Nine in 10 teachers believe Sats preparation harms children's mental health, survey finds

Pupils' levels of engagement and motivation have also been affected, educators warn

Eleanor Busby

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Nine out of 10 teachers believe that primary assessment has had a negative impact on their pupils this year, a new survey finds.

An overwhelming majority of teachers (90 per cent) think that preparation for Sats has worsened children’s wellbeing, mental health and self-confidence, while 87 per cent are concerned that the tests have harmed children’s engagement and motivation, according to the teaching union poll.

The survey – of more than 6,500 primary teachers and headteachers – also reveals that many believe the key stage 2 Sats disadvantage children with special educational needs and disabilities (97 per cent), English as an additional language (84 per cent), and summer birthdays (74 per cent).

The NUT teaching union carried out the research after the Sats were taken by pupils across the country last month. Ahead of the assessments, thousands of parents took their children out of school to protest against the tougher tests.

'Badly managed system'

Just 10 per cent of teachers believe that the controversial spelling, punctuation and grammar (Spag) test has helped to support children’s writing, and only 7 per cent agree that the new system has enabled an accurate representation of what pupils know and can do.

The vast majority of teachers (97 per cent) are concerned about the negative impact that preparing for Sats has had on a broad and balanced curriculum for pupils, according to the poll.

The study follows widespread criticism earlier in the year over ever-changing guidelines, late communications, leaked test papers, and the high demands on teacher workload.

Nearly all teachers surveyed (97 per cent) said that the system had been badly managed by the Department for Education (DfE) , and more than nine in 10 teachers said that the "expected standard" pupils were required to work towards was beyond the reach of the majority of children.

'Schools will not put up with it'

Kevin Courtney, acting general secretary of the NUT, said: "[The new assessment system] is badly designed. Its effects on pupils are actually harmful. Its administration has been spectacularly incompetent. 

"The impact primary assessment is having on children’s mental health and wellbeing, alongside what it is squeezing out of the school day, makes it irresponsible not to listen to teachers’ concerns.

"While schools are working really hard to understand the new expectations and maintain a rounded and balanced school experience for every child, teachers identify that the pressures from this deeply flawed assessment system are making this much harder."

James Bowen, director of NAHT Edge, the middle leaders’ section of the NAHT headteachers' union, said: "School leaders are equally unhappy with the way Sats went. The assessment process has been a negative process. There is a strong feeling that it just hasn’t worked for children this year.

"The big difference was just how much more challenging the tests were, particularly the reading paper. We have got to have tests that children can access."

Mr Courtney added: "The union’s survey offers ample reasons why the DfE should rethink, with policies for primary education that are based on genuine consultation with teachers and expert opinion. The mood in schools is clear: they will not put up with another year like this."

A DfE spokesperson said: “We make no apology for our reforms to the primary curriculum so that all children leave primary school having mastered the basics. Assessment has always been an important part of education and remains crucial to ensuring every child fulfils their potential. If they don't master literacy and numeracy early on, then pupils risk being held behind and struggling for the rest of their lives.

“We are absolutely clear that testing should not be a cause of stress for pupils ‎- they are there to help teachers make sure children are learning to read, write and add up well and also help them to identify were additional support is needed. In fact, a recent poll by ComRes for the BBC of 10 and 11-year-old pupils showed that 62% said they either ‘don’t mind’ or ‘enjoy’ taking the tests. Far more than those who said they ‘don’t like’ or ‘hate’ taking the tests.

 “We are determined to get this process right and remain committed to working with teachers and headteachers as we continue with our primary assessment reform. This includes working constructively with teaching unions, and engaging with the NAHT Assessment Review Group at an official level.”

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Eleanor Busby

Eleanor Busby is a reporter at TES 

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