3 ways we need to be more honest with pupils about Sats

We can't hide Sats tests from our children, and we should be honest about what they mean, says Kulvarn Atwal

Kulvarn Atwal

Sats: Why we need to be honest with primary school pupils

Where does the pressure of Sats come from? 

Almost always it is the adults placing unnecessary stress on children. I get why teachers may dislike or become preoccupied by the tests, but I don’t think it is wrong to test our children. It is important to give children opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge, and something like an unseen text is an easy way to do this.  

However, I do think it is important to consider how we present these tests to our children.

Some schools have opted to not talk about Sats at all or to present them as insignificant. I actually think this is counter-intuitive. Instead, we should be honest about what the Sats are but be considered in how we explain this. 

I do the following:

1. Be honest about the Sats challenge 

Children do not mind being challenged and tested in other aspects of their lives; in fact, they embrace it. When children get a new computer game, they want it to be testing and challenging. They don’t wish for the game to be too easy to play. 

So teachers should take this attitude, too: this is a challenge for the students and one we can coach them through. It is not a punishment or something to mourn or hide away from. If we do try and hide it, we are failing to prepare them for a test they do have to take.

Children will reflect the attitudes of the adults, so make them positive and be honest that it will be tricky. 

2. Be honest about practice

Ignoring the fact that Sats exist is not helpful. Explain to the children that they will face many tests in their life and that effective preparation is important. This is an opportunity for children to activate all the skills and background knowledge they have developed. They shouldn't have a pass or fail mentality.

A tiny bit of pressure is OK; it enables us to be prepared to give our best.

Take time to effectively prepare children for their Sats tests with carefully coordinated mock Sats closer to the summer term. Children need to have the opportunity to experience a similar environment in order to ease any possible anxiety. 

3. Be honest about the context 

Explain that not completing a computer game does not make them any less of a person, and they should take the same view of Sats. I always tell the children to relax and show off their skills – and that the Sats are for the school to show how well it is doing. Children should not be worrying about the outcomes of these tests.

But make it clear that there is no pass or fail at Year 6 and that scores are just one small reflection of their learning. 

Kulvarn Atwal is executive headteacher of two large primary schools in the London Borough of Redbridge and author of  The Thinking School: developing a dynamic learning community




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Kulvarn Atwal

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