Education Quandary

'My 11-year-old is getting tummy aches and waking up at night because of her SATs - but her teacher says there is no pressure on pupils. What can we do?'

Hilary Wilce
Monday 28 October 2013 04:36

Hilary's advice

Don't believe her. Even if this teacher thinks that, the pressure will be there in the classroom atmosphere, and pupils will be able read it as clearly as if it was spelled out on the board.

The trouble is that tests and targets make great servants but poor masters. And since masters is what they've become, everyone is suffering. At seven, children are already worrying about their test levels. At 11, their parents are besieging private tutorial agencies for crammer sessions. Teachers have thrown out subjects such as geography and music to drill children in the basics, and heads know that public shame awaits if they ease off the pressure and their results slip a decimal point or two down the league table.

It is all complete madness, and reeks of a society that has no confidence in its knowledge of what good education really is, and no trust in its professionals to deliver it.

Luckily the pendulum is swinging. The tests that seven-year-olds take are to be made less obtrusive, inspectors are speaking out against the unbalanced primary-school curriculum, and even the Education Minister Stephen Twigg agrees that we have overdosed on literacy. A new primary-school strategy is aiming to bring creativity back to the classroom and allow teachers more freedom to teach as they think best. The same guidelines and checks remain in place, but the strategy will - it is hoped - give teachers back their professional pride, and allow schools to teach children as they are, not as the educational bureaucrats would have them be.

Which doesn't help your 11-year-old one jot. Yet no child should ever have to suffer tummy aches over school. First thing next term, tell her teacher - and the head - very firmly that, whether or not they say the pressure is there, your daughter certainly feels it, and insist that she is given as much support and reassurance as possible before taking her tests.

Try to find out from her, or the school, whether there is something she is particularly worried about, and what you can do to help. Help her practise on any weak areas at home - find help on the internet, or in books available in bookshops and big newsagents - without, of course, piling on any extra pressure. And tell her that while it is always good to try to do your best in exams, they are definitely not what life is all about.

Readers' advice

I am in Year 9 and will be taking my SATs in a few weeks' time. Our teachers say: "You don't need to worry, but it's your own fault if you don't get a level 7, don't come complaining to us if you haven't put in the extra work." So I can see what your daughter is going through. Just ask her if she knows what any older friends or relatives got in their SATs. This should help her realise that she doesn't need to worry about them any more than what she will have for lunch next week. Good luck!

Katie Anthony (aged 14), Warwickshire

My daughter sat her SATs two years ago. There was a tremendous fuss made at the school about this. We were told that on no account were we to take any holiday during the SATs week, and to give the children lots of early nights. The pressure was almost tangible.

You must reassure your daughter that no matter what her results are, the school she moves on to will soon assess her capabilities and put her into the right group. Do not say that if she does well you will give her something. This adds to the pressure - although taking her out for a meal when it's all over is something to look forward to.

Mary Smithers, Surrey

Sometimes it isn't teachers who put the pressure on, but parents. If any of your child's friends' parents are doing this, keep her away from their houses for the next few weeks. In my experience, if one or two 11-year-old girls in a class are made to feel anxious, they all will!

Jenny Boden, Plymouth

Next week's quandary

Over the years, our secondary school has tried all ways to organise its parents' evenings: appointments/non-appointments, one large room for everyone/small individual rooms for privacy and so on. Someone is always unhappy with the format. What's the secret to pleasing everyone?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to reach her by next Monday, 12 April, at The Independent, Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or send e-mails to Please include details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser

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