If you've got a child in year 2 or year 6, you could well be hearing mutterings about SATs (Statutory Assessment Tests) at the school gate. Here's our guide.
What are SATs then?
All state primary pupils in England are tested at the end of Key Stage 1 (year 2) and Key Stage 2 (year 6). Many schools run 'unofficial' optional SATs in years 3 to 5 as well.
Year 6 children take their tests on set dates in mid-May. Results are then submitted to the school's local authority and to parents by the end of the summer term.
Things work a little differently for year 2 children now - it used to be that their results were solely based on the tests but there's been a move towards teachers making a general judgement ('teacher assessment'). They will use the test scores to inform this, alongside other evidence, such as the understanding shown by pupils in their classwork. The tests can be given to children at any time during the year and they shouldn't be particularly aware of what they're used for or their significance - most schools will keep things very low key.
Which subjects are covered?
Year 6 children are tested in spelling, punctuation and grammar (known as the SPAG test), reading and maths (with both written and mental maths tests). Their writing is now assessed by the teacher rather than formally tested and as of 2013 there was also no science test. Year 2 children will be assessed for maths, reading, writing, speaking and listening and science but they are only tested for the first three of these areas.
Will I be told the results?
Yes, by law parents must be given their children's results, broken down by subject, at the end of the summer term in years 2 and 6.
For year 2 children, schools have to provide the teacher's assessment but do not have to give you the results of any written tests unless requested.
What sort of results will we be given?
You should get a report with SATs levels for each subject. At the end of year 2, the minimum expected level is a 2b - note this is not the national average as it is sometimes touted to be but a target standard. A 2c or 1a/b/c is below expectations, 2a is above expectations and a level 3 means your child is doing even better.
At the end of year 6, a level 4 is the minimum expected level, with a level 5 above expectations and a level 3 below expectations. This year, schools have the option of giving very able pupils level 6 papers.
Remember that for some children, a level 1 in year 2 or a level 3 in year 6 might still be a fantastic achievement.
For more information, also see the Parentdish guide to National Curriculum levels.
So how much do SATs matter for my year 6 child?
We'd love to say they don't have any significance but some secondary schools base their year 7 sets on children's year 6 scores (others carry out their own testing). But remember that sets can and do change throughout secondary school, so even if your son or daughter ends up lower than you expected, they might move up later on.
First and foremost, SATs are there to help parents get a feel for how their child is progressing and for the education officials to assess how schools are doing. And of course remember that your child's year 6 SATs will NOT end up on their CV or job applications when they're grown-ups - they aren't worth you or them losing sleep over!
And for year 2 pupils?
Results could be used for initial planning in year 3 but most teachers will carry out their own, fresh assessments in September (partly because children's levels can go up or down over the summer holidays). The end of year 2 SATs levels are however used to create your child's targets to reach in year 6. These will normally be two full levels higher than their year 2 scores. So, if they achieved level 2b at year 2, they would be expected to attain a level 4b or more by the end of primary.
I've been surprised by how low my year 2 child's levels are - what might be going on?
Some schools, dare we say it, have been known to keep year 2 levels artificially low, in order to score well for 'value added'. This is a measure of how much the children have moved on between year 2 and year 6 and is included in school league tables.
In theory such figure fiddling shouldn't happen as scores are moderated (checked by local authority education staff), but moderation doesn't occur in every school, every year and we've certainly heard stories, from reliable sources, about this going on at the request of some of the more league table focused headteachers out there.
Is there anything I should do to prepare my child?
There's a raft of SATs preparation-related products and services on offer, from tutoring to workbooks. You shouldn't really need to go down this route. If you do though, try and keep things very low key and remember the bit above about SATs not going on their CV!
Beyond this, as ever it does probably make sense to quietly try and ensure that year 6 kids are relatively well-rested and well-'breakfasted' during SATs week, so they can do their best.
My year 6 son is getting in a tizz about SATs because his teacher has had the class doing practice papers every week for months! Help!
Sadly some primaries do push their year 6 children quite hard and get somewhat obsessed with the tests - this is because they want to do well in the league tables of year 6 scores published for each school annually. If all this is affecting your child's well-being, do go in and discuss it with their teacher. Reassure him yourself that he can't 'fail' SATs and they are a chance to show his teacher what he knows.
My children go to private school, does this mean they don't have to do SATS?
Independent schools can choose to use the same SATs papers state schools test children with but they aren't under any obligation to do so. Most private schools do still have some sort of exams in the upper years of primary/ prep though.
Liat Hughes Joshi is author of Raising Children: The Primary Years and New Old-fashioned Parenting.
Follow Liat on Twitter: @liathughesjoshi
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