SATs (and how to survive them)
If you have a child in either Year 2 (Key Stage 1) or Year 6 (Key Stage 2) of an English state primary school, the playground jungle drums are probably beating to the (increasingly panicky) rhythm of SATs tests to come. Before you succumb to any of the wilder rumours, here's a little potted guide to what SATs are all about – and how to get through them.
What are SATs?
SATs are national tests that children currently sit twice during their time at primary school - once after the end of Key Stage 1 (Year 2) and again at the end of Key Stage 2 (Year 6).
They're actually called End of Key Stage Tests and Assessments but EOKSTAAs is a bit of a mouthful and the acronym SATs – from another, earlier set of tests – has kinda stuck.
The Key Stage 1 tests are all teacher-assessed (no external marking but some external moderating) and are meant to be low-key, hardly-know-you're-doing-it kind of affairs.
There are actual tests in reading, writing (including handwriting and spelling) and maths, but no set day for doing them - so teachers can do them discreetly in small groups without a lot of fuss.
"My sons never knew they'd had their Key Stage 1 tests. I think most schools manage to do them without trumpeting it from the rooftops and causing major panic. Can't say that about some parents, though!" JuliaB
At the end of term, your child will be given a 'level' for reading, writing, maths and science. Most seven-year-olds would be expected to get level 2s across the board. If your child get levels way below or way above that, your school is supposed to provide him or her with extra support.
Age 7: SATS in English and maths, marked in school by teachers.
Age 11: SATs in English and maths, marked externally, results published nationally. Teacher asssessment in science.
The Key Stage 2 tests are a bit more formal: done on a set day and (mainly) marked externally. There are papers in English (spelling, comprehension and writing, including handwriting) and maths (including mental arithmetic).
There also used to be science papers but, from 2010, science will be teacher-assessed. At the end of term, your child will be given a 'level' for reading, writing, maths and science. Most eleven-year-olds would be expected to get level 4s across the board.
Aren't SATs all about to change?
Maybe. Lots of teachers don't like SATs, particularly the Key Stage 2 tests, saying that the focus on testing restricts the amount of other (more interesting) stuff they could teach. And some also say they feel a pressure to "teach to the test", pushing children to do as well as possible to boost the school's reputation.
Michael Rosen, children's writer and founder of Authors Against Sats
Education chiefs are currently piloting different tests that pupils can take when their teacher thinks they're ready (a bit like a piano exam) but the regular-style SATs are still due to be taken in May 2010. Whether they'll actually happen or not is not clear, though: two main teachers' unions, the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Head Teachers, are threatening to boycott them completely.
"Our head has joined the campaign against SATs. He's said he will not be administering SATs this year, so there will be no SATs in our school. I think quite a few heads have joined this action, so it will vary from school to school." missmapp
In Scotland: Throughout their primary-school years, children take "assessments" in reading, writing and maths when they are ready, and at the teacher's discretion. Marked internally; results not published.
In Wales: At age 7, teacher assessment in English (and, sometimes, Welsh), maths and science. At age 10, cross-curricular "skills tests" in numeracy, literacy and problem-solving. Results not published. At age 11, teacher assessments, bolstered by local moderation, with optional test materials available. Schools' results available locally.
In Northern Ireland: System changing to a pattern of teacher assessments in different subjects. Results available to parents in annual pupil profiles.
What's the point of SATs?
What they're meant to be is an indicator of the progress your child has made at school. They're also a record of your child's attainment that can be passed on to her secondary school – though whether secondary schools actually use them or not seems a bit debatable.
"I'm secondary-school teacher. We often don't get the SATs breakdown in time for sorting tutor groups or setting for year 7. Most secondary schools re-test with another set of tests called CATs." Ineedmorechocolatenow
"Children who transfer from private schools/home ed/abroad do not have SATs results. Yet secondary schools still manage to slot the child into the right group." Reallytired
SATs are also an indicator of how well your child's school is doing: results of the second set of tests are published nationally in league tables, used by education chiefs to measure a school's performance and pored over by anxious alphamummies (and daddies) who are looking for the 'best' school to send their child to.
"The SATS are for the school's benefit, not your child's." Tiggiwinkle
It's worth bearing in mind, though, that these league tables don't always give the full picture: they only outline the percentage of children who achieved a level 4 (the standard expected of an 11-year-old) or above at Key Stage 2; they don't take into account, for example, the number of children at that particular school with special needs or English as a second language.
More helpful, perhaps, is to look at the Value Added Score (if you can find it): this is a measure of how much the children have improved between the first test and the second test – and is arguably a better indicator of how much the school is making a difference to each child's educational progress.
So, how do I my child get through SATs?
It's the school's job to prepare your child for the tests. It's your job to be the voice of cheery calm and nonchalance at home.
At Key Stage 1, the teacher's prep will (hopefully) be nice and subtle:
"DS1's class had a lot of 'quiz' worksheets for homework. The week they had their SATS they did a 'quiz' each morning, then were practising for their end of term play in the afternoon. The kids were so hyped up and excited about putting on the play that the 'quiz' really wasn't that big a deal. And they were used to the format from all those damn worksheets!"RubberDuck
At Key Stage 2, preparation will almost certainly be more obvious (there's no point pretending the tests aren't happening at this age) and involve lots of (dreary) running through old papers, looking at the type of language used in the questions and how specific questions can be approached. Some rather more pushy ambitious schools may offer extra preparation sessions before or after school. Whether you think this is a good idea as far as your child's concerned is obviously up to you - and the length and seriousness of school's extra sessions:
"Much to my surprise, DS went in early every day of his own accord. He brought home the odd practice test for homework." ChristyWhisty
"An hour after school, at the school? Pah, lightweights! My 10-year-old neice has just been press-ganged into a booster class that involves her being taken on a coach to a sort of central boot camp several miles away, given classes for 3 hours, and returned on a coach at 7pm!" Blu
You can also help your child at home in the following ways:
- Talk to her about SATs and tell her not worry about them. The school should be doing this, too, but it will be much more meaningful coming from you.
- Keep at the daily reading - by her on her own and by you to her. Talk together about the books, the characters, the storylines and encourage her to express her own opinions about them.
- Play mental maths games - on the way home, in the car and so on.
- Buy test papers if you really want to. But try hard not to be swept along by other parents who say working through papers at weekends is essential. It's not. True, some children just like doing them but there's nothing worse than forcing them on a child who'd absolutely rather not.
"It can be actually a great bonding experience for a year group. Certainly, at our school, the number of friendship issues go right down in the run-up to the tests, and afterwards." BestLaidPlans
"Dd will not be doing any extra work for SATs. She will be enjoying the Easter break and playing." examtaxi
- Keeping everything ticking over normally. Dilute any feelings that SATs are stress-y and fearsomely important by sticking to her normal routine and keeping up her regular out-of-school activities.
- Keep it in proportion. They're just primary-school tests. Even if she messes up, it will not blight her life for ever.
- Stay positive. You never know, your child might actually enjoy them!
"I missed SATs by about 20 odd years. It didn't affect me too badly." hobbgoblin
"Ds actually loved his SATs. They were allowed to bring in cuddly toys to sit on their desks for good luck and have extra breaks and snacks." ChristyWhisty
"Getting the results is, for most, a brilliant experience. The children get a great piece of external validation that they're doing well. It also teaches them the valuable lesson that hard work pays off." BestLaidPlans