When it comes to raw, parental anxiety, there’s not much to compare with the formal grading of your child’s academic attainment.
Of course, we all know that everyone has different talents, and that lifelong contentment isn’t necessarily contingent on 10 A* GCSEs, but still: there’s something about the prospect of externally-marked test results that causes a knot in the stomach. Many of us fear – however irrationally – that a set of “bad” results will pin labels on our children that they will spend the next few decades trying to shake off. (Of course, this fear often resolves into equally irrational wild elation and daydreams of world-beating careers when children do well.)
And so we turn, rather inevitably, to Year 6 Sats. Each September on Mumsnet, we see a hum of disbelieving conversation as it starts to sink in that much of the final year at primary school is overshadowed by tests that squat, toadlike, at the beginning of the summer term.
As the academic year passes, the threads about pupil stress and the loss of curriculum breadth in favour of preparing for exam season proliferate.
“It’s madness; they’ve gone on and on at them about it for months,” says one user whose child is suffering from migraines. “My daughter thinks they will impact on her going to her already-allocated secondary school.”
“My niece has been in tears all weekend,” writes another.
Other children manage to keep their cool (on the purely anecdotal evidence of Mumsnet conversations, girls seem to feel the pressure more than boys) – though this can create its very own set of problems.
“My daughter is so chilled she doesn’t even know which test she’s doing today,” wrote one user last May.
What’s more, in between soothing stressed-out children and keeping a weather eye on mounting piles of test-paper homework, many parents are groping for information about the purpose and significance of the tests.
This has been exacerbated recently by the new spelling and grammar curriculum (for parents of Year 6 pupils, “spag” is no longer just something that goes with “bol”), which appears strikingly formal to those educated in the relatively free and easy primary school context of the 1970s and 1980s.
Bewildered Mumsnet users have been scurrying to Google to discover what on earth a “determiner” or “fronted adverbial” might be, and comforting themselves with the thought that a stronger grasp of grammar will help a great deal with foreign language skills later on.
Parental anxiety is matched by teachers’ concern for their pupils, as demonstrated by posts under our “Staffroom” topic.
Some schools, it seems, could do with toning down the pressure on children and providing more information to parents, but many Mumsnet users think that schools are handling the situation as well as they can, and approvingly quote teachers who tell students to go outside, play, and forget about the tests.
When it comes to Sats, it seems all of us – parents, teachers and pupils – are just waiting for them to be over.
Justine Roberts is founder and chief executive of Mumsnet. See mumsnet.com/talk/education