I am sure every teacher has been in a situation where one of their students has become overwhelmed by the Sats, while doing a test, before or after. For many others, the stress is hidden, but still as damaging.
So what can be done to prevent the unnecessary pressures these children are faced with? This is my go-to list of four things I try to do every year.
1. Start practising early
I am sure many will argue that this is not the way forward. However, since arriving in Year 6 (from Year 5) six years ago, this is what we have implemented. Test practice in terms of the actual exams and conditions takes place weekly – from September. This is not as cumbersome as you may think, as we are not talking full tests here. Initially, it may be 10 minutes, building up to, in Spring, two weekly full-practice tests. From my experience, when the real deal comes around, the children are completely used to the situation.
2. Get the classroom culture right
On a daily basis, students should not be afraid of making mistakes. It is your job to ensure that the culture exists where that is possible by making mistakes a feature of lessons and rewarding children having a go at problems, even when they don't get the right result. Do this, and a lot of the fear of Sats disappears.
3. Prioritise parental discussion
Those that worry often say things like, “My mum says I need…” or “If I do well my dad said…”. Parental pressure through direct or indirect means can be a major cause of Sats week breakdowns. I have found that early and regular parental meetings, highlighting the need to allow children to enjoy the final year of primary school and not think of Sats as a life or death scenario, while giving them suitable guidance on what they can do to help, is an appropriate and necessary step in avoiding the SATs stress devil. Being available after each day for parents during Sats week is also a must in my opinion.
4. Timetable some chill-out time
However much we try to reduce the burden of stress, children will automatically worry and be nervous. During Sats week, I feel a way to help reduce this is to allow the children into school earlier on that day and provide food and time to relax before the ‘game’ starts. Children can be in the test environment, having a chat, listening to music or even revising or asking for last-minute support.
Kevin O’Brien is maths coordinator and Year 6 teacher at a primary school in Merseyside