School head says SATs do more harm than good

It used to only be GCSE and A-Level school students who spent May revising for exams, writes Mark Cottingham.

But now they’ve been joined by the country’s year six pupils, thanks to the increasing importance of SATs, the four-letter word most likely to strike fear into any 11-year-old.

Mark Cottingham, principal at Shirebrook Academy

Mark Cottingham, principal at Shirebrook Academy

As a secondary school, we don’t have to do SATs here at Shirebrook, but they are a controversial subject and I will freely admit that I don’t agree with them.

Many primary school pupils feel they dominate year six, to the point where they are at risk of ruining their last year at primary school.

And the activity seems to have gone up a notch this year, with some schools now holding extra weekend and Easter holiday SATs study sessions.

You can’t blame the schools, they are held accountable for those results, so need them to be as strong as possible.

But depriving 11-year-olds of holiday play-time doesn’t seem right to me, especially since they don’t get a qualification or certificate at the end of it.

But perhaps my biggest concern, as a secondary school principal, is the part that SATs play in narrowing year six pupils’ educational experience.

Because SATs are only concerned with maths and English, other subjects, such as history, languages or science, inevitably get less attention during year six.

So instead of a broad knowledge base, students instead arrive in secondary school with encyclopaedic knowledge of English grammar terms – which is not particularly important or useful for them at this stage.

Here at Shirebrook, we already bring our year sixes into school for the last two weeks of term to ensure they hit the ground running in September.

But we are going one step further by working with our biggest local primary school even earlier this year to introduce year six students to the type of work they can expect in year seven.

This is because the narrow focus on literacy and numeracy, as well as the upset and the demotivating effect of SATs for some students, can have a significant impact on their learning.

So if we want them to blossom with us, we need to help move them on from their SATs experience as quickly as possible.