The question of how schools (and parents) should prepare students (10 year olds, remember) for the Sats exams has been one that has sparked a good deal of debate in recent years.

Stories of increasing numbers of parents taking their children out of school during ‘Sats Week’ in protest hit the headlines every year, and the serious doubts that many people have about the validity, or even the actual point of Sats, don’t get away – in fact, they only get stronger.

So, let’s ask the question again…

What are the Sats for?

Of course, we already know the official line on this, so there’s little point in regurgitating that again here. No, instead let’s consider this:

  1. Are the Sats for the pupils? Do they help them improve? No and no.
  2. Are they for the secondary schools? Do they provide vital information for them? No and no, again.

We all know that Sats exist purely to measure the performance of primary schools, and then – 5 years later-  secondary schools, who need to demonstrate the levels of progress made that pupils have made in that time.

So, Sats are not for the pupils and not for the schools those children are about to move up to. Surely, the way we prepare students for Sats must change then?

Preparing for a test is not learning

The problem with the way students are prepared for the Sats in most schools is that learning becomes something of an irrelevance for the best part of Year 6. From the first day back after Christmas – or the start of term in September even – pupils are drilled, coached and trained to within an inch of their lives about how to sit their Sats exams.

September to May is like one, very long, extended dress rehearsal for the Sats. Because of this they undeniably do better than they might in the tests – but how much of this knowledge and learning is retained? What good is this all to the pupil who starts secondary school in September, an academic pale shadow of their former self – not able to remember most of what they had ‘learned’ in the first half of the year.

No employers or universities are ever go to ask a young person, ‘How did you do in your Year 6 Sats?’ They cease to be important very quickly indeed.

Schools need some perspective about the Sats

Yes, we want to be able to show the progress that pupils have made. And, yes, the end of Key Stage 2 does seem to be a natural point to do this as they move on to a new key stage and secondary school life. However, cramming for tests for 9 months, with all the pressure and stress that can cause – and then going from May to September with little or no academic challenge means that the impetus and momentum has been completely lost.

The creative stuff, the fun stuff and the activity days are stored up until after the Sats are over. The kids love it, of course – but education can and should be like that more of the time. Pupils can learn a lot outside the ‘normal’ classroom environment.

If students have lost all their ‘ability’ come the start of September, surely we need to do things differently?