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Five ways to minimise Sats stress

There’s a certain amount of anxiety that comes with Sats week, but research has advice on how to manage it and even put it to good use

sats stress

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn announced this week that the party would scrap Sats if they came to power.

Most teachers and parents agree that they should go, and even Sean Harford, national director of Ofsted, recently tweeted that they’re a very blunt instrument for measuring children’s capabilities.

But, love them or loathe them, they’re here for the moment, so we might as well find ways to minimise the stress they can cause.

Quick read: When Sats fever takes hold everything else suffers

Quick listen: What every teacher needs to know about memory

Want to know more? Schools – don’t be slaves to data, says governor

And let’s not forget that children need some stress to perform at their best. Studies show that we reach our peak performance when we experience mild to moderate levels of stress. Here are five ways to help your pupils manage it and get the most out of their Sats.

Infect your class with calmness

Did you know that moods are contagious? Something called emotional contagion means that we can “catch” each other’s moods. Our social brains mean we’re always picking up on cues (from the tone of voice, or body language) to see how other people are feeling and often we can start to feel that way too.

This means that if you’re stressed about Sats, your class will be too. So, make sure you embody equanimity and coolness these next few weeks.

Get moving

When we exercise, our bodies use up stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, allowing us to keep our stress levels in check. And exercise releases happy hormones like endorphins and dopamine, which are neurotransmitters and help our brains to think better.

sats stress

Get your class out of their seats and moving daily. One school that did the Daily Mile before and during SATs week showed much higher results than the average in their borough.


It is pretty much impossible to feel stressed when you’re laughing, so make sure that you have fun with your class in the run up to Sats week. When we laugh, our bodies flood with the same hormones that get released during exercise, which help to lower stress levels and put us in a good mood.

And as psychologist Shawn Achor explains in his book The Happiness Advantage, a positive brain has "a biological advantage over a neutral or negative brain”.

Get tribal

We’re an innately tribal species and we feel happiest when we are part of a team. Research shows that just being around supportive others can lower blood pressure and reduce stress hormones in the body.

Many schools now start Sats week with communal breakfasts. So, get your Year 6 children to come in early, share a breakfast together (nutrition is so important for getting those neurons to fire in the morning), chat, and have a laugh.

Reframe nervousness

When we’re nervous or excited, our bodies react in pretty much the same way: our heart rate increases, cortisol surges and our bodies prepare for action, and our brains can’t tell the difference between these two emotional states.

Professor Alison Woods Brooks used this to try out a novel way of dealing with nerves – to ‘reframe’ them as excitement.

Brooks found that when she got participants to do nerve-wracking tasks (like sitting tests, or singing to a crowd) and to say to themselves “I’m excited” before they performed (she calls it anxiety reappraisal), their performance was markedly better than those who were just plain nervous.

So, however you and your class are feeling, tell yourselves you’re excited about them and watch your grades soar.

Sats really don’t need to be that stressful. Let’s maintain our perspective this summer, try these techniques above and remember that our children are more than a score.

Adrian Bethune is a primary teacher and the author of Wellbeing in the Primary Classroom. He tweets @AdrianBethune

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