SATs week

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n the UK, we’re in the middle of Year 6 SATs week (Standard Assessment Tests that test a child’s knowledge on spelling, punctuation, grammar, reading, arithmetic and reasoning). Each year, across the country, 10-11 year-old children sit exams for four days, before leaving primary school. And every year, parents and children react — differently, of course.

For the third (and last) time, I’m watching parental reactions across the board: some people are outraged that we test young children, others think it’s either necessary or fine. Some worry about the impact on their child’s anxiety, some fret about their child’s performance, while others are unworried, oblivious, or absent. Every year, some parents try to book cheap vacations during term time, while others hire private tutors to boost their kid’s test scores. Both groups pretend this isn’t happening.

Meanwhile some children see it as fun, others have panic attacks. A lot regard it as “just school”.

I recently read Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, who approaches the natural world as if it’s a gift, and in our house we try to approach SATs the same way. The tests happen at the end of primary school, where they’ve studied and played for eight years (including nursery from age 3y). That’s a lot of learning and a lot of friendship, so I tell them, this is a celebration of these gifts and a time to feel happy and grateful. So although these quizzes won’t have a big impact on your life, if you want to try and do well as a way of saying thankyou to the school for the lovely gifts, then that would be a sweet move.

It’s a thank you note.

I want them to approach the tests with that sense of gratitude, because gratitude feels both right and comfortable — less like stress and more like relief: I’ve been given something lovely and I want to show that I appreciate it. They HAVE the good thing already: the education and friends. They get to keep those whatever the score.

Seeing this as an act of gratitude takes away any feeling of pressure — no one judges a thank you note harshly; people are usually just glad we appreciated the gift. Likewise, no one will judge these very young children, all chock full of potential, on their results. When they first walked into the place, they were considered advanced if they could speak clearly and get through the day without peeing themselves. Now they can read, write, draw, play musical instruments, reason and study!

This is a chance to celebrate having been given the knowledge, skills and friendships that are now theirs to keep, and to let them move on with a smile.

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