SATS: One Parent's Dilemma

Secret Parent's picture

SATS: One Parent’s Dilemma

 English children are now the most heavily tested in the world – and a revolt is building within weeks of the Year 2 and Year 6 SATS. As a parent with children in both these year groups, and a natural dislike of meaningless tests, what do I do?

 Just take a look at all this: a website encouraging parents to boycott Year 2 SATS, a petition you can sign about this and another one calling for parents to boycott Year 6 SATS.

 I share all the frustrations of the parents who are behind these various calls to arms. It’s time that parents spoke out against the theft of their children’s childhood. But at the same time I have been researching the consequences of boycotting tests in Year 6. This is where it gets tricky.

 My understanding from talking to teachers (and bear in mind the government guidelines change all the time) is that the Year 6 SATS is now based on reaching an ‘expected standard’ or not, rather than a child reaching a particular level according to how well they have done.  So this test is now a pass or fail.

 And,  just as crucially,  according to the teachers I have spoken to this expected standard has been hiked up for writing from the old level 4b to a 4a/5c (even though the government argues it is still a 4b). This is a very significant increase. There are predictions that between 40 to 50 per cent of children will not reach this level – in other words they will in effect fail the SATS. And – I only found this out recently -  they will actually have to retake them in secondary school. How great for confidence is that?

 Students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds will of course be hardest hit as usual, because the new Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar test (SPaG for short) is needlessly difficult. These schools will be extremely vulnerable to OFSTED inspections, interventions and ultimate academisation.

 When I heard all this I was outraged, and felt I would boycott the tests because I did not want to risk my child failing them – in particular the SPaG. But then I found out that if a child is absent for the test, the school STILL gets marked down.

 My children’s school is in a leafy and affluent area, and I suspect that most children - for all the usual socio-economic reasons - will do well. That said, I was told that if just 10 students out of a year group of 60 are absent, it will have a very serious effect on the school’s floor standard and therefore overall SATs score, with all the usual soul-destroying implications…

 So what do I do? I have huge respect for my school’s teachers, who have done everything they can in both Year 2 and Year 6 to make the SATS as non-invasive as possible into my children’s education. I know how rare this is these days.

I have also spent the last six years telling my children how pointless most tests are.

 You have to remember that the 11 Plus was got rid of all those years ago because there was consensus that you could not judge a child’s “intelligence” at the age of 11. And now we have SATS at exactly the same age, and research too suggesting that they are a poor prediction of how children will do at GCSE.

 (The other thing that parents are not always aware of is that most secondary schools do their own testing in Year 7, so there is no need to do SATS too.)

 Finally, even if there were strong calls for parents to boycott Year 6 SATS, I fear that message would not reach all parents. Not everyone is online and reading papers all the time. The very communities that are most likely to be unfairly hit by the tests being made more difficult are the least likely to find out about any boycott.

 My worry is that even if a majority of parents in any given school boycott Year 6 SATS, the test scores from the minority that do will still be taken seriously by the government.  A shocking league table fall will follow…I have therefore reluctantly decided at the moment to put my Year 6 child in for SATS.

 As for my Year 2 child, I have not yet figured out what to do. Year 2 results do not impact on the overall league table. But, that said, we live in such punitive times educationally, that I worry that any apparent dip in the data that seems now to define education might trigger an unwelcome interest from outside. Am I being paranoid? I would love to hear what others think, particularly headteachers. My instinct is to not do anything that would damage my local school.

 On balance, perhaps it is best to butch out both these ridiculous tests and wait for the uproar in July.  That’s when thousands of 11 year olds are told they are failures. That’s the moment to start fighting for SATS to be eliminated from the classroom altogether.

 This article also appears on the facebook page for the new parents’ campaign group, Rescue Our Schools:

@RescueSchools   Website:



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Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 07/04/2016 - 09:52

Sats have no educational value.  Their sole purpose is to judge schools.   But their presence is distorting the education children receive: time and resources are diverted to those subjects which will be tested and away from those which won't.  They cause uneccesary stress for children and frustration among parents who realise these tests are worthless.

