April Sly, Head of Primary School at Derby Grammar School explains why we don’t do SATs and what our pupils will be up to during SATs week.
What are SATs?
The introduction of Standard Attainment Tests (SATs) was announced in 1990. The first group of Junior school age children undertook their tests four years later when the 1990 Year 2, Key Stage 1 cohort reached the end of Key Stage 2 in Year 6, at 11 years old.
Pupils were tested in mathematics and English (reading and writing) with science being introduced in 2010 and SPaG (spelling, punctuation and grammar) in 2013 from Key Stage 2 onwards. The initial reason for national introduction of SATs was to drive up standards.
Are SATs good or bad?
SATs certainly had an impact upon attainment in the first few years but the question of whether they were the best method for assessing learning and teaching has been ongoing from the start.
Opposers cite the preparation for SATs becoming the main focus of the entire year, overshadowing everything else at school. Creative non-core subjects are increasingly squeezed out to allow pupils to revise and have exam practice.
Results are often seen as purely for the school’s benefit, not the pupils’, with a need to have a healthy position in the national league tables by which they are judged.
In the last few years, SATs have been judged on progress from one key stage to another, rather than on pure attainment on a single day. SATs have been blamed for putting undue stress on both teachers and pupils and parts of the UK no longer use them. SATs are not compulsory in the independent sector.
Is assessment important?
Absolutely. Assessment is crucial in the understanding of where each pupil is and what they need to do next. Here at Derby Grammar School, our teachers are constantly assessing by many different methods:
- Teacher assessment: watching, listening, talking with our pupils
- Formative assessment: evaluation at the end of a lesson or after marking informs the teacher of the next steps in teaching, which weaknesses need addressing or which pupils need to be further challenged
- Summative assessment: evaluation at the end of a unit of work enables us to check each pupil’s understanding
Assessment is happening every day, for every pupil, in every subject. We pride ourselves on knowing our pupils extremely well; where they excel and where they need the extra support and encouragement. Our small class sizes are crucial in enabling us to do this so well. We track pupils carefully through from Year 3 to Year 6 each term and put in strategies to plug weaknesses when and where necessary.
Why we don’t do SATs
We believe in a holistic approach to education. Our pupils do very well academically through excellent teaching and a robust, continuous assessment system which takes place often without the pupils’ even realising.
But there’s more to school life at Derby Grammar School than mathematics and English. We encourage them to take part in as many opportunities as possible:
- We have sports three times a week: games include rugby, hockey and cricket; PE covers ball skills, dexterity and stamina; weekly swimming lessons all year round develops this crucial life-skill. And all three lessons mean our boys have a healthy sporting and academic balance, and it promotes a fit and healthy lifestyle.
- Our boys love their art and design technology lessons and we have specialist teachers from the Senior School who inspire and offer challenge at a much higher level than most primary schools can. At age 7 our boys are measuring and cutting wood to make photograph frames and by 11 they are using soldering to connect electrical circuits making their controllable vehicles move forwards and backwards.
- Performance is important and develops confidence and presence. Music, singing, poetry and drama are part of our curriculum and can be taken further in one-to-one instrument or LAMDA lessons by our specialist peripatetic teachers. The creative arts are intrinsic as part of our thriving House competition system; all boys participate with huge enthusiasm in the annual House carol competition, House music and poetry evening and the end of the year drama production.
- Outdoor learning is always popular for our energetic boys: we pond-dip, compost, grow flowers and vegetables in our discovery garden as well as using it for science investigations; Forest School club is out in all weathers, enjoying the beauty our woodland surroundings offer and letting the boys get ‘down and dirty’.
- Our curriculum in school is backed up by relevant trips and visits, consolidating learning and encouraging fun. Visiting different places of worship aids understanding of beliefs and tolerance; visiting a zoo as part of a rainforest topic, tasting ‘proper chips’ in a Victorian village or panning for gold as part of a rocks and soils topic – all these help to embed the learning within the classroom.
And what will our Year 6 boys be doing while the rest of the nation’s 11 year-olds will be sitting their SATs this week?
With the help of Cycle Derby, they will be taking their Level 2 Bikeability award, learning how to safely ride their bike on roads: positioning in the road, indicating, ‘safety looks’ before setting off and generally being aware of other road users.
And to top off the week we head to the Tissington Trail for a day out in the beautiful Peak District with a picnic, lots of energy and 20 miles on the disused railway to Parsley Hay to enjoy. What could be better?