SATs (and how to survive them)

If you have a child in either Year 2 or Year 6 of an English state primary school, you'll be aware that the SATs - standardised tests for primary schoolers - have just happened.

The SATs have changed a bit this year - the marking scheme is different and there are new questions to reflect curriculum changes - so here's what you need to know

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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 the acronym SATs (from another, earlier set of tests) has stuck.

Key Stage 1

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. Tests are being administered in arithmetic and in English reading. There is another, optional test of English grammar, punctuation, and spelling. There will also be a teacher assessment of your child's standard in science, although there is no formal science test.

Teacher assessments will be based on each pupil's scaled score (for more about scaled scores, see Key Stage 2 marking, explained, below). Teachers will convert each child's number of marks earned into an equivalent "scaled score", and will use that to determine whether each child has met, exceeded, or fallen short of the national standard. 

Key Stage 2

The Key Stage 2 tests are a bit more formal: done on a set day and (mainly) marked externally. There are papers in English reading comprehension, grammar, punctuation, and spelling, and in maths (including arithmetic and mathematical reasoning).

This year (2016) there are additional questions designed to assess new areas of core subjects in the national curriculum, to reflect curriculum changes that have been made and to enable your child to be fully assessed on what they have been taught. It's already been noted that these tests are significantly more difficult than SATs from previous years, with even able children struggling to understand the nature of the questions - so if your child has been frustrated by them this year, you're not alone.

You will receive separate teacher judgement assessments - besides the formal test results - in English reading and mathematics, and a teacher judgement assessment in science. There will be no formal Key Stage 2 test for science.

Key Stage 2 marking, explained

Your child will be marked in three ways. Firstly, they will receive a raw score corresponding to the number of marks they achieved. Secondly, this score will be weighted to produce a "scaled score", for which the "expected result" benchmark will be 100. Thirdly, you'll receive a confirmation of whether or not your child achieved the expected standard.

Previously, SATs were marked using "levels" - evaluations of whether your child was working at, above, or below the expected standard for their age. These were represented as numbers: an eleven-year-old's expected standard, for instance, was a level 4. Levels have now been abolished, in response to concerns about their reliability. From 2016 onwards, national SATs outcomes will be reported only in the form of scaled scores.

At present, the national standard has not yet been set - officials will only be able to determine the lower and upper ends of the scale after SATs this year have been taken. The "expected standard" will be represented by the number 100, but the upper end point will be above 100 (to represent the standard of the most able pupils) and the lower end point will be below 100 (to represent below-standard results). 

What's the point of SATs?

SATs are meant to be 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.

SATs are also (some might say primarily) an indicator of how well your child's school is doing: results of the school's KS2 results 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.

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 the expected standard (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.

How do I help my child prepare for 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. 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:

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.
  • 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!

What happens outside England?

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: National Reading and Numeracy tests take place annually in years 2-9. Results are shared with parents.

In Northern Ireland: Teachers assess pupil abilities in communication, maths, and ICT skills. Results available to parents in annual pupil profiles.

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Last updated: about 4 years ago