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Parent Power


When my youngest was in Year 4, I decided to boycott the SATs. He’s now in Year 5. I strongly believe that the SATs tests, as they currently stand, are damaging to children and to schools and that the only reasonable option for parents who are concerned, is to refuse to allow their child to sit them. If you’re a parent of a primary aged child, please consider this as an option available to you.

Let me set the picture. When I went to see their Yr 5 and 6 play at Christmas time, the head stood up before the children began.

“You’ll notice that Year 6 pupils are reading their lines from pieces of paper,” she explained, “This is because they have been working so hard for their SATs, they’ve not had time to practice.”

The tests are not until May. Surely, they could have spent some time on their play? The lines were short and they had one each! In the last week of term, leading up to Christmas, the Year 5 class were told they could have their Christmas party only if they did a Maths test first and on the first day back in January, they sat two practice SATs tests and a comprehension test. Happy New Year! Like many schools, Maths and English fill the long morning of curriculum time and all the rest (Art, Music, Languages, Science, History, Geography, PE, RE and anything else) are crammed into a short afternoon usually lasting no more than 90 minutes. There are literally not enough hours in the day to cover them all, so some get lost. By no stretch of the imagination is this the “broad and balanced” curriculum that is a statutory requirement of all publicly funded schools.

The picture I describe is not an isolated one. There is relentless pressure put on young people to perform all over the country. In one school I visited last year, the whole of year 6 were in exam halls doing a mock paper on a beautiful, sunny day. In another school Year 6 were told by their teacher that if they didn’t pass their SATs she would cancel their planned play day – a supposed reward for hard work over the year. All across the country, stressed teachers are imposing expectations on stressed children that are completely unrealistic and unfair. And for what? Of course English and Maths matter and there’s a strong case that they should take priority over other subjects, but an hour of each per day should be more than adequate – still way more than other subjects and more than they’ll have in secondary school. It’s what my older boys (now 24 and 18) got. So what has changed?

The new tests are so demanding and the results from last year so unreliable that schools are in a blind panic about not meeting the floor target. They are concerned that poor data will lead to a poor Ofsted inspection. They are right to be worried. This is the government that declared they wanted all pupils to be above average, demonstrating a poorer understanding of mathematics than they expect of their 11 year olds. Take this exchange at the Education Select Committee in 2014 when the changes were first being introduced by then Education Secretary Michael Gove.


There are no excuses for failure, yet the writing results show a frightening level of inconsistency across the country in terms of moderation and marking and overall the number of pupils meeting “expected standards” last year fell from 80% to 53%. Let me be clear, when half of our children are told they are failing to meet “expectations” at the age of 11, there is something wrong with the expectations, not the children.

Now, I’m as pushy a parent as any middle class woman I know. One child went to Oxford, another is off to Edinburgh. The youngest juggles three instruments with his school work. I don’t mind tests. I value knowledge. But I resent my children being put off school. I resent the fact that all the skills my eldest son, who is now grown and working in London, needs for work – presentation skills, report writing over time, holding his own in meetings, managing his own time, thinking both critically and creatively – all those skills are being undermined by the current education system. I resent that my youngest is constantly being told that SATs matter, when in fact they matter not a jot to a child – only to the school and to a system obsessed with measuring him in a linear way. So I’m boycotting.

A quick scout on Mumsnet shows I’m not the only one wondering this. And over in the US, 53% of parents across Long Island refused permission for their children to sit the Common Core exams – a pattern repeating itself across the US. I’ve mooted the idea on twitter and to friends and had a very mixed response.

“You’re brave – I don’t think I’d dare have that conversation with the Head” said one parent, who was brave enough to take on the school about bullying, but not about the fact that her child weeps in Year 6 at the thought of going to school.

Others expressed concern that it may impact on Year 7 sets. This is a fallacy that needs to be challenged. Most secondary schools administer low stress CATs tests on entry, not trusting the SATs results. Many don’t set at all in Year 7. Either way, your child will find their way into the right group based on the internal assessment of the school. But if they do enter secondary with a SATs score, that mark will lead Ofsted inspectors and government to judge the child’s projected performance from that day forward. Based on their SATs results, their GCSEs will be predicted. Yes, even in subjects like Art and PE where there is little connection to the tests. It is this nonsensical belief that a child’s future is set in stone; that their capacity to grow, change, develop is irrelevant, that really pushes me over the edge. I want my child to be assessed based on their performance at the time they are assessed. Not for an old score to follow them like a shadow. In our local secondary school, Year 9 children are placed in sets based on their SATs results. What about basing it on their performance in Years 7 and 8? If there isn’t a SATs score, they’ll have to do just that.

