SATs ‘detrimental to children’s well-being’, says NEU

The NEU conducted a survey which shows how teachers really feel about SATs and their impact on pupils – and the results are far from positive

Results of a survey by the National Education Union show that not only do SATs not necessarily benefit children’s learning, but they may be bad for their mental well-being.

Over 1,200 primary teachers were surveyed in June and July, and nine-in-ten said the SATs-based primary assessment system is detrimental to children’s well-being. Nearly the same number (88%) said they do not benefit children’s learning.

One teacher said: “Pupils at our school have cried, had nightmares and have changed in behaviour due to the pressure on them – and we do our best to shield them from it and not make a huge issue out of the tests.”

Another added: “We’ve had children crying, making themselves ill and refusing to come to school – even labelling themselves failures – because of these tests.”

An additional teacher commented: “We see children in highly anxious states, sometimes vomiting because of pressure. More children displaying signs of poor mental health and we do not put pressure on our children.”

A teacher said: “Some children are so stressed by the experience that special provision needs to be made for them to sit in a small group with an adult to give them emotional support. The number of children needing this has increased year on year.”

Teachers have slated the SATs-based system for lowering the quality of primary education. One teacher described the SATs as “…the biggest barrier that we have to high quality and relevant learning.”

Teachers regard the SATs in year 6 as a barrier to learning that limit pupils’ access to a full curriculum, with 86% saying preparation for SATs squeeze out other parts of the curriculum.

Teachers also reported that some groups of children are particularly severely affected by preparing for the tests. Eighty-eight per cent said children with SEND are particularly disadvantaged, 66% said pupils whose first language is not English and 54% said children who are born in the summer (because they are the youngest in their class).

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Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“The government must recognise that despite a rhetoric that focuses on ‘standards’ and ‘excellence’ they have created a system which is the opposite of what they intended: one that is lowering quality, harming and demotivating many children and creating classrooms in which the love of learning is endangered.

“The harrowing stories we have heard about crying, stressed children should make the government sit up and listen. Teachers fully accept the need to be accountable for how well children do, but the SATs are not the right way to do this. Instead of raising standards and creating excellence, SATs demotivate and stress children and teachers, do not benefit children’s learning and squeeze the love out of learning.

“Experience in other countries demonstrates that higher standards are produced by assessment systems that trust and enable teachers to develop a full curriculum that engages pupils, not narrow and meaningless test scores.”

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