Why Sat when you can swim, swing and sing?

A week can seem a long time in education, to borrow a phrase.  A prime example of this, for me, is last week – in a very good way.  Let me explain.

On Monday, catching up with the latest edition of the TES, I read the results of the latest survey about testing in primary schools.  Sats, as the standardised tests are known, have been around for many years but this survey provides comprehensive feedback to reflect the impact of the call for a ‘rigour revolution’ in testing by the then-Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, in 2015.

The results came as a shock to everyone and, looking at the key stats, it is easy to see why.

Only 2% of education professionals responding to the survey believed Sats for Year 2 were beneficial to the children’s learning while an astonishing 73% believed the tests to be actually detrimental at Year 6.  Even more worryingly, the percentage of respondents who believed the tests to be harmful to the mental health of the pupils was 56% and 83% for Year 2 and Year 6 respectively.

Statistics such as these, plus the welter of anecdotal evidence accompanying them about the impact of intensive preparation and the pressure to achieve good results on teachers, have fuelled a debate within schools which has the potential to drive the sort of soul-searching that occurred 13 years ago when similar concerns about the impact of Sats on children’s stress levels was revealed.  We shall see.

Thursday came around and I found myself, in turn, listening to plenty of screams and groans from Year 6.  But they were screams of delight as new skills were mastered in our kayaking session under brilliantly sunny skies in Weymouth’s beautiful marina.  They were groans of frustration as kayaks overturned, paddles drifted out of reach and wet shoes filled with chilly water.  Evening found us back at the Outdoor Activity Centre at Osmington Bay and a chance, in the disco, to try out new dance manoeuvres and sing songs at top volume (not just for the girls, I might add!).

Early May and perfect weather for a week of outdoor learning, you would think.   An ideal time to explore the many benefits of adventure learning – for resilience, risk-taking and collaboration, to name only the most obvious.  It seemed strange to me that the Centre was relatively quiet, with many of the residential lodges empty and the beach otherwise almost deserted during our beach exploration session.

The explanation was, of course, simple – this is the ‘high season’ for Sats and the majority of pupils were revising and sitting exams in school.  Driving home on Friday and reflecting on the experience of the week, it gave me no small amount of pleasure to think that High School girls get to swim, swing and sing (and abseil, beach-comb, climb etc etc) rather than sit Sats – with absolutely no impact (beyond the positive) on their progress, either now or later.

And this is true for two reasons.  The first is that we are an independent school and this gives us the enviable freedom to choose which testing regime to follow.  It is something that we talk about often (and constantly refine in response to experience and new thinking).  We can achieve that much-needed ‘rigour’ in the learning without the need for Sats.  The second is that, as an all-through school, we are able to gather the knowledge and understanding of each of our pupils – and not simply on basic competencies in literacy and numeracy but through 360 degrees – over weeks, months and years.  This means that our girls can enjoy their last term in Juniors to the full, with rites of passage, such as Osmington Bay and their summer production, which they will remember for a lifetime (and for the right reasons).    They can begin life in the Seniors with confidence and a sense of belonging without the need for a Sats label to carry with them.

And what about Year 2?  Last week found them making pig and wolf masks for their fairy-tale role play.  Fairy tales instead of tests.  A nice thought to end on…

Further reading:

The full article on Sats can be found at