Some of the parents I spoke to worried that the law said they had to agree to their children doing the tests. It’s true that it is the law that schools must administer and report the tests, making the assumption that parents agree. They are also expected to do everything they can to ensure that children take them. But they can’t force them to. Strictly speaking, there is nothing in law to say you can’t refuse to allow your child to take them. And I can see that being in school on the day that everyone does the tests might make your child uncomfortable and create a difficulty for the school. So the best option seems to be to keep them off and make sure they’re getting a great home schooled experience in the meantime. I don’t think mine will complain too much if we spend time in museums, galleries and libraries on those days.

We have created a society which is beginning to demonise children. Labelled the “snowflake generation” they are deemed to be flighty and overly sensitive. These labels come from adults who have not experienced first hand anything like the pressure our young people are experiencing in educational terms. We, the older ones, went through a system where you could get into a Russell Group university with a couple of Bs and a C. We walked into a strong graduate job market with no student debt. We were allowed a childhood without endless external, high stakes testing. We took for granted the fact that we would own homes, have job security. None of these things are true for our children. It’s no wonder we’re facing a mental health crisis among the young, and more worrying still are the huge rises in calls to ChildLine from children under the age of 11, many of them citing pressure of tests as a source of their anxiety.

To rub salt into the wound, the government and exam boards seem bent on not testing what they know and understand, but on catching them out – even when they are only six or seven years old. Look at this KS1 practice paper:-

Spot the verbs in this sentence

She was wearing her running shoes.

Now you and I know that running in this context is an adjective. It’s a trick question. What kind of human being tries to trick a 6 year old in a test? And let’s not even go into the farce that the DfE admitted to last year when it was revealed that the actual KS1 tests the children were about to sit contained the same questions that were in a practice paper published on their website.

SATs don’t benefit children. Private schools don’t do them and where they have the Common Entrance Exam, the tests are very different, encouraging a level of independent and creative thinking in children.

I absolutely believe that we, as parents, are colluding in a system of abuse if we don’t stand up and speak out about such inconsistency and conflict of interest. That’s not to say we should all boycott – that’s a matter of personal choice, made between each parent and each child. But we should certainly question the habit of teaching to the test, the narrowing of the curriculum, the belief that the performance in one test is transferable to another to be sat in five years’ time and to any suggestion at all, that failure to perform in a test will lead to a punishment. That is not acceptable under any circumstances.

On a final note, in response to the parents who have said to me “but what does your child think?” in all honesty it’s not been easy. He would do well. He’s starting to dislike school, but he’s compliant enough to endure it and pass the tests. We’ve discussed it at length and he feels guilty that his friends will be taking tests that he doesn’t have to do. He thinks it won’t be fair for him to eat the sweets they get as a reward and he’s worried his teacher will dislike him for it.  While I have pointed out to him that every one of his friends and their parents have the choice to do what we’re doing, these concerns made me question our decision. No-one really wants to put their child in a position where they’ll feel guilty or bad. It would be easier for him to sit the tests. But then he said – “but sometimes you have to do what you think is right, even if it seems a bit scary. So it’s ok.” And I think that’s true of all of us. Standing moaning in the playground to one another will never change the world. Teachers on their own won’t change it – they’re too compromised and when they strike they’re demonised. Parents are the only group with the power to make a difference. It’s time we used that power.


Author: debrakidd

Mother, doctor, author, teacher, educationalist.

45 thoughts on “Parent Power

  1. If you dislike the tests, you’ll dislike even more who they give the results to, as well as all our children’s other personal and confidential data to go with it. http://defenddigitalme.com/faqs/


  2. As teachers, we at Science Time UK applaud you. Your concerns are spot on. Your child’s school has dropped Science to free up time for SAT practise! That is unacceptable. If we told the children that came to science days that some schools didn’t teach Science they would, justifiably, be horrified.


  3. Ultimately these tests are school accountability measures and do nothing to support children’s cognitive, emotional or cultural development. The data arising from tests do not inform children’s future teachers of where children are at in their learning. Furthermore, the data are unreliable and invalid ways of measuring schools for purposes of accountability. As such they are a complete and utter waste of time, paid for by taxpayers.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So very, very well said. Parents sit up and take note. The pressure we are putting on our children at all stages is unacceptable. As a secondary English teacher it is true we reassess students anyway. But it is also true that all of our GCSE targets are based on KS2 SATS results. Teaching is no longer about education but about teaching to the test.


