17th October 2022

Majority of parents agree: SATs damage children’s mental health and do not accurately reflect pupil or school performance

  • 60% of parents believe SATs harm children’s mental health
  • 83% of parents agree the tests do not measure all that children can do
  • Only one in ten believe they are an accurate measure of school performance
  • Only 8% strongly support current government policy on primary testing
  • School leaders place preparing for government tests bottom of classroom priorities

The majority of parents believe that SATs and other government tests in primary schools damage children’s mental health and do not accurately reflect children’s abilities or the performance of their school, according to new research.

Six in ten parents of primary age children agree that sitting SATs and other government tests has a negative impact on children’s mental health, according to a survey conducted by YouGov for the campaign group More Than A Score.

Primary children now sit government tests in English and maths in five out of seven school years. The results are used by Ofsted and to create league tables and heads, teachers and education experts argue that this is an unfair way to measure schools. Parents1 agree: only 10% of parents surveyed believe that they are an accurate reflection of a school’s performance.

Meanwhile, according to primary school leaders, preparing for SATs should be the lowest priority in the new school year. In research conducted by Teacher Tapp with heads and other senior staff, no respondents selected preparing for SATs and other government tests as the top classroom priority. The most popular choice (36% of respondents) was promoting a love of learning, followed by delivering a broad and balanced curriculum (29% of respondents) and children’s well-being and mental health (24%).

The use of the tests as a measure of academic progress and attainment is also called into doubt by the YouGov research: a significant majority of parents surveyed (83%) believe that the assessments do not accurately reflect all that children can do.

Campaigners have argued that the focus on English and maths leads to a narrowed curriculum and teaching to the test. Almost three-quarters (73%) of parents surveyed believe that studying a broad curriculum is more valuable to children’s learning than preparing for government assessments.

In July, 41% of children in year 62 were told they had not reached “the expected standard” in their SATs. Alison Ali from More Than A Score comments, “Being told that you have failed is the wrong way to start secondary school. The current system lets children down with its focus on cramming for tests in English and maths at the expense of a broad and rich curriculum. Parents clearly recognise this – it’s time that the government paid attention too. It’s time for a more compassionate system that promotes a love of learning and measures schools more fairly.”

The government has continued to promote statutory assessments as a way of holding schools accountable but the research demonstrates that parents do not support this policy. Only 8% of parents surveyed strongly agree that there should be government tests in five out of seven primary years.

Alison Ali concludes, “Policy-makers must recognise that those who care most about children’s education agree that the current regime does not help children, schools or parents.”

Parents research: All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 1,059 parents of children aged 18 and under. Fieldwork was undertaken between 7th – 9th September 2022.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

School leaders research: 1030 primary heads and senior teachers surveyed by Teacher Tapp, 14th – 16th September, 2022. The survey was carried out via the Teacher Tapp app.

  1. Parents of children aged 18 or under
  2. Department for Education: Key Stage 2 Attainment, September 2022: https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/key-stage-2-attainment/2021-22
 

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