About SATs Tests

What are SATs?

SATs tests are compulsory national tests for primary school pupils. Children in England are required to take Standard Assessment Tests (SATs) at the age of 11 (school year 6).

SATs tests were first introduced in 1991 for Key Stage 1 (KS1). Within 4 years of their introduction, the then Conservative government introduced Key Stage 2 (KS2) SATs tests in 1995 and then in 1998 the Labour government introduced Key Stage 3 (KS3) SATs tests.

How have SATs tests changed?

On the face of it, their continual expansion makes it seem as though they were highly successful in what they set out to achieve. However, it's fair to say that not only have the SATs papers themselves changed a great deal since 1991 but so too has their purpose.

about sats tests

SATs tests themselves have broadly remained the same, with assessments in English and Maths in Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 plus Science at Key Stage 3. It is within these broad areas however that the changes have been made.

For instance in Key Stage 2, were you to have sat your Maths SATs in 2001 and predicted to have performed very well, you could have potentially sat six individual SATs tests. This is in contrast with 2009 where you would have only sat four individual SATs tests.

Further to this, in 2004 it was decided that KS1 SATs were no longer going to be formal SATs tests but were instead to be 'teacher assessments'. These themselves could be based largely on past SATs papers but this change was suggested to have been a result of parent's feelings they were not comfortable with their young children sitting such formal exams.

Likewise, in 2009 it was decided that Science was no longer going to be a formal, externally examined SATs paper but that it would become, like KS1 assessments, a teacher assessment. In 2010 this was expanded to include KS2 English reading SATs papers. This, together with KS3 SATs tests being completely removed from the National assessment tests in 2009 demonstrates just how much SATs have changed since 1991.

However, beyond the testing structure, the most significant change has been the purpose of SATs tests. They were originally introduced as a way of recording each pupil's relative level of achievement but as time has passed it's become progressively more about comparing the performances of pupils, schools and LEAs.

On the face of it there's nothing wrong with this, indeed numbers can only be correctly considered within a context, however this has led to an explosion in the detail and trust placed in school league tables.

Teachers and pupils have arguably been made to feel overly stressed with the pressure forced upon them from schools eager to climb these league tables. School performances and league tables have then exerted enormous influence upon their respective peripheral housing markets with parents desperate to get their children in an "outstanding" school rather than one placed on "special measures".

KS2 SATs introduced the capability for the government to compare the relative performances of pupils, schools and LEAs over time. However, the significant changes to their structure does suggest that these comparisons could be quite questionable.

The primary purpose of SATs was to create a standardised, consistent assessment for all pupils regardless of who their teacher was and indeed where their school was. However, its arguable that their primary purpose has seemed to develop into feeding a school league table system, adding stress to pupils and unnecessary pressure onto teachers, detracting from their primary purpose in the classroom to teach!

How do you feel about SATs? Feel free to leave a comment below.

What do SATs show?

The key purpose behind SATs tests are to allow pupils to demonstrate what they have learnt and retained during their KS2 education. The tests, whether via teacher assessment or external exam, help their teacher learn more about their strengths and weaknesses and precisely what they understand about their Maths, English and Science subjects.

Can my child fail a SATs test?

A child cannot "fail" a SATs test. There is no "pass mark", it's simply trying to measure how much each child has learned throughout Key Stage 2.

What form will the tests take?

Since 2005, Key Stage 1 tests have been teacher assessments, there are no external examinations. Pupils are tested in English and Maths.

English KS2 SATs tests are made up of a reading comprehension task (Reading Test), a spelling task and two writing tasks. These are split into a shorter writing test and a longer writing test. Lord Bew's review of KS2 assessment resulted in 2012's SATs candidates no longer being given externally examined writing tests. This has been kept and hence the 2013 English SATs papers do not include externally assessed writing tasks. Instead they will have a teacher assessment of writing composition.

KS2 Maths SATs papers are comprised of two formal written papers, Test A and Test B, as well as a mental arithmetic paper called 'Mental Maths'. Calculators are not allowed for Test A or the Mental Maths task but may be used for Test B. All maths tests are externally marked. Science assessments are no longer externally examined, instead they too are teacher assessments.

In both English and Maths, headteachers can choose to administer Level 6 versions of these tests. These tests expand on the content of the level 3-5 tests by including higher level questions that require children to think for themselves and bring aspects of English or Mathematics together. Taking Mathematics as an example, Children taking the Level 6 test should have covered the KS2 mathematics programme of study in depth. It is assumed that children working at Level 6 will generally be secure in their knowledge of Level 5. They should be able to work independently to apply their knowledge within unfamiliar and challenging problems, whilst thinking analytically and communicating their ideas effectively. They will be beginning to be able to identify mathematics to be used where the signposting of mathematical concepts is less obvious and/or what is being asked is less familiar.

To put it bluntly, an 11 year old pupil that's developed to a Level 6 Maths standard can be very proud of themselves!

What do the levels mean?

The expectations for a child's SATs performance according to their age are shown in the table below. For instance, an 11 year old child is expected to achieve level 4 by the end of year 6. A child achieving level 5 is working at a high level, and only one percent achieve level 6.

Year 2 Year 6 Year 8
Level 8 Exceptional
Level 7 Beyond Expectations
Level 6 Exceptional At Expected Level
Level 5 Beyond Expectations
Level 4 Exceptional At Expected Level Below Expectations
Level 3 Beyond Expectations Below Expectations
Level 2 At Expected Level
Level 1 Below Expectations
What does my child have to do to reach each level?

After marking the SATs tests, the Education Department normalises the data and creates level thresholds. These thresholds dictate what level your child is on by direct comparison with the number of marks they scored in each exam. (It is not known whether the Education Department create these level thresholds from all the SATs data or only a sample.) An example level thresholds table is below. This is the KS2 2011 level thresholds for English overall.

Level Mark Range
N 0-19
2 20-22
3 23-40
4 41-69
5 70-100

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