Since 2010, schools in England have increasingly been infected by fear: fear of the next round of test results; fear of a downgraded Ofsted judgement; fear of enforced academy conversion.   This fear has now increased by changes to exams which will likely see more children 'failing'.  At the same time, the Government's desire to see all schools become academies also increases anxiety: non-academies are faced with deciding whether to jump now or wait until they're pushed and have a multi-academy trust imposed on them.

Fear has no place in an education system.    Ultimately it's our children who are the greatest losers.

Emma Bishton's picture
Thu, 07/04/2016 - 10:06

I share your dilemma, being also tempted to remove my daughter from her forthcoming year 6 SATs. Having also looked out what guidance I can find, it seems that schools can require children who are 'unexpectedly absent' on SATs days to take the tests on their return (thus avoiding the negative impact on the school, I assume). Like you, my daughter is in a very good local school which does its best, within the constraints of the system, to minimise the blighting effect of recurrent tests on its pupils. From where I'm sitting, your suggestion that withdrawal of pupils from SATs would lead to unwelcome intervention from outside sounds entirely correct. Imagine a situation where good or outstanding schools suddenly and unexpectedly drop in the league tables because of parent activists - what better excuse to force them into a MAT of the DfE's choosing. So at the moment, I'm reluctantly thinking my daughter should take her SATs. It is not her school, after all, that I have a problem with - it's the system.

trevor fisher's picture
Thu, 07/04/2016 - 10:40

The big issue is alas not the particular problem that LSN and other groups try to tackle on a case by case basis. It is that there is a co-ordinated plan to force the system to change to one controlled by political dogma, and the revolution is explicitly stated as such by ministers. The Autumn SOSS briefing was devoted to the School REvolution because the coalition had called it thus. And each attempt to tackle a problem whether academies or SATS or removing university ITT is hamstrung because the politicians have plans in place to deal with each individual protest. Its time to look at the big picture and see it not as an issue of Academies or Grammar Schools or testing or whatever, but political control of education.

The SOSS bulletin can be obtained from On October 15th SOSS and Ruskin college are staging a conference on the 40th anniversary of the Callaghan Ruskin speech which started to political offensive. By then the WHite paper will have become law - or been abandoned, in toto, because of opposition.

That is what has to happen. There is no point in talking truth to power any more, we are not Quakers. The political elite is removing any vestige of sense from state education and failing children and communities. Parents have no rights over their children's education, so individual parents cannot fight the system. No revolutionary attempt at total change was ever defeated piecemeal. It is time to go to the heart of the problem, political control of our schools and our children's education, and rip it out.

Trevor Fisher.

CR's picture
Thu, 07/04/2016 - 15:32

The article author has perhaps missed one important fact. As yet the DfE has not set the required 'floor level' for the new SAT's.

As such, even if many pupils perform poorly due to the "standards being hiked up", the DfE could (if the floor level isn't set and published) simply adjust the floor downwards to show any result they wish. e.g. improved results under the new curriculum.

Rather than thousands of 11 year old's failing we may see thousands of 11 year old's successful - something that those politically motivated might wish to see?

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 08/04/2016 - 08:46

CR:  While it's correct that the 'national standard' hasn't yet been set, the expectation is that 20% of primary school will 'fail' (see Warwick Mansell here).

The DfE bumf re the national standard says, 'We can’t set the scale in advance; this cohort is the first that has reached the end of key stage 2 having studied sufficient content from the new national curriculum.'  But aren't academies supposed to be exempt from the national curriculum?   The 'freedom' given to academies to opt out is theoretical - in practice they, like all primaries, will have been expected to have studied the 'new national curriculum' to prepare pupils for Key Stage 2 tests.    Yet another example of the mealy-mouthed rhetoric about 'freedom' from the Government.



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