PERIWINKLES AND astronauts were being debated in primary staffrooms across England this week as the science Sats for 11-year-olds began.
Reaction to both science and writing tests seemed mostly positive. But the spelling test - which featured a hungry cat stealing milk - could have tripped up children in a year when heads have predicted English scores will stall at 79 per cent, reaching level 4 for the third year running.
Monday's science papers asked why astronauts exercise in space (children's answers included, "so they don't get too fat to fit into their spacesuits"), why water levels in a rock pool drop ("the starfish drunk it") and why periwinkles should be returned to their pools ("because their mum and dad would miss them").
There was some concern about the suitability of a question in which a teacher opened a bottle of nail varnish and measured how long it took the smell to reach children.
Claire Tuffin, deputy head of Sherwood primary in Preston, said: "We thought the second science paper was easier than the first. They were both fair."
On Tuesday, children were tested on spelling. The short task was to write the beginning of a mystery story. Children were given an introduction about a door creaking open. The long task was to write a leaflet to inform and persuade people to look after the environment.
Abdul-Hayee Murshad, head of Hermitage primary in Tower Hamlets in east London, said: "It is the weirdest, most difficult spelling test I have seen in all these years of tests."
Stan Martin, head of All Saints CofE primary, West Bromwich, said: "The shorter English task was reasonable, the longer was slightly unfair because there were two writing genres mixed up. Where is the balance? Is it to inform or persuade?"
But tests might not have been the only thing on the minds of All Saints'
11-year-olds this week. The school is just two miles from the West Bromwich Albion ground, where on Wednesday the team needed to beat Wolves for a chance at promotion.
"But that won't affect us," said Mr Martin, a Liverpudlian. "We've only got one Albion fan, the others mostly support Arsenal."
Volcanoes and Pompeii were the subjects of Wednesday's reading test. The maths tests were due to be taken yesterday and today.
Roy Kerrigan, head at Two Moors primary in Tiverton, Devon, said: "The key stage 2 tests do not tell teachers anything they don't already know, so why spend millions doing them? Getting those standards of education up is great and we are all behind that, but it is at a ridiculous stage when you want 85 per cent of children to be average. Children may get level 5, but that doesn't necessarily make them nice people."
The final year of Sats? page 14
A PARENT'S VIEW
Susan Young is a TES journalist and mother of a pupil at Balfour junior school in Brighton It is 7.45am on Monday and time to wake my 11-year-old daughter. Usually she is reading and complaining about having to get up. Today, she is comatose... until, "Brring! It's your Mum alarm clock here!"
Her eyelids fly open. "Mum! You're so random!"
Well, the letter from school said they had to arrive in plenty of time for Sats. What other instructions did it contain? A good breakfast. Holly cheers up as I offer her the Sunday treat of a bacon bagel and tomato sauce. God knows what the other parents are cooking - the letter home suggested lots of fish.
Over breakfast, Holly practises turning fractions into percentages - even though today is science, not maths. On the way to school, mums compare notes. Lots of sleepless nights. Holly's biggest worry? That her sister is making us late.
Much later, when Holly returns in no hurry for a good night's sleep, we catch up. It's been a good day, though she thought the question about the astronaut rather odd. "I said it was to keep fit and healthy. Do you think that's right?" she said.
After all the build-up, the kids seem relieved to get the tests out of the way. With afternoons of sport, art and DVDs, what's not to like?