Week one: Staying positive
“We should talk about learning new things in mathematics or developing confidence in reading, rather than the scores children are getting. If we focus our energy on children’s learning, the tests scores will take care of themselves.”
Hello, I’m James Clements. For ten years, I worked as a teacher and deputy head at a successful primary school in West London. For seven of those years I taught Year 6. As well as making sure the children I taught achieved their very best, a big part of my job was working with parents so that they could help their children in the final year of primary school. I’m also the parent of two small children.
Over the next few weeks I’m going to share some advice about how you can help your child to do their very best in the KS2 national tests and how these assessments can be approached so that they’re a positive experience for everyone involved.
A positive way to approach the tests
However we might feel about tests in primary school, it makes sense to approach them in a positive way with the children who are going to sit them. As a Year 6 teacher, these were the key messages I would try to share with the children and parents each year:
1. We should concentrate on skills and knowledge, rather than the tests themselves.
For one week in May, Year 6 children will be tested on their reading, mathematics, and grammar, punctuation and spelling. They’ll also have the standard of their writing assessed by teachers. This doesn’t give us a definitive answer about how good a child is at a particular subject or how good they’ll continue to be at it. It doesn’t tell us how accomplished they are in other important areas of the curriculum such as art, sport or music. What it gives is a snapshot of where the children are in these core areas of the curriculum on that particular day.
While we want children to do their best in the SATs, what is more important is whether they can do all of the things the tests are there to assess: do they have the skills and knowledge of English or maths that underpin the tests? As teachers and parents we should focus our efforts on improving children’s learning rather than simply the scores in the tests. We should talk about learning new things in mathematics or developing confidence in reading, rather than the scores children are getting. If we focus our energy on children’s learning, the tests scores will take care of themselves.
2. Children are not in competition with each other, but are trying to make progress from their own past performance.
One of the best things about being a Year 6 teacher is watching children become aware of the progress they are making in their learning. As children learn to do things they couldn’t do before or become faster or more efficient at something, it gives them a real sense of achievement. This sense of moving forward is a great feeling for children to have, especially as they set off for secondary school. I’ve found that it’s helpful to remind children that they’re not in competition with each other – all children have different aptitudes and begin the year from different starting points. Instead we want them to improve on their own performance, trying to learn new things and get better all the time.
3. SATs can provide an opportunity to prepare for secondary school.
As well as a chance to make sure all of the key knowledge is in place ready for secondary school, if approached positively, the national tests can help children to feel the sense of accomplishment that comes from working hard at something. Revising gives them the chance to return to any areas of the curriculum they might not have understood at the time. Working towards a target can also help to establish good study habits that will be useful to them at secondary school as they become increasingly independent.
In my Year 6 classroom we didn’t talk about ‘passing the SATs’ or ‘doing well in the tests’; we talked about learning new things and being ready for secondary school, a much more important focus.
Supporting the process as a parent
Anything we can do to help our children to make progress in their learning and see themselves as successful learners is going to hold them in good stead, both in the tests themselves and later at secondary school. The first steps in helping them might be:
1. Learning about the KS2 national tests and assessments.
You can find out more about the content of the tests on Oxford Owl, including support with grammar, punctuation and spelling and mathematics. The Department for Education has produced some resources for parents that explain the national tests.
2. Find out the areas of the curriculum in which your child feels confident and where they feel they might need some extra support.
If you haven’t already, you might also want to talk to their class teacher about your child’s progress and how they think you could best support them. It makes sense for the child, parent and school to be working together towards the same aims.