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Year 6 SATs 2021 – Why they shouldn’t be scrapped

Some children have undoubtedly had a tough time during lockdown, but that doesn’t mean SATs should be scrapped, says Matthew Kleiner-Mann...

  • Year 6 SATs 2021 – Why they shouldn’t be scrapped

I was talking with a parent the other day and she told me that she’d made her daughter cry. How? By mentioning that SATs might not go ahead.

This feeling of missing out has been echoed by the Y6 pupils at our schools.

The fact is, while teachers hate SATs (and parents love them), the vast majority of children simply accept them as part of school life. It’s just something they do at the end of school; a rite of passage like the class photo or school disco.

The prospect of them not being there is another example of how Covid-19 has robbed them of normality.

After a tumultuous few months, which have seen their lives being turned upside down, children are really happy to be back at school. They’re glad of their routine, of learning, of normal life.

So when I received an email asking me, along with dozens of other school leaders, to sign a petition to stop SATs going ahead next year, I wondered why people felt so strongly about it.

Is it about Covid-19, or simply a longstanding dislike of SATs? Because, whether you agree with SATs or not, now is not the right time for this argument.

First let’s look at the possible effect of SATs on the children taking them. Some leaders have argued that children may feel additional and unnecessary stress because of these tests on top of the ongoing pressures of Covid-19.

However, if children are feeling under pressure about SATs, then their schools are doing it wrong. This ‘cramming’ for tests should have been wiped out years ago.

Some children have undoubtedly had a difficult time during lockdown and will need additional support but this should be dealt with individually, not by taking SATs away from everyone. 

And fundamentally, SATs aren’t for children. They don’t – or at least they shouldn’t – care about the results. They’re not like GCSEs or A-levels that have to go on your CV permanently. You can’t ‘fail’ your SATs and they don’t affect your future.

SATs are about understanding progress. They help parents to know if their child is doing OK, if they’re ready for secondary school and if they need extra support. They help primary schools see how pupils are progressing and secondary schools understand where children are at.

Schools should be accountable for the progress children have made and we need to know that result. You’re only able to allocate resources if you understand where the gaps are.

If we don’t find out whether a child is ready for secondary school or not, and what additional support they need, we’re doing them a huge disservice.

I don’t believe SATs are a problem in themselves. They give a good indication of how a child is progressing through their education, benchmarked nationally.

The primary concern now is that the same level of accountability will be applied to all schools, when they’ve had very different experiences during Covid-19 based on factors beyond their control – the communities they serve, digital poverty, local outbreaks or lockdowns.

Because of these factors, it’s difficult to ensure a level playing field and schools may feel unfairly judged.

This absolutely needs to be acknowledged and addressed, but not by cancelling SATs altogether. Instead, there should be a deeper understanding and acceptance that not all schools have had the same experience in the 18 months leading up to the tests.

We need to know where a Y6 child is at, but the school shouldn’t be punished if pupils haven’t progressed as expected because of factors beyond their control.

SATs should go ahead, but with the proviso that future judgements of the school take into account the actual experiences of children during lockdown, what schools did to support their communities with home learning, and progress made in closing any gaps since schools have reopened fully.

Children don’t need any more disruption; they need to crack on with their learning. They need normality.

Matthew Kleiner-Mann is leader of Ivy Learning Trust (@ivy_trust), a family of eight primary schools in Enfield and Hertfordshire. He has worked in school leadership for 20 years, including as a headteacher and executive headteacher, and is a government-appointed National Leader of Education.


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