Primary school tests: what can parents do?


We recently published information about Key Stage 2 SATs in a blog post called Protecting children from primary school tests. It was based on the official instructions sent to headteachers by the Standards and Testing Agency, known as the Assessment and Reporting Arrangements (ARA).

It is often assumed that headteachers have to make every child do the tests. That is clearly not the case. The document explicitly states that some children should not take them, including ‘pupils who are experiencing, or have recently experienced, severe emotional problems‘ (page 18). Although the document gives heads the final decision, it instructs them to ‘discuss the pupil’s circumstances and needs with their parents and teachers‘.

Children often hold back their emotions in school. They are more likely to confide in parents, and parents are more likely to notice signs of anxiety. One of our researchers heard yesterday from a Liverpool parent who wrote:

“The SATs have caused him a lot of distress and he started suffering anxiety attacks in Autumn last year.”

A recent letter to the Manchester Evening News from a parent boycotting the SATs said

“I pulled my son out. It meant he wasn’t crippled with stress, anxiety and gastric migraines throughout the whole of Y6”.

Earlier in the year, a mum wrote to the Manchester Evening News that her 10-year-old daughter was distressed because the SATs were making her friend suicidal.

It appears that some heads are taking a tough line when approached by parents. This is a very foolish stance. Headteachers have a duty of care, and should realise that parents don’t interfere lightly. There could be very serious consequences if the child suffered harm.

Parents withdrawing children from Key Stage 2 tests

I am not a test score

In the last resort, parents can keep children off school for the days of the tests. KS2 SATs take place on 14th to 17th May this year. English tests are on Monday and Tuesday. Maths papers 1 and 2 are on Wednesday and Maths paper 3 on Thursday. If a child returns to school on the Thursday however, there is little sense them taking paper 3 as the marks don’t count.

The instructions to heads make it clear that they can only get children to take the tests late under strict conditions:

1) The absence must be for a legitimate reason such as illness. If it is ‘unauthorised’, the tests cannot be taken late. That applies when parents keep their children at home to avoid the tests.

2) Even for an authorised absence such as illness, the parent has to guarantee that the child

  • was kept apart from other pupils taking, or who have taken, the test
  • hasn’t had access to the test content through using the internet, a mobile or any other means during the test period. (page 24)

Obviously parents who are opposed to the tests will write to the head to say they can’t give these guarantees.

Some parents are worried about fines. The law actually arose to deal with Anti-Social Behaviour but was extended to penalise term-time holidays. It allows local authorities to impose a penalty of £60 for ‘irregular attendance’. This usually requires a minimum of five full days off school.

Parents withdrawing children from Key Stage 1 and phonics tests

The phonics test can take place at any time from 11-15 June, or the following week if the child is away. This makes it very difficult to avoid this absurd test by keeping a child off school.

The Key Stage 1 tests are even more difficult for parents to boycott, as they take place any time in May.

Unlike Key Stage 2, the instructions to heads don’t mention emotional problems. Theysimply tell heads and teachers they might have to modify the tests to accommodate pupils with special educational needs, limited fluency in English or who have ‘behavioural, emotional or social difficulties’.

It is clear from the document that the Key Stage 1 tests aren’t meant to be stressful. There is a recommended time for each test (20, 30, 35 or 40 minutes), but this is flexible: the teacher can give children longer, allow them a rest break half way through, or even stop the test early if a child is struggling. The school doesn’t send in the marks, but simply uses them as part of the teacher’s ongoing assessment of each child.

Despite this, because of Ofsted’s pressures on schools, some heads are piling pressure on teachers and children. Young children are being sent home with extra homework and practice tests, and anxiety is being generated.

Because the test can happen at any time this month, parents may have to puzzle out other ways to protest and protect their children.



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