It’s "silly season". This was the name my old deputy head used to give to the time running from now onwards as we approach Sats.
There’ll be mixed feelings, some nerves, and a few panics among teachers and primary school leaders. If these feelings get too strong, you can pass this anxiety to the children. Likewise, staying upon the tightrope of preparation, avoiding doing too much or too little, is tricky.
Quick read: How we improved our Sats results
Quick listen: The truth about mental health in schools
Want more articles like this? Join our Tes Teaching and Learning Facebook group
So how do we get the culture just right in the lead up to Sats? Here’s how we do it.
1. It’s about the team, not individuals
With Sats, it can be easy for children to fall into seeing the whole thing as a very individual exercise and, as a teacher, it can be tempting to see it the same way. But we’re all in this together.
We need to talk openly about exams being part of every person’s life, and how by pulling together we can all achieve.
We do this by ensuring that when we work hard on a task, we support each other vocally and frequently. We then ensure we play hard, too, together.
So if we have all smashed our exercises in the morning, in the afternoon we’ll do something quick and crazy: 29 minutes of Go Noodle, a game of Unlucky Elevens, Kwik Cricket, charades. Whatever. This is about building a team spirit of support that should last the rest of the year.
2. Collective staff responsibility
Sats are not just the responsibility of the Year 6 staff. As a member of SLT, I have always taken Year 2 and 6 practice papers home to mark, and as the English lead, I take writing home to moderate. My seven years teaching in Year 6 means I remember how much this is appreciated!
Could other staff in your school maybe help out with booster sessions at lunchtimes or after school?
Also, reminding staff that the Sats are a culmination of learning through the key stage means the whole school should share the burden. Responsibility should never be on the Year 6 teachers alone.
3. Don’t single kids out
We’ve all heard a Year 6 teacher say “the ones I wanted to attend boosters never came”. But look again at what you are offering. Pair up with a colleague and get into your main hall at lunch time, offer some big scale games for all children to partake in and then add some Sats revision on the side.
Groups can alternate between penalty shoot-outs or indoor cricket in between a Spag session or a reading pop quiz. Whatever gets them interested, do it. You then benefit all children and keep that team together.
4. ‘Hide’ the revision
Bored of reading test questions? So are the children.
You can shake things up a little meaning they may not even realise they are revising.
Last year, I showed one group some Walking With Dinosaurs videos. We then conducted interviews with each other to ask what we’d noticed, and wrote the questions we’d write if we were constructing a comprehension about it.
This "backwards" learning meant they noticed so much more detail (essential for picky reading test questions), understood tonnes of vocabulary, and the end of the sessions arrived all too soon, with me having to turf them out of the room to get them home on time.
The biscuits and juice also helped…
5. Don’t ignore the sticky issues
Over the years, I’ve dealt with many who are upset to not be able to keep up with friends who are getting top scores. Even if you are discreet, practice papers are a fact and so are children who like to compare scores.
So face it head on, reassure those children that the tests do not define them nor do they measure qualities like kindness and imagination. Help them to understand that the best they can do is more than good enough for you.
Let them enjoy the number games and Spag games and weird mnemonic rhymes you make up. Because there is life after Sats, and because we’re all in it together.
Lucy Moss is a key stage 2 leader in an inner-city primary school