How to help your child with SATs

What are SATs:

SATs are the end of Key Stage assessments that children take in Year 2 and Year 6 in England.  They are what are known as “high-stakes tests” because the children’s results are used to judge schools and individual teachers.  And this judgement can be harsh and cruel – believe me – I’ve been on the receiving end of it!

SATs have been with us since the 1990s and have got more demanding over that time.  In 2016 the government really upped the stakes and made the tests even more challenging for the children (and therefore also for schools and teachers). 

In 2020 and 2021 there were no SATs for obvious reasons.  They returned in 2022, with almost no concession for the previous two years of distupted learning. This year we are back to business as usual.

Why they are so contentious:

I want to make two things really clear:

  1.  Teachers and educators who speak out against SATs are not saying children should not be assessed.  What they are saying is that SATs tests are not the way to do this and there are much better ways to assess children’s learning that does not cause the amount of stress and narrowing of learning that the SATs tests do.
  2. The curriculum and SATs tests are not the invention of qualified educators who understand child development and learning.  They are imposed on schools by the government who have little to no understanding of how children learn.  The government wants to be able to rank highly in international league tables and to rank individual schools.  To do this they have to reduce exam results, and therefore children, to statistics. 

There is so much pressure on schools to do well in SATs because poor results can lead to damaging Ofsted inspections and teachers having their pay and career progression assessed on the basis of the results of a cohort of young, complex human beings. 

This pressure comes down to schools from the government, Ofsted and local authorities.  This inevitably gets passed on from the Senior Leadership team to individual class teachers, who, no matter how hard they try not to, will pass some pressure onto the children to do well, because their pay, progression, and the reputation of the school depends on it.  The children who sit the tests are actually the people who have the least come back from the results. It is frankly, messed up!

I was a Year 6 teacher between 2014 and 2019.  That’s 6 sets of SATs.  I’ve experienced firsthand the damage these tests do to schools, teachers, children, and parents and I am so sad to see them back this year.  A little bit of me hoped when it was announced in March 2020 that they were not happening that year, that they were finally on their deathbed.  How naïve of me!

When are SATs and what papers do the children take?

So, we have to put up with them again this year.  What do you need to know as a parent so you can best support your child through them?

Year 2 SATs

Year 2 SATs are very different to Year 6 SATs.

Year 2 SATs can be taken any time within a 2 week period in May.  Those 2 weeks will be decided by each individual school – your school should inform you of the dates. 

They will sit 2 reading papers, 2 maths papers, a punctuation and grammar paper, and a spelling paper.

The papers are not usually timed and the tests are marked internally by the teachers.

This is the last year Year 2 SATS will be statutory. From September 2023, schools will decide if they administer them or not.

Year 6 SATs

Year 6 SATs will be during the week of May 9th this year.

Tuesday 9th – Punctation and Grammar test – 45 minutes

               – Spelling test – 20 minutes

Wednesday 10th – Reading test – 1 hour.

Thursday 11th – Maths 1 arithmetic – 30 minutes

– Maths 2 reasoning – 40 minutes

Friday 12th – Maths 3 reasoning – 40 minutes

These tests have to be administered under strict exam conditions.  Children have a time limit and must not talk during the test.  The tests are sent away to be marked externally.

The tests are usually sat in the morning and the children often do more fun and creative activities in the afternoon. 

The results come back in July and the scores are standardised.  A score of 100 is the “average”. 

Tips for SATs success:

So, although I don’t agree with SATs and wish we had a more child-friendly and supportive assessment system, having got six cohorts of Year 6 children through SATs, and in 2019 achieving the best results in my area, 4th within my county and within the top 1% nationally, whilst ensuring minimal pressure was put on the children, I picked up some key tricks and techniques to help them do their best.

  1. Read the question 3 times before answering it.
  2. Ask an adult to read the question to you.
  3. Make sure you write your answer in the answer box.
  4. Make sure your answer is legible, including numbers.
  5. Check how many marks it’s worth.
  6. Don’t waste time on a difficult question – move on and get some marks under your belt with questions you can answer.
  7. Do your best – that’s all that matters.
  8. Sleep!
  9. Play and have fun.
  10. You are not your SATs results.  They don’t define you or your future.

I will be discussing these 10 tips in more detail in my free Facebook group in the weeks leading up to Year 6 SATs, starting on April 17th.  You can join the group here.

There is growing pressure to change how we assess children in primary school.  The campaign group More than a Score is well worth checking out to find out more about SATS, the problem with SATs and the alternative ways forward.

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