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Pupils discover exam nerves at key stage 2

FIFTYYear 6 pupils file out leaving the rows of desks in the school hall at Malton County primary slightly askew. They are eager to return their classrooms.

It's the end of the first morning of the key stage 2 national tests and the relief is palpable. The tension caused by the build-up to exams has been broken.

Pupils in this 350-strong North Yorkshire school chatter noisily, comparing notes. Some are beaming because the test was easier than they had expected. Others are quieter, unsure of how they performed.

"Nerve-wracking," said 10-year-old Shane Wright after the first part. "I didn't really understand it. But then I got the hang of it ."

Leanne Cook, aged 11, had expected the first morning's test (in mathematics) to be a lot harder and was consequently full of smiles despite feeling "so tired". She had been up most of the night worrying and revising, she said.

Neil Barber, by contrast, looked fairly serene. He had enjoyed the test. This year, pupils are sitting KS2 tests in the serried ranks of a formal examination setting. Tim Hiley, a senior teacher for the year group, says the exam has become more formal, partly due to the large groups and partly to the importance attributed to results by parents and inspectors.

Mr Hiley says he does a fair bit of counselling to prevent some children from becoming overwrought. He also talks to parents about the dangers of applying too much pressure, warning those who buy practice exam papers to use them sensitively.

"We have to make children feel comfortable so they are not thrown in at the deep end, but we have to make sure we don't push them over the edge," he said.

Mr Hiley felt that the first maths paper had been a fair reflection of the work children had been doing and believes the tests provide a useful summation of how far the children have come. However, he believes that teacher assessment is the more useful tool as far as the child is concerned.

"What is really heartbreaking is when you sit in on the exam and see those struggling at the bottom of level three. They've done all they can do in 10 minutes, but have to sit there for the next 35 watching all the others working away. That's very demoralising."

Helen Rudge, who also teaches Year 6, said: "A little pressure is not a bad thing. It can spur children on. My concern is what the results are used for. Secondary schools don't seem to take account of them. They can benefit us when we look at how we teach, but not so much the children."

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