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2021 SATs Survey: The results are in

2021 SATs Survey: The results are in

SATs have been one of the most hotly-debated topics in primary education in recent years, even more so this year with the disruption Covid has caused to learning and the decision to scrap compulsory testing in 2021. We wanted to find out how teachers really felt about SATs and the effects, positive or negative, that they had on their students and colleagues. 

The response was overwhelmingly and alarmingly negative. 

We asked 92 teachers, TAs, HLTAs and other teaching professionals what they thought of the SATs, both in Year 2 and Year 6. Here are their responses: 

Are children becoming more stressed about SATs? 

The response to this question was an emphatic yes. 53% of people said yes, 40% said it depends on the cohort of children, and only 4% said no. These responses haven’t changed much since we last asked in 2019 when 63% said yes, 31% said it depends and 7% said no. 

The teachers we asked commented that this stress was communicated in similar ways to last year’s responses: children feeling sick, not wanting to come to school, being teary, anxious, having problems sleeping, headaches, bed-wetting, emotional outbursts, negative changes in behaviour and low self-confidence, to name but a few. 

At the beginning of the year through to December 2020, we were assured that the Y6 SATs were going ahead, even though many other assessments were cancelled. Then, just a month later, SATs were cancelled too. With the uncertainty of whether or not SATs would go ahead at the beginning of this school year, is it surprising that the children and school staff were stressed about them? 

Did your school choose to do optional SATs?

With SATs not being compulsory this year, it was interesting to find out if schools would avoid them entirely, or if they still chose to hold a ‘mock’ SATs using past papers or similar. Over half (66%) of the schools we asked chose not to conduct a SATs style assessment within their school. 

Did your school choose to do optional sats

66% of the schools we asked chose not to conduct a SATs style assessment within their school this year


When asked to explain their answer there seemed to be an agreement that, due to lockdowns, there wasn’t a level playing field for children this year: 

“The current year six have curriculum gaps due to lockdown and the tests still cover content that has yet to be taught. Therefore, they were unfair.” 

“They take up a lot of time, taking adults away from other classes.”

Despite teachers' amazing efforts over each lockdown, some children struggled to flourish under the new style of online learning. 

Did you miss compulsory sats?
Just 5% missed having to do compulsory SATs tests

But what did they do instead with all this extra time? Unsurprisingly, they taught. 44% just went on with their usual teaching timetable whilst another 48% used this time to undertake some teacher assessments. Some even chose to hold enrichment weeks, created larger projects or ‘caught up’ with previous learning the children had missed in lockdowns.

How did you use the time?
Teachers used the time in a variety of ways

“I was free to teach rather than cram or teach for the test.”

Of the schools that did choose to hold a SATs style assessment, 75% of the teachers we asked still found them helpful. Some used the results to see how much effect COVID and lockdowns had had on the children, whilst others felt they were an important (pressure free) learning opportunity for the children in how to take (inevitable) tests in future with a healthy attitude towards them.

What’s it all for? 

One would hope that subjecting children to rigorous, standardised testing would be used to help further the children’s education, assess pupil attainment and improve learning. Alas, this does not seem to be the case. A whopping 78% of people believed that the primary purpose of SATs was to assess school performance. 2% said it was to inform setting for Year 3 or Year 7 and only 12% said it was to assess and improve pupil learning. 

What is the purpose of sats?
78% of teachers asked believed that the primary purpose of SATs was to assess school performance

“Secondary schools don’t trust the results so then do their own assessments in the autumn term, so there is no value to the child at all; We can focus on wellbeing and overall development instead.”

What forms of assessment are the most effective?

We asked teachers to say if they agreed or disagreed with the following statements:

summative assessments are important for the assessment of children and formative assessments are important for the assessment of children. (If you want to learn more about formative and summative assessments then read our standards and assessment blog.)

Overwhelmingly teachers agreed formative assessments were important, with 75% strongly agreeing with the statement, while only 16% of the teachers asked strongly agreed summative assessments were important. 

Are summative assessments important?
16% of the teachers asked strongly agreed summative assessments were important
Are formative assessments important?
75% of the teachers asked strongly agreed formative assessments were important

What is your opinion of SATs?

As a final point, we asked our survey takers what their opinion of SATs was. There were a few balanced opinions, with some having ideas that there needs to be a change in the system, and others wanting to scrap them completely. 

“I don’t think they give a complete picture of the child and add unnecessary pressure on these young children. I think they are primarily used for league tables when comparing schools”.

“I understand the point of testing but continuous assessment is better. The pressure of a one time test/exam is excessive.”

“As a leader, it is good to have something to benchmark the school on. However, I know the stress it puts on teachers. We need to re-look at data and how it is used as a whole country as even Ofsted don't look at internal data anymore. If it is going to be changed, it will need a huge mind shift from everyone.”

“I don’t think they are a positive experience. I am Canadian and we don’t have them and our school program is just fine. Children here are very stressed out which is not normal or fair.”

“Teacher formative assessment is much more reliable. I never take sats results into consideration for Y3. Moderation is also more reliable to check teacher assessment is accurate.”

“Teacher assessments and in-house assessments gave us an accurate indication of attainment and progress.”

“Assessing students are important as it informs the teacher. The teacher can make the necessary provision to assist individual students. Students will know their area of strength and work to improve areas needed to be improved. Parents will have better knowledge on where to provide assistance to help their child/children.”

“Testing is the most valid and reliable form of assessment there is. Questions remain over how high stakes it should be for the school leadership but teacher assessment has been completely flawed and uneven.”


Let’s take a moment to consider what this means…

We’ve already established that many children are becoming more stressed about SATs at a time when they should be enjoying the broad and balanced curriculum that Ofsted agrees enables children to achieve most successfully in their school careers. However, the pressure put on teachers to achieve particular SATs results (and the subsequent pressure these teachers have to put on the children in their class) means that in reality many curriculum areas are pushed aside in favour of ensuring children are ready for the tests, particularly in Year 6. 

If the primary aim of SATs is to assess school performance, what does this assessment actually tell us and who really benefits from the giant list of schools printed online every year? 

In our experience, parents do not choose their child’s school based on the school’s ranking. They choose a school based on their experiences as they look around and get a ‘feel’ for which learning environment will best suit their children. Personal recommendations from other parents also have a big influence on school selection. 

And if this is the case, why on earth are we still bothering with SATs? 



So, how do our results reflect SATs in your school? Do they match up with your personal opinions of the SATs, and what do these results tell you about how SATs are used? We’d love to hear your thoughts! Let us know on Facebook or Twitter (@PlanBeeTeaching).

Many thanks again to all of those who provided their invaluable insights and congratulations to Melanie Dalgeish who was the lucky winner of our prize draw to win £100 of PlanBee resources!

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