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Morpurgo: 'Dark spider' of Sats is bringing fear to classrooms

Best-selling author says he does not know all the grammar terms that 11-year-olds are tested upon

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Best-selling author says he does not know all the grammar terms that 11-year-olds are tested upon

Sats are like a “dark spider” spreading fear in the primary classroom, best-selling author Michael Morpurgo has said.

Mr Morpurgo, a former teacher and long-time campaigner for less testing in schools, said the high-stakes tests, which more than half a million 10- and 11-year-olds will take next week, are “fundamentally damaging” to teaching.

“The pressure on everyone that these exams produce seems to me to be educationally and psychologically profoundly counterproductive,” Mr Morpurgo told Tes.

“The pressure of exams and fear of failure has skewed completely what it is that children are in school for.”

His remarks come after the Commons Education Select Committee published its inquiry into primary assessment this week, which raised concerns that the emphasis on “technical aspects of writing” was diminishing the focus on creativity. The cross-party group of MPs wants spelling, grammar and punctuation (Spag) tests to be made non-statutory at key stage 2.

Mr Morpurgo, the author of War Horse and Private Peaceful, admitted that he does not know some of the grammatical terms that children are now tested upon.

“With Sats everyone does them, children are judged on them, schools are judged on them, teachers are judged on them. Everyone is being judged. It is like they all have little gremlins sitting on their shoulders during this time,” he said.

'Profoundly damaging'

“I think it’s profoundly, fundamentally damaging to the teaching process. There are terms these children have to learn in English language and grammar which are completely new to me, aged 73.

“When it comes to creativity, I think Sats sit like a dark spider all over creativity in the classroom and insist, 'You pay attention to me, I am the Sats spider, I am what you have to look to and to an extent be frightened of.'

"And that’s the great problem, there’s fear, there’s anxiety and more and more the inclination now for teachers to have testing, and Sats in particular, at the top of their priority in primary school, whereas they know that is not what they came into teaching for.”

Mr Morpurgo was part of the successful campaign to remove the writing test for 11-year-olds in 2012. Since then children’s writing has been assessed by teachers.

Speaking ahead of a fundraising evening for the charity Farms for City Children, which he and his wife, Clare, founded 40 years ago, Mr Morpurgo said that far from being outdated, a week working on a farm could help to relieve the anxiety in pupils that Sats were adding to.

He said that a farm visit was perhaps of even more benefit to today’s children than to those of yesteryear. The majority of children visiting the charity's farms from cities did not go on foreign holidays, and spent a lot of their time in a virtual world.

“This [being on a farm] is as unvirtual as it is possible to get,” said Mr Morpurgo. “Once you get your wellies on and you’re out there milking cows, walking through the countryside, moving sheep, lambing sheep, seeing birth and death. This is real and they feel part of it.

“It is time to be away from the pressures of home, the pressure of school and simply relate to this new place they’ve come to.”

Michael and Clare Morpurgo will speaking at an event at the Royal Geographical Society in London tomorrow in aid of Farms for City Children. Other speakers include Private Eye editor Ian Hislop and actress Juliet Stevenson.  For more information visit

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