, made a list of fun things for her year six pupils to take their minds off the exams and it has proved popular on social media. The list was posted on Twitter by the school; Mrs Thom's note to her pupils urged them to complete as many enjoyable activities as they could before SATs week starts.
Other schools have a 'no revision allowed' rule. Some even have their residential the weekend before SATs so that children can return energised and refreshed. Ms. Daniels, head at St Anne's in Fulshaw, has done this for the past four years and has plans to continue.
Supportive letters from school
Other schools across England have also been sending out letters to children and their parents to reassure them that the SATs only test part of who they are. Although they may seem like the most important thing in the world right now, there is much more to learning, and to each child as an individual, than the SATs could ever show.
There are a multitude of letters appearing on social media, personalised and unique to the individual child: praising their ability in other subjects; their amazing social and emotional skills or their ability to deal with the many different things that life can unfortunately throw at 10 and 11 year olds. All of which the SATs are unable to assess, yet all of which are extremely important.
Supportive letters from parents
By asking parents to write a letter to their child on test day, children may feel less anxious knowing that their parents are proud of them, as long as they try their best. Some schools ask parents to send these into school and have them on their desks in the morning of the tests. This helps children to feel supported by both home and school; they can go into the test with a positive mindset knowing that people already think they are amazing.
Many parents are aware that SATs are important, yet they also need to ensure that they let their children know that whatever happens, it is ok! Social media often portrays the stress that children are under and as parents, it can be hard to get the balance right. They do not want their child to think that they don't need to try, but parents also do not want their child to be so worried about getting the expected level that they have sleepless nights. One parent on Twitter explained how she knows her daughter will do her best, and has reassured her, ‘whatever the outcome.’
Well organised SATs
Being organised and prepared in advance is the best way to ensure that test days are less stressful. You will have checked off the SATs paper against the delivery note when they arrived. Many schools then put these into boxes based on the day of the test so that they are more easily accessible than opening endless boxes to get all of the packs of ‘Maths Paper One’. A timetable of the tests will also help to ensure the right papers can be retrieved quickly and easily.
Although the deadline to apply for additional time has passed, readers, prompters and rest breaks may be put into place without prior approval and without the need to make a notification. These may be beneficial to children who find the tests overwhelming and who are used to additional support in a classroom situation. However, these arrangements must reflect normal classroom practice and, if asked, you would need to provide appropriate evidence to show this.
The room in which children take their SATs tests should be somewhere familiar to them and somewhere that will not cause them any additional alarm. Their usual classroom is often best, however, if the tests are administered in the hall or a different room then children should be familiar with that environment by sitting practice tests in this room/space. Another way to help ease nerves is to remove or cover any displays or materials that could help pupils before the first test, so that children can see the changes to their usual environment and so it isn't a complete shock to them on the first morning of their SATs!
Remember to ensure that a clock is provided in the room to help pupils pace themselves and that all children can see it easily. Some teachers use countdowns on their interactive whiteboards, again this is great practice if it is what the children are used to using to pace themselves.
Ensure you read this year’s Test Administration Guidance (TAG) and the Assessment and Reporting Arrangements for KS2 (ARA); and anything you can prepare in advance of the day, do so. This will help relieve any additional pressure on yourself. After the tests, whatever you do, don't read what the children have written (unless, of course, you have to make a transcript). It is a difficult feeling to know that the hard work, dedication and commitment you have given to the children is literally out of your hands, but knowing which questions they have missed out will only make you worry further!
Activities during SATs
The year six SATs do not have to be set at 9am in the morning, nor do they have to be completed in one sitting. Some schools choose to give their children a healthy, hearty breakfast before starting the tests at around 10am. Other schools have split children into groups so that they can all take their tests within their usual classroom environment. Both of these are fine, as long as it is well organised and children do not have the opportunity to discuss the test with other pupils. For schools who adapt this structure, and for activities within the times when tests are not happening, schools often organise learning opportunities such as these:
- Get outside - There are multiple benefits to getting outside: fresh air can help motivate and refresh children during rest breaks; revisiting learning in a different environment by chalking answers to revision questions on the playground can help give information a new and interesting slant; through exercise and outdoor games children will feel that they are having fun with their peers, whilst increasing the heart-rate will release endorphins to keep children happy, energised and ‘feeling good!’
- Projects - Having a project that the children can take ownership of and develop based on any of their interests can help children feel that they are in control of their learning. They are also something that can be put down and picked up again in the gaps between SATs.
- Free breakfast club - Start up a breakfast club so that you know children are in school on time, have had a good breakfast and are ready to go! You can set the tone for the entire day. It’s a great way to make SATs a bit more fun, and it makes the year six classes feel really special!
Year six children should be able to show off all of the amazing learning they have done over the course of their primary school journey. The statutory assessments are only a small part of that journey and we need to ensure they are as stress-free as possible for the children.
We at One Education wish all children, staff and schools the best of luck in the 2017 SATs.