This might come across as idealistic or cynical. It might even sound hypocritical to those who’ve taught Year 6 alongside me. But there really is more to Year 6 than Sats revision – even in Sats week.
Regardless of your views on key stage 2 testing, it’s the system with which we’re currently lumbered. And I would always advise that children are prepared for them.
But by preparing, I don’t mean drilled to within an inch of their life: Easter booster classes, daily past papers, hours of homework and the like. There are other ways of helping children to be ready for that week of testing in May – ways that prepare them mentally; ways that ensure they remain emotionally intact.
Here are five suggestions:
1. Make time for relationships
Hopefully, you’ve already developed really good relationships with your class, but in the weeks around Sats turn this up to 11. Go out to break with them, sit with them at lunch, stand out at the end of the day – be there, chat, discuss their hobbies, favourite books, weekend plans: whatever it is that will reinforce that Sats aren’t the be-all-and-end-all. If, in making yourself available, they choose to talk about the tests, take this opportunity to reassure them and find out how you might help them feel emotionally ready. Be there for them.
2. Emphasise the arts
In a time so seemingly focused on maths and English, don’t forget the other subjects. Make time for some relaxing arts-based activities: sing and dance for pleasure (before you are forced to do it in endless rehearsals for the leavers’ play), paint and draw (preferably outside – Sats week weather always seems to be tauntingly beautiful), and act and read (reading, although tested, is a study of the arts – don’t underestimate the power of reading aloud during test week). Find out from the children what they might like to indulge in during non-test hours and balance out the last-minute revision with something to give them some escape.
Without going into too much detail, the benefits of exercise are vast, especially during a week of testing. Exercise can be stress-busting, it increases energy levels and can improve brain function – they all sound like things that will really help children to be well-prepared to sit those tests. Try to make sure breaks between tests are periods of activity where children can get out and also experience the benefits of fresh air and natural light. Year 6 will never say no to the highly-sought-after afternoon break – don’t forget to throw some extra time for physical activity into your Sats week timetable.
4. Encourage ‘me’ time
By this, I pretty much mean "Don’t set homework" – even the sort that says ride a bike, eat ice cream and watch a movie. There is no one-size-fits-all advice for how children should spend their downtime, so find out what each child in your class enjoys doing the most when at home. Encourage them to do those things, especially the ones that are really fulfilling. Perhaps have a daily time slot set aside for children to share what they’ve been getting up to at home to emphasise the importance of having interests and hobbies outside of school: they could share their current read, a summary of a film they’ve seen, a piece of music they like to play or listen to, an artwork they’ve created, and so on.
5. Reminisce and plan for the future
There’s nothing like thinking of the good times of old and making plans for the future for temporarily forgetting one’s current situation. Not only is this escapism but it develops perspective: during Sats week, the tests can be all-consuming but in reality, they are just a meagre four days out of many. Children will be helped to see that they aren’t the be-all-and-end-all when they think back on all the highlights from primary school and when they get to think about the good times to come – the end of term trip, the school play, sports day, summer holidays, big school…
Aidan Severs is an assistant vice principal at a primary school in the North of England. He blogs at ThatBoyCanTeach and tweets @thatboycanteach