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What educational value do SATs have?

children in classroom
SATs tests are one of the most hotly debated topics among educationalists, parents, and even children. So what do the experts have to say about their value and effect on children?

Schools are accused of drilling children for SATs, devoting too much teaching time to their preparation and neglecting other subjects. Plus there are concerns that the assessments provide misleading results, are counter-productive and stressful for children. So it’s no wonder there is so much controversy surrounding the tests and their educational worth.

Those who defend SATs, however, see them as a vital part of the drive to maintain and raise standards. Previous Government reports reveal that gains have been made in children’s literacy and numeracy levels due to these tests. By having standardised national curriculum testing, it is felt that children’s learning will benefit from having appropriate levels set for them, measured against their age group and abilities in specific areas. They also help parents to understand where their child needs more support.

Do SATs help or hinder learning?

Critics of this system say that SATs are limiting and do not help develop a child’s learning outside of the set subjects of English, maths and science. The chairman of the Commons Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families, Barry Sheerman, believes the tests "squeeze out the creativity, the depth and the imagination from the curriculum". Others have said SATs simply coach children to pass the tests and any real learning is entirely accidental.
On the other hand, though, schools minister Jim Knight robustly dismissed claims that teachers are simply teaching to the test. However, he says teachers focus on the core subjects (literacy, numeracy and science) because this is what they are required to do. "We're pretty clear about our priorities in testing," he says, "We want people to focus on maths, English and science and we want people to teach to those priorities."

Are they an unnecessary source of stress?

Organisations such as the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) feel that SATs can affect a child’s ability to learn, not only by being so prescriptive in subject matter, but also through exerting stress on children and giving them a negative experience of learning.
"We should be trying to win over the hearts and minds of children and instilling in them a love of learning; at the moment we’re doing the opposite," says general secretary of the NAHT, Mick Brookes.
However, Mr Knight disagrees. "I don’t buy that it’s too stressful," he says, "I visit enough schools to see where the tests are used well to drive forward understanding and learning."

The future of SATs

Despite opposition it would seem that, for the time being, Key Stage 2 SATs are here to stay. (Key Stage 1 SATs will become non-mandatory, so schools will be able to choose whether to administer them, from 2023.)

Assessment has always been a part of school life, but whether it will remain part of a nationalised system, or the responsibility will be given back to teachers to test children when they feel they are ready, remains an open question.

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