SATs week

In 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). Every 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 necessary or fine. Some worry about the impact on their child’s anxiety, some about their child’s performance, while others are unworried, oblivious, or absent. Every year, some parents try to book vacations while others hire private tutors to boost their kid’s test scores. Some children see it as fun, others have panic attacks.

And everything in between.

Every year, I wonder where I should pitch myself. I care about my children enjoying their childhood, I care about their future, and I care about the school. In the end, our approach comes down to gratitude.

I recently read Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, who approaches the natural world as if it’s a gift, a feeling I’ve always shared and — given that it’s not in my remit to change the SATs process — we try to approach SATs week the same way. I say to my children, these are quizzes, so feel free to have fun if you like them (or just have a go and move on if you don’t), but they’re also quizzes that reflect well on your teachers, so if you want to say thank you to the school that’s tried to look after you for the last few years, this is a chance. Imagine you’re writing a thank you note.

Imagine you’re writing a thank you note. 

We like to receive gifts. I want them to see the education and friendships as something precious, to be enjoyed, and I want them to approach the tests with that sense of gratitude, because gratitude — unlike stress — feels much like relief: I’ve been given something lovely and I want to show that I appreciate it, so I’ll scribble on this paper to express my gratitude.

No one judges a thank you note for a birthday gift harshly; the recipient’s usually just glad we appreciated the gift, and feels warm reading our reply. Likewise, no one will judge these very young children, every one of them full of potential, on their results. There’s no need to be afraid; it’s just a chance for them to try and show some of what they’ve learned, and to realise that they’ve been given knowledge and friendships that are now theirs to keep.

Not everyone — except Hermione Granger, perhaps — enjoys a SPAG test. But perhaps we can enjoy the miracle that we can make squiggles on paper to communicate with one another, and the even bigger miracle that we can smile with our friends once it’s done.

Either way, our children should not need to feel afraid; they should all be allowed to feel happy with what they’ve learned, and to move on with a smile.

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