  5. Ironically I remember that when SATs came in and teachers were expressing concern about testing children so young the government of the day said emphatically ‘NO, it’s not testing the children. The grades will not be attached to the children. It is purely about assessing schools’ performances.’ So was the government lying or naive?

    The KS2 grades were my bete noir all through our middle child’s schooling because everytime I raised concerns that she was drifting the teacher would quote the KS2 grades and show me graphs extrapolated from them to ‘prove’ that my daughter was on track. So they were expecting C’s. In year 11 teachers suddenly started saying, “We hadn’t realised she was so able. She could get an A!’ But it was far far too late. Apart from anything else she had developed study habits (ie don’t bother because you can pull the wool over teachers’ eyes) which were not conducive to getting A’s.

    Some children are simply late developers so the SAT grades hold them back. Some are hothoused so the SAT grades create an impossible benchmark for them at secondary level. I know of a primary school consistently ranked among the top handful in the country where there are persistent rumours about certain children sitting their SATs separately and (to quote a former pupil) ‘teachers walk by and let their finger casually point to the correct answers’.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You raise a whole range of issues, each of which provide reasons for a parental boycott of SATs. Of course the government will try their best to bully parents to sit their pathetic tests; I just hope there will be enough parents who will withdraw their children to further invalidate a wholly invalid and unreliable data collecting process which has nothing to do with children’s learning.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I have 4 kids and am a teacher. I kept my 2 youngest off school in protest in May last year and want to boycott the SATS when my daughters are in Y6. How are you going to broach the topic with the head at your children’s school? Our Head understood why I kept them off last year but I do not think she will be so happy about my children boycotting the SATS as they are both bright.


    • Hi – yes, I’m in the same position. I’m sure if they thought he might fail, they’d be more than happy, but he’s likely to get one of the best results in the class so I’m expecting resistance. I’m intending to start with some concerns about the narrowing of the curriculum and how I feel he’s losing his enthusiasm for school. I want to outline that I understand the pressure that school and the head are under but that given the state of the current system, the unreliability of the marking, the inflexibility of the tests and their unsuitability to the age of the children, that we have DECIDED not to enter him. At that stage I’m not going to even suggest that there may be a possibility that the school won’t respect the request. Then I’ll see what she says. My best hope is that she, even unwillingly, agrees to allowing me to take him out of school on the days of the test only. I don’t expect them to babysit him when they are administering the tests to other children. My worst fear is that I have to remove him for two weeks or more, but I’m prepared for that. I also think I need to put in writing to the head and the governors my reasons and the expectation that they won’t force a child to take a test his parents have expressly forbidden. That I would view a move to administer the test on his return as a safeguarding issue and would report it. But who knows? It’s a complete unknown to me. The only other person I know who has done this had no resistance from the school at all – they acquiesced. I’m hoping for the same.


    • KS2 SATs worse than nonsensical they are anti educational and supremely unethical. Children become “pawns in their game” to quote or perhaps misquote Bob Dylan. The whole business of schools’ preparing children for the tests signifies what becomes important and it is certainly not for the children’s benefit. If parents make a stand and cajole schools, perhaps through governing bodies, to place less emphasis on test preparation and more emphasis upon learning in all its manifestations, including activities such as dance, drama, forest schooling, art etc, their children will be the beneficiaries. (Apologies for that far too long a sentence).
      Regards Mike


  7. She was wearing her running shoes.
    Now you and I know that running in this context is an adjective.

    It’s not an adjective; it’s a gerund.


    • It’s not a gerund, it’s a present participle (a verb acting as an adjective – ‘running’ describes the shoes). In ‘She wore her running shoes to go running’, the second of these is the gerund (a verb acting as a noun).


      • If even very intelligent and well informed adults can’t agree on an answer, then why should a six year old be able to? Stay focused this is not about how well informed we as adults are but about the damaging impact of inappropriate curriculum content and the tests of this content on very young children.


    • It’s a gerundive because it’s being used as an adjective. If it were used as a noun it would be a gerund.


    • Gerundive, surely?


  8. Excellent article. Hope millions more parents follow your example. Just make a nonsense of this competition between schools.


