Parents consider SATs boycott –it’s time for schools to put education, not testing, first

Janet Downs's picture

Exam pressure causes stress – it’s well-known.  And a little stress can improve performance – a ‘chilled’ attitude can cause underachievement and failure.

But many parents believe exam stress has gone beyond the stage where it’s necessary – it’s causing heightened anxiety which in turn can lead to mental health problems.

Parents concerned about the effect on their children of primary SATs are considering boycotting them.  The campaigning group Let The Kids Be Kids has produced a template ‘withdrawal letter’ which parents can send to their headteacher.  

An Independent report about the proposed boycott produced predictable responses about ‘snowflake’ children and how education has always been stressful particularly when teachers could wield the cane.  

But concerns about the effect of high-stake tests on children’s well-being hide two wider problems:

1         SATs have no educational value.  Their primary purpose is to judge schools.

2         SATs distort the curriculum.  Undue emphasis on SATs and repeating practice elbow out other subjects.

Few other countries have such high-stakes exams at age 11 (or at age 16).  Our children are already among the most-tested in the world.  The OECD warned nearly seven years ago there was too much emphasis on GCSEs in England which could have negative consequences. 

This undue emphasis now has a negative effect on primary educationChildren’s right to a broad, balanced curriculum is being side-lined by preparation for tests. 

But boycotting SATs will only go so far.  Children could still be subjected to preparation and practice for the whole of Year 6 (if not earlier). Parents should consider complaining if they think schools are spending too much times preparing for SATs which, remember, have no educational value. 

Better still, schools themselves could decide to boycott SATs as 26% did in 2010.  This would need union support so it’s too late to organise a nationwide boycott for 2018.  But 2019 and beyond?  If enough parents join the 2018 boycott, this would show support for boycotting SATs altogether.  I repeat: SATs have no educational value.  They should, therefore, be dumped.  

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Brian's picture
Tue, 10/04/2018 - 13:52

‘Parents should consider complaining if they think schools are spending too much times preparing for SATs ...’

And will they support the school and staff if ‘weak’ SATs result in a negative Ofsted inspection or forced acadamisation following a Regional Commissioner intervention (which is based entirely on SATs results)? Will parents ensure there will be no negative impact on the headteacher’s career or even continued employment ? I suspect not.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 11/04/2018 - 08:32

Brian - that's a valid point.  Few people, parents included, made a fuss about  academization.  Instead, they swallowed the propaganda about 'fresh start', 'freedom' from the iron hand of LAs, more money etc.  And for too many years people, parents included, have been encouraged to judge schools on their test results irrespective of context.    Having a 'progress' measure is a step in the right direction but it's flawed and still relies on numerous tests which have no education value.  GCSEs, it's true, have value for students as they provide entry into post-16 courses but they should NOT be used to judge schools.  But the latter greatly overshadows the value of the former.  (In any case, it would be better if our exam system moved to graduation at 18 via multiple routes rather than putting so much emphasis on exams at 16.)

John Mountford's picture
Tue, 10/04/2018 - 21:27

Janet, you have identified entirely valid reasons why I would urge ALL parents to withdraw their children from SATs testing. In fact, I would go further. I believe by indicating right now they intend to follow-up on this action it would drive home their point even harder.

We went through this last year with my grandson and in the end the decision was taken that so much of the children's (and teachers') time had been squandered on the endless/mindless preparation that we let him take them. Then within weeks of starting at his secondary school he sat a battery of Cognitive Ability tests, for which we have yet to obtain the results. Now why spend time and money on yet more testing if secondary schools have any confidence in the SATs? The truth is we all know they don't, but the conspiracy of silence continues.

You too, Brian, have made a very relevant contribution to this debate. The choices are difficult. The only potential weapon parents have at their disposal is the Ofsted questionnaire should an inspection happen. I know from my own experience they have to take particular note of what parents have to say. I suggest a strongly worded pre-prepared statement, complaining about the amount of time and level of resourcing that has been wasted on preparing for SATs. As many parents as possible should be encouraged to sign up to this action. In the statement they could express their support for the staff and governors but make it clear how they reject the process because of the lack of any value it adds to the children or their future.

