Disappointing SATs results?

Have the published SATs exam results left you worried – even demoralised – that your child failed to meet the expected standard in reading, writing and maths?

With the ‘acceptable’ scaled score benchmarked at 100, just over half 10-11 year olds in the country passed. Half didn’t.

Here are the headline stats:

  • 53% of pupils met the expected standard in reading, writing and maths
  • 66% of pupils achieved the expected standard in reading

  • 74% of pupils achieved the expected standard in writing (under teacher assessment

  • 70% of pupils achieved the expected standard in maths

  • 72% of pupils achieved the expected standard in spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPAG)

Although Ed Sec Nicky Morgan stressed parents mustn’t compare these results to last year’s, one thing is clear: many children will leave primary school plagued by feelings of failure. Unacceptable on any level…

Instead let’s put this year’s SATs into context.

1. A generation of guinea pigs?

The current year 6 cohort is the first to undergo these tougher exams after former Education Secretary Michael Gove introduced a ‘rigorous’ national curriculum in 2014. Yet with the lead-up to the exams marred with controversy (leaked papers and answers, changing guidance etc), it’s hardly surprising that many parents and teachers voiced concern.

With some ambiguous questions across the reading and SPAG papers – plus some extra tricky maths challenges – it’s hardly surprising that many pupils struggled. That said, lots of children showed remarkable resilience – with many coping brilliantly. Definite thumbs-up to that!

Here’s our advice and response:

  • If your child found the exams hard, congratulate them for trying, for never giving up. It’s a most wonderful life skill that they can draw on time and again
  • Use the results as a chance to earmark which areas need more support so they feel better prepared for the next step of their journey
  • Exam success can depend on applying techniques and having confidence – both of which can be improved on

The good news is, senior schools don’t only take SATs results into account when setting, but consider teacher assessment too. Plus should your child be deemed more able than prior assessment suggests, schools often move children up a set in the first term.

2. SATs don’t paint the whole picture

Exams represent a partial measure of your child’s performance. Because they don’t highlight any wider skills or talents, your child’s effort or huge improvement, exam reuslts are not all that matter. They simply represent a snapshot of your child’s ‘progress’ in the 3 Rs during one week.

The issue is that the results on the surface seem to reflect that half of year 6 across the country simply don’t measure up. Undeniably upsetting if your child is grouped into this negative statistic.

And as we regularly hear from concerned parents, that feeling doesn’t always go away. It can play on children’s minds; sometimes they even dread going back to school in September.

Here’s our advice:

  • Celebrate your child’s ‘whole year’ achievements – however small. Perhaps they won a race, took part in a play, improved in spelling, moved up a table, helped a friend out, was nominated for an award, scored a goal for the school team… Being a well-rounded person is a badge of honour. Every child can wear it with pride!
  • Accept that life is full of challenge. These SATs are just one of the many battles that lie ahead. The trick is to build up your child’s strengths and skills for the next one
  • To reduce academic worries, nip negativity in the bud with positive talk and action. If your child is moving schools, starting an important exam year such as year 6 or 10, or sitting entrance exams in the autumn, it helps to put any end-of-year exams into perspective
  • Spend time over the hols breaking down specific problem areas into chunks, then tackle each in turn
  • Consider summer tuition with a local tutor to turn things round in time for the start of term

3. A changing landscape

When a new curriculum is drafted through fast, teachers have to create new schemes fast – plus pack more into an over-stretched curriculum. Such shifting sands inevitably take longer to adapt to.

What floored many children – especially those with special needs or whose first language isn’t English – was the breadth of grammatical terms they needed to know for the SPAG paper. And Maths was deemed a real toughie. You might have seen snippets of the exam in the media which many an adult struggled with.

Important to note, too, that the threshold – or bar – was considerably raised this year to drive up standards. This meant top marks were harder to achieve than ever before. Plus because higher ‘level 6’ papers were scrapped, all children faced the full range of questions. No wonder many children struggled. 

Our thoughts:

  • Teachers worked their socks off to help your child achieve the accepted level. Don’t let a set of results now cloud your future
  • Remember that exam results do not define you as a person. Although they undeniably are a measure, it helps to use the results to focus on areas to improve 
  • Rather than think of a ‘not reached’ mark as failing, see it as a success that your child gave their best shot at sitting a hard set of exams. This shows courage, determination and great character

What can we learn going forward?

What isn’t going to change any time soon is that these new tests have set a precedent: exams are toughening up. Echoed across the secondary curriculum, this could mean that special needs children and those with learning difficulties will find the road ahead much harder.

Challenge, of course, is good for our children. Picking yourself up after a disappointment is something we all need to learn. This year’s SATs exams are simply one rung on life’s learning ladder.

And while it helps to not over-inflate the importance of exam results at age 11, it would be foolish to pretend that exam results long term don’t matter.

Beyond the classroom, qualifications offer opportunity. To compete in the world is our children’s next big challenge…


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