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 education. Children’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.