  9. My 11 year old grandson, who has always been ok in English and excellent in Maths and Science, is now being taken out of a science lesson each fortnight for an English ‘intervention.’ Under new standards in the new curriculum, his English skills are now deemed to be weak; he won’t reach the expected standard in the English SATs. Double whammy. Extra lessons in a subject that does not enthuse him but which he was doing alright in at the expense of one of his favourite subjects. I have been encouraging my daughter to boycott SATs this year for both grandchildren, the younger who is in Y2.
    Oh and by the way, I retired from teaching last year, having taught throughout KS1 and KS2 and having worked as a Y2/SATs co-ordinator and in school leadership in recent years. The current system sucks.


  10. Have to disagree on the statement “many schools don’t set in Y7” – while this is probably true for history, music etc., For the 11 schools that I have this knowledge of (in South Yorkshire), all but one sets in English, maths and science – sometimes based on SATs results, sometimes based on tests given when the children arrive in Y7 or in transition.


    • I know many who don’t. But even where they do set (usually for Maths or English), as you say, they tend to assess on entry. And any responsible school should be assessing children based on where they’re at. Not where some test said they should be at.


  11. I’m a primary teacher, teaching a mixed Year one and two class. Last year I had children in my class who could easily read Harry Potter but who struggled with the Governments reading comprehension test. This year I have been told to test my children every two weeks on Maths with Cold and Hot test! I hate the fact that so much pressure is putting on the kids and me to get the children to mastery level or exceeding expected and I have been told to test the children all the time. We used to test them every half term as part of the daily lessons, now I’m testing all the time and for what?
    The special needs kids are also graded as below expected and will always be below expected through out primary, rather than the old method of showing parents’ look they were at 1C now they are at 1A. This maybe below what the Government wants but let’s celebrate that they have made progress. ‘


  12. Totally agree and have been thinking about doing the same myself.


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  14. With you all the way and perhaps have found the additional courage in this article to boycott, or the words to speak to my son about what it is I feel SO very strongly about. We are already boycotting homework that is utterly dull, repetitive and less important than doing other things we enjoy. We live in an area where these is only one school he can attend without undertaking 2 hours of journeying every day, thus I’ve made it clear to his teacher this is not an act of defiance against her, rather against a system and way of mechanically falling in line, which is what the senior leadership team seem to want to us to do. I will be consistently chipping away at this team and at parents’ fora. I’m also trying to give something back, so I’m not cast as an outright “tricky parent”. I’m going into school to teach choreography/site-specific performance skills to fill one of the gaps in the kids’ learning experience.


  15. The pressure on schools to demonstrate good academic achievement for ALL children attending their school not only is a HUGE disservice to our mainstream children but leaves many SEN children and their families feeling like failures, rather than included. It also puts terrible and unnecessary ‘top-down’ pressure on preschools to ‘teach’ children to be compliant and start school with skills that are really beyond their developmental ability.

    Mental health issues in our young children? Look no further!


  16. I have been considering boycotting, but even if we boycott the tests, he’ll still have to spend his time in a school with a narrow curriculum, where they spend so much time doing practise papers etc. Just missing the days of the tests isn’t going to change all that. This is what I’m struggling with.


    • Yes Jo, I thought the same thing, but I also thought that if I made it clear when I boycotted that the narrowing of the curriculum and incessant testing had driven me to it, it wouldn’t change things for my child, but it might for future children.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Shame you had to describe yourself as “a typical middle class mum”. How about pushing for a classless society whilst you are advocating that young children should break government rules by boycotting school classes. You also suggest that on days that SATS are boycotted because of pressure on children to excel, they should be taken to places like museums. Well maybe it might be nice for children to exercise their imagination rather than their brain if they are kept off school in protest, by being taken to the park/woods/seashore.


    • I take your point – it was something I thought about when I wrote it. But it’s often the middle class mums that schools think want the testing. Perhaps they’re right, but not in this case. And I’m not sure how many museums you’ve been to lately, but most are great for stretching the imagination too – think of Eureka or the Museum of Childhood. We spend lots of time at parks, woods and seashores too. Anyway – early days to plan an itinerary. Who knows – we might pop off to Japan.


      • I have taken grandchildren to Eureka with its contrived entertainment and also taken them to the large parks with fallen trees that they love to climb upon. In my opinion Eureka cannot hold a candle to the parks when it comes to actual enjoyment and use of the child’s imagination. Unfortunately you do not take my point at all as you have not responded to it. I find your references to “middle class” unhelpful if we are to bring about equal opportunities for all children. It reminds me of how the masses are referred to as “ordinary people” (by HM and many of the privileged classes).

        If schools employ unhelpful Heads then they should replace them with Heads who can cope with regulations rather than embarrass pupils with excuses why they haven’t learned their lines.

