Rachel has been a teacher in West Yorkshire for 12 years. Here she discusses her school’s light-touch approach to SATs
Our school is an all-through school: it was an existing secondary that had a primary added. We had our first Year 6 cohort in the Covid year. Before Covid hit it gave us a good opportunity to establish the way we did Year 6 and SATs afresh, because there was no historic expectation from parents.
We have a very play-based and exploratory curriculum, which isn’t particularly compatible with preparing children for SATs. We made a conscious decision that we wanted to keep that ethos of the school and not to make a huge deal of SATs. Doing this removed a lot of the pressure from the children.
SATs aren’t talked about a lot in school. In previous schools I’ve worked in, everything has always been about SATs, whereas here we don’t place a lot of importance on them, and we don’t mention them.
We only teach English and maths four times a week and only four 45-minute lessons. This enables us to properly teach the rest of the curriculum. We don’t do after school booster groups. We ensure things like PE, art and geography are protected, where we don’t pull children out for maths and English.
The big difference I notice is that we have very few behaviour issues. I think it’s because children genuinely enjoy learning. We still cover the curriculum; we do three rounds of practice SATs throughout the year, so children are prepared, and we do things like low-stakes quizzing, so we expose the children to test-style questions throughout the year, but not necessarily in the form of tests: it’s fun and play-centred.
This year there were lots of reports about the SATs reading test, where children were crying and getting really stressed. We had a very different experience. We didn’t have any children upset at all. I don’t think it was because they are any cleverer or were finding it easier, but I think they don’t have the stress of it being really high stakes.
We’ve been privileged to be able to set our tone on SATs. We work closely with colleagues on what it means to be ‘secondary-ready’, rather than ‘SATs ready’. We prioritise areas of the curriculum in English and maths which secondary colleagues tell us are going to be the best things to equip them to be ready for secondary school.
I’m the English leader in the primary phase and I work very closely with the English leader in secondary. They were really surprised at the focus there is on grammar; in secondary that almost disappears from the curriculum and it’s much more about author intent behind language. We still teach them what a noun is and what a verb is, but we try to frame it in a way that’s going to be more helpful to them as they go through their school career, rather than just rote learning of nouns, verbs, adjectives. In maths, we prioritise a lot of fluency work, rather than some of the traditional Gove-style arithmetic stuff, because as soon as they get to secondary they can use a calculator.
Last year was our first year of SATs results and our results were more or less in line with national standard. We are lucky to have a head teacher who sees beyond the test scores and sees the quality of the learning and the happiness of the child to be more important.
Our attitude is that we’re not aiming for the best results, we are aiming for the happiest children and children who are the best learners, the best equipped to learn for the future.