Sats results: Minister would take a ‘dim view’ of schools putting pressure on children in exams

‘There is absolutely no reason why any school should put pressure on young children,’ says Nick Gibb

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Tuesday 10 July 2018 16:12 BST
Teachers revealed pupils have nightmares, been left in tears and are sick from anxiety in the wake of harder tests
Teachers revealed pupils have nightmares, been left in tears and are sick from anxiety in the wake of harder tests (Getty)

The government takes a “dim view” of schools putting pressure on pupils over Sats tests, the schools standards minister has warned, following reports of children crying, vomiting and having nightmares.

Nick Gibb told The Independent that he would be “very concerned” if schools had made 10 and 11-year-olds feel stressed during the tests in Year 6.

Speaking as schools received their Sats results, he said: “These aren’t tests that affect the future of the child. So there is absolutely no reason why any school should put pressure on young children.”

The minister’s comments come as a poll revealed more than two in five children said they were worried to sit the Sats tests – with almost a quarter believing the results would help them find a job.

Another survey of teachers revealed children had nightmares, had been left in tears and were sick from anxiety in the wake of the tougher assessments – which are used to hold schools to account.

A higher proportion of primary school pupils in England have reached the government’s expected standards in reading, writing and maths in the Sats test, figures published earlier this week showed.

More than a third (36 per cent) of primary school pupils in England failed to meet the expected standards in the tests this year – compared to 39 per cent of Year 6 pupils in 2017, the results revealed.

The tougher tests – which have now been taken for the third time – have been criticised by teachers, psychiatrists and parents for placing too much pressure on children’s wellbeing at an early stage.

In May – when more than 600,000 Year 6 pupils took the tests – some parents were told that sick children should sit their Sats, even if they needed to rely on first aiders for extra support.

When asked about reports of nervous and sick children being forced to sit the Sats, Mr Gibb told The Independent: “I would be very concerned about schools that put pressure on young people.

“If there is evidence that some schools are doing that then that is an issue that I would be concerned about and that Ofsted would be concerned about. We take mental health of children very seriously.”

He added: “We would take a very dim view on any school that put pressure on children when taking these Sats because there is absolutely no reason to do so.”

However, a survey released by the National Education Union (NEU) earlier this week, revealed that nine in 10 primary school teachers felt national testing impacted negatively on pupils’ wellbeing.

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “Over a third of 11-year-olds will arrive in secondary schools in September labelled as ‘below the expected standard’. This devastating outcome is the result of policy-makers’ delusion that to measure the performance of our school system it is necessary to test each individual pupil, and to prepare pupils relentlessly to be tested.

“The stress this causes for children and their schools is building up.”

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said they were “concerned” about the reports of children crying and having nightmares about Sats.

“Schools do their best to protect their pupils from stress and anxiety, but action is clearly needed to reduce the pressure of the current system,” she said. ”The problem is not the tests themselves but the fact that they are used as the main way of judging primary schools and the stakes are extremely high.

“In reality, four days of tests out of seven years of schooling can never provide anything more than a snapshot.”

She added: “ASCL is urging the Department for Education and Ofsted to attach less weight to a single set of results and to treat these tests as just one element of the story of a school.”

Campaign group More Than A Score – made up of teachers, parents, heads, educational experts and unions – said many children believed their score would have a direct impact in their life.

Research by YouGov found that 44 per cent of pupils aged six to 15 were worried about taking Sats, with 23 per cent believing their results would help them to find a job in the future.

Madeleine Holt, of More Than A Score, said: “We should not have a system in which 10 and 11-year-olds believe that tests they sit in Year 6 will determine their future job prospects and we should not have a system in which many primary school pupils are worried and anxious about sitting tests. It is no wonder we hear stories of children suffering as a result of this pressure with many parents reporting their children showing signs of both physical and mental stress in the months before the Sats take place.”

She added: “According to the Department for Education, Sats are intended mainly to measure the performance of schools, not individual pupils. It’s not turning out that way. Unfortunately, it is a sign of the pressure now put upon pupils, teachers and parents that children view their scores as a measure of their own individual ability and future success.”

In writing, 78 per cent reached the expected level, up from 76 per cent. In grammar, punctuation and spelling, it was 78 per cent, up from 77 per cent. In maths, 76 per cent of pupils reached the expected standard – up one percentage point from 2017.

Mr Gibb added: “Schools are teaching more effectively the new, more demanding curriculum. This does mean pupils are far better prepared for secondary education than they were before.”

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