        In my experience, there are teachers who abuse their positions by influencing children with personal politics. I therefore suggest that you deal with the people who make the rules rather than encouraging children be brought directly into the argument.

        I have four grandchildren at two different schools miles apart yet all four are progressing wonderfully and neither of their mothers has expressed concern to me regarding “pressures” experienced at school. I accept that there are children who experience anxiety at school but you might find that poor home life is contributing to this.


    • I don’t understand how children using their imagination can be separated from them using their brains. Surely a binary divide is not feasible

      Liked by 1 person

    • Julienne, I’m surprised that you’re being so hostile. I don’t think I’m a poor parent for liking Eureka – each to their own of course. Happily we live in the country and they play on logs, in ponds and fields and stomp about on the moors all the time. I know two of your grandchildren and I’m very pleased that they are happy. Nicola is a wonderful Mum. I’m sure you don’t mean to tell me what I can and can’t do in terms of spending time with my own children. I’m sure you didn’t mean to suggest that any stress my child might be feeling is simply down to my poor parenting. That would be very rude indeed and given that you’ve never met my child, presumptuous.

      As for replacing heads, unfortunately we have a national shortage of them at the moment, largely due to this pressure. I do campaign on this frequently.

      As for the middle class point, you’re right, I’m not addressing it because I don’t really see the issue with what I said. I work hard in my professional life to ensure all children have equal access to high quality education, but for me to pretend I’m some working class hero would be a lie.

      Have a lovely evening.


  18. My children are now 21, twins, they did not take any SATs, I had an understanding Headteacher. They did not go to school on the days the tests were administered instead they went away for a few days with their dad, as I had to work because I was a teacher at their school. So I have direct experience of SATs. I am still teaching and these tests are even more stressful than when my children were that age. It made little difference that they did not take these tests as Senior schools take little if any notice of these results. Both of them are doing well and have just gone back to university.


  19. As a teacher and parent I’m with you 100%. I see every day the detrimental effect these tests are having on my own children (son in year 6, daughter in year 5 becoming anxious and tearful, no longer enthusiastic about school) and the poor 6 year olds I have to put through it every day. We were still doing spelling tests on the day before the Christmas holidays -22nd December. The Yer 6 newspaper reporters came round to ask what fun Christmas activities each class was doing and it took my TA and I a good few minutes to recall we’d done some patterns in Maths using baubles and trees instead of triangles and squares.
    This is not why I went into teaching. I suspect that if we were not reliant on our paycheques most teachers would happily join you in boycotting th SATS and risk losing our jobs in the process.


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  23. I have never been more convinced that my decision to boycott SATS next year is the correct one.

    Thank you for writing this article. It has blessed me with invaluable knowledge in how to explain my stance to other parents – and to my son. As the first parent to ever boycott in a school with a cohort of 82 per year, I’d be interested in hearing how your son reacted to being withdrawn. Is he fine with being singled out? Was he worried about not taking the tests at all? I have read many of your other articles but just found this one – perfectly timed at the moment, so thanks!


    • Thank you Elizabeth. I’m really glad it was useful.


    • He’s in Year 6 now. School has been really supportive and although he’s learning the content of Maths/English etc but when the children do practice papers, he does something else linked to topic work, or reads, or does DoodleMaths etc. He’s quite happy. Some of his friends are a bit envious!


  24. Fine with me, but what will my child do for months on end when the others are practicing SATS? This is the problem. The school will not set up a a parallel balanced curriculum for those children. So the benefit will be minimal.


    • It very much depends on the school. My son does a combination of reading, Doodle Maths online and topic extension work (like he’s writing a story from the point of view of a passenger on the Titanic at the moment). The school have been really good in accommodating him. I don’t have any problem with him learning content – it’s the test and the data resulting from the test and how it’s used that I really objected to.


  25. I am a secondary maths teacher and have 4 kids. I want to boycott SATs. I probably will in the hope things will change for my younger kids. However, this will not have prevented a, what I deem, a wasted year in school. Y6 ruins them. I have encountered increasing numbers of y7s with major confidence issues in maths and crucially no problem solving skills or conceptual understanding. I want to take mine out of school for the whole of y6.


    • All depends on the school and teacher. Go in and talk with them first – I came away much reassured after I had done that and they’ve been really good at letting him do other things when other kids are being tested – reading, Doodle Maths, topic work etc. If you feel you won’t get support, you could think about home schooling if that’s an option for you, but keep a close eye on secondary admissions dates.


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