As for the future career prospects for the head and staff, it is high time the leaders of ALL the professional bodies spoke out. For too long the profession may well have had no voice at all. Why don't they work together to change this worthless system and insist that all our youngsters benefit from teaching that enhances their cognitive development. There is so much good practice to select from on these lines and the longer this pathetic system goes unchallenged the more damage will be done.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 11/04/2018 - 08:45

John - schools have too often been complicit.  Take academization - there was a headlong rush by many secondary schools to convert.  Heads and governors were tempted by the perception they'd get more money and greater freedom.  These benefits were illusory - the extra money was to pay for the services provided by LAs and came with a extra responsibilities (eg complying with Company and Charity law) - and academies now face the same funding pressures as other schols.  The greater 'freedom' doesn't exist for academies in MATs - they're only allowed as much autonomy as the MAT trustees allow.

This headlong rush was encouraged by groups like FASNA, DfE propaganda supported by statements from Gove's pet heads and sneering at 'council-run' schools.  But the latter are still in the majority.

The downside of this complicity is that LAs are left with less money to support their remaining non-academies - mostly primary schools.  The school system in England has been fragmented and co-operation between schools (unless in the same MAT) is less likely.   At the same time, the amount spent on marketing rises as each school fights to prove they're the best option locally.  Schools have been encouraged to act in their own interests and this has weakened the whole system.


Brian's picture
Wed, 11/04/2018 - 22:51

‘As for the future career prospects for the head and staff, it is high time the leaders of ALL the professional bodies spoke out. ’

Couldn’t agree more. But the focus must be consistently on the negative impact on pupils’ education, attitudes and enthusiam, with a clear alternative which outlines the opportunities pupils are missing especially, but not exclusively, in Y6 because of excessive SATs practice. Can’t wait for the Y3 multiplication test ... another example of a pointless assessment ... to take hold!

John Bajina's picture
Wed, 11/04/2018 - 18:32

Thank you to campaigning group Let The Kids Be Kids. I have no problems with having ‘snowflake’ children and indeed being a 'snowflake' parents. We will decide when we and our children need to become pawns in hard right policies of Govites & Nick Gibb.
If this boycott is successful, let's have wholesale boycott in the counties where pressure in placed on parents to opt out rather than opt into the nasty 11+

Mrs Taylor's picture
Mon, 23/04/2018 - 16:41

I'm worried about my daughter stressing out her SATs and found this page while googling for solutions - - just sharing it in case it helps you.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 24/04/2018 - 10:11

Thanks for the link - the article stressed the point that SATs test the school not the child.  But it's children who bear the brunt - not just the tests themselves but the constant preparation especially when it becomes excessive and budges out other parts of the curriculum.

John Mountford's picture
Fri, 08/06/2018 - 22:59

Janet, I have tried repearedly to get some sort of response from Let The Kids Be Kids. It has proved to be a waste of time. Even writing an email via their contact address has failed to get their attention. What a shame when what they appear to be asking for is support for their campaign.

On a related matter, Roger and I have been researching the arrangements for supposedly standardising SATs under the new arrangements. What we have been able to verify via freedom of information requests and working with a numder of schools willing will to release data to us is truly shocking. Our research involves analysing data from  those secondary schools that employ Cognitive Ability Testing at the beginning of Yr7. The main reason for paying for this extra testing is a reluctance to trust the scores coming forward fron the previous summer's SATs to set Progress 8 targets for GCSEs. Details of our findings can be found here. In summary, FSM pupils and pupils from areas with high social deprivation are gaining results inflated by about 3% when compared with their CATs results. This gain is not permanent as it has been won by gaming the Yr6 tests. We would like to take this opportunity to call on heads whose schools follow this practice to  contact us to add their data to our research.  

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