The One About SATs Stress (FAO: Damian Hinds)

I was recently sent  this article  written by the Education Secretary, Damian Hinds. I have thought hard about what he had to say about SATS preparation in schools, and the purpose of SATs…


Hinds criticises schools who place, in his eyes, too much focus on preparation for SATs, and accuses them of causing children undue stress and anxiety. He talks of one headteacher in one outstanding school who just tells her pupils to do their best. I’d argue that the headteacher concerned is in a lucky situation. She may well not have had an OFSTED inspection in up to 11 years (Schools Week, July 2018) I would surmise she works in an affluent area, in a well-resourced school. It’s hard to know, as the school is not identified in the article. I’d imagine she’s not the head of a school in a deprived area. As a leader in an outstanding school, she’s certainly not worrying about her next inspection judgement and persuading an inspector in just a few short hours that her school is teaching pupils the key skills and knowledge they need. I’m sure she is able to down-play the importance of the tests.

Switch your attention to the Head of a school that “requires improvement” How else is she to evidence that improvement has happened other than via her pupils’ SATs results? Of course, then, she will focus the resources of her school on that aim. Her pupils will have intervention sessions they’ll study past papers, they will possibly face a narrowed curriculum to fit in all that extra English and Maths work. Her school’s future, and the careers of the staff, depend on the outcomes of those tests. They’re not the same as any other spelling or times table test. They’re marked externally by examiners who don’t know the children and their handwriting or tone and intonation. They’re taken under strict exam conditions. To suggest that these tests are low-key and low-stakes is absurd!

I am sure every teacher would want Mr Hinds’ vision of schools of pupils (and staff) who are not fearful of SATs, and who don’t suffer stress and anxiety as a result.

The way to realise that vision isn’t through compulsory health education from 2020 to deal with the stress and anxiety. Rather, Mr Hinds should focus his attentions, and resources, on the root of the problem – a system that relies on a four-day snapshot measurement of pupils’ abilities in two subjects to report on the overall impact and quality of educational provision delivered over 7 years (or 1,330 days) Only then will teachers and pupils be freed from undue stress and anxiety.


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