Becky May believes you can make your children’s assessment time relatively pain free
We are into the month of bank holidays, have had The King’s Coronation, and then it will be the Whitsun half term break and … SATS. As a parent, school governor and former primary teacher, I could write you a very long article bemoaning the current assessment system employed in our primary schools, but I won’t do that. Instead, lets take a few moments to consider how we, as parents, can support our children through this short season of their lives, which may, right now, loom large on their horizons. (For more advice on exams, go here)
What Primary Assessments take place?
Throughout their time in primary school, children will undergo an ongoing process of assessment. As you might expect, teachers make judgements on children’s learning every day; what can they do now? what are their next steps? how can I help them to get there? Much of this is held in the teacher’s head and helps to inform their lesson planning on a day-to-day basis. Alongside this, there are national requirements set by the government for assessments which ascribe ‘levels’ to achievement, and in some cases, pass or fail judgements. In order to fulfil these requirements, teachers may use a range of methods, including some commercially available tests to offer ‘mock weeks’ to help children prepare for what is expected of them, and assess children’s ongoing progress. Across the primary years, the statutory assessments undertaken are as follows:
Reception: Reception Baseline Assessments: these are relatively new, children are assessed through tasks relating to language, communication and literacy and mathematics.
Year 1: Phonics screening
Year 2: Key Stage 1 SATS (these are due to be discontinued after this school year).
Year 4: Times Table Tests
Year 6: Key Stage 2 SATS
Most of these assessments are carried out in an informal manner, and many younger children will not be aware they are even completing assessments, although for some neurodiverse children, any change in routine can be unsettling! Key Stage 2 SATS carry the most fear and pressure, rightly or wrongly, amongst children and teachers. These mark the end of a child’s primary education, are used to mark a child’s progress through their primary years and are the source of information used for the dreaded school league tables, measuring the relative success of primary schools in a given area. It is these tests which are carried out in a more formal manner, across the country, children will be completing the same tests at the same time and are sent away to be marked and moderated.
How do we support our children?
As parents, we may have very different expectations and experiences of assessment in schools, and the same will be true for our children. Some will love the formal experience, others will find it daunting. Some will achieve more than we may have expected, others will be struggling and feel deeply inadequate. This can be a real challenge for us as parents, and whilst we may long to see the system changed, for now we work within what we have, and seek to support our children as best we can.
- Focus on effort not achievement.
As a woman now in my 40s, when struggling with a difficult task, my Mum’s words still ring in my ears. “Just try your best. As long as you’ve done your best, we’ll be proud of you.” This is the influence we as parents have. And to this end, we don’t wait for results to come out to congratulate our children, we praise them on the day for the effort they have put in, be it with a cheeky after school trip to McDonalds, a bunch of football stickers, or a simple hug and the words ‘well done.’ Affirming our children for the effort they put in will validate their hard work.
- Provide a supportive learning environment.
Particularly when assessments are underway, you may need to instigate a more settled bedtime and morning routine, for instance. This said, waiting for tests to kick in before we get involved with supporting our children makes it more difficult for them to establish good learning routines. Helping to create a space where homework can be undertaken, hearing children read from very young, keeping in regular contact with teachers about learning can all establish good learning habits from a young age.
- Keep it in perspective!
The advice above is all important but remember, no one ever had to write the year 1 phonics score on their CV! Children will hear lots and lots of encouragement at school to work hard and do their best and some will really feel under pressure to perform well. Help your children to find avenues where they can offload and relax, where they can see the bigger picture and not get lost in the moment. For year 6 children, most will have end of primary school experiences to look forward to, before preparing to move to secondary school. You may find it helpful to share some of your own experiences of times when you thought one thing was very important but proved not to be so life-affecting!
- Keep their true value in their minds.
Above all, our role as parents is to ensure that our children know who they are and whose they are. Take every opportunity to help your children to see that their value is not found in a test result, but in knowing that they are a child of God, created to be just the way God wanted them to be; fully known and fully loved by him.