The conclusions will come as a shock to teachers who voted, in a TES poll, for a loosening of the curriculum and complained of having to coax pupils to jump through hoops. The study, a review of two decades' of research which scoured more than 300 projects, found that teenagers looked forward to exams as a way of obtaining feedback, a source of motivation, and a "passport" to the next stage of their working lives.
"Children value and appreciate feedback and they also enjoy a challenge,"
said John Crookes, head of curriculum partnerships at the QCA. "But we must ensure preparation does not distort the curriculum experience. Children like tests, but they don't always enjoy the run-up." Relevance was also high on the agenda. Pupils expressed a desire for schooling with practical implications and a connection to the "real world". They wanted more and earlier careers advice, and saw education as a stepping stone to a decent job.
The findings will be a convenient boost to the Government's 14 to 19-year-old reforms, which introduce a raft of new vocational qualifications including specialist diplomas. But they do not suggest an "instrumentalist" approach, according to co-author Pippa Lord, of the National Foundation for Educational Research.
"Relevance could mean having a practical application in a job. But also a relationship to their social development or to personal skills, like team working. It could be explaining a subject in terms of its contemporary context," she said.
Children backed teachers in two respects, with many calling for a "slimmed down" curriculum that offered more room for fringe subjects and supporting ICT.
Responding to the report, Alison Johnston, of the Professional Association of Teachers, said: "Members tell us they find some of the tests very constraining. We also know a number of pupils struggle emotionally with the pressure."
David Scotney, head at Ashill community primary in Somerset, agreed: "As a snapshot of assessment they (tests) are useful, but it is wrong to put too much emphasis on them. Teacher assessment is more important," he said.
Laurence Theobald, 11, from Year 6, was resolutely off-message. He said:"I enjoy them. I think they are quite fun. I like being given a task and it gives you something to improve on next year."
On preparing for Sats and a number of scholarships, he added: "If I pass, it means I'll get into a good school and have a good job. At the moment I would like to be an archaeologist."