'Confidence is shattered: our most vulnerable pupils suffer the after-effects of the Sats regime for the rest of their education'

Year 6 should be about smoothing transition to secondary by building confidence and resilience, writes one much-loved head. But instead it’s dominated by the Sats sausage machine

Colin Harris

Coronavirus: Teachers' response to the coronavirus pandemic has been amazing, writes Colin Harris

It’s that time of year. Across the country, primary after primary is gearing up for the mad dash towards Sats week.

It’s impossible to overstate how badly wrong most of English education has got the last year of primary. Take, for example, transition. At the end of key stage 2 our kids face the most formidable challenge as they move to secondary school, and yet, rather than focusing on preparing them for this leap, we force them into the Sats sausage machine.

Too often this impersonal regime of endless test prep shatters the confidence of our most vulnerable pupils at the very point when it is most needed.

It’s worth stating that these days transition is handled way, way better than it used to be, with schools talking to one another about pupils, and many more familiarisation visits. But we cannot get away from the fact that Year 6 teachers are forced to target almost all their energy on achieving the "age-appropriate" or better scores.

Wouldn't it be better to focus on the skills that are truly essential for secondary school? Why not ensure that all pupils have strong resilience, positive self-esteem and confidence in their own ability? The reality is that the present Year 6 curriculum for too many pupils falls well short in these areas.

For too may pupils, transition becomes a challenge they do not win. They have “failed” in their Sats, had their confidence crushed and then fall tumbling down as they fail to smoothly step into secondary.

The crushing impact of Sats

The consequences are felt through the rest of their education: the gap widens as they struggle to keep up.

The Year 6 curriculum needs to be elevated and filled with activities to develop students’ individual strengths, allowing for positive-thinking, resilience and communication skills.

For example, in my opinion, all Year 6 pupils should have a compulsory (government-funded) week-long residential trip, building confidence and expanding horizons; ideal prep for their next school. Ideally, this would be in the second week of May (see what I did there?).

The skills the pupils would gain in this one week would be of greater value than any of the “work” they do in May at present. But it’s not a high bar.

Colin Harris led a school in a deprived area of Portsmouth for more than two decades. His last two Ofsted reports were "outstanding" across all categories

To read more of Colin's articles, visit his back catalogue

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