Press release

What do children really think about SATs?

A survey of children in England and Wales and their parents published today reveals overwhelming support for science assessment in primary school, but a strong preference for non-SATs testing.

The report, published by the Trust, is the first to look at the attitudes and concerns of children and parents on the way science is assessed in primary school. It is hoped the findings will be used to inform the debate about the best way to conduct assessments in science and around statutory national curriculum testing, or SATs, in other subjects.

Around 1000 schoolchildren in England and Wales took part in the survey, which was designed with the involvement of children themselves in collaboration with researchers from Queen's University Belfast. Groups of children also helped with analysing and interpreting the results, helping the researchers to get to grips with the issues surrounding this subject from the child's perspective.

According to the findings, the vast majority of children surveyed found science assessment useful and liked to know how well they were performing. However most preferred the use of end-of-topic testing and investigations to assess their performance, rather than SATs testing.

Professor Derek Bell, Head of Education at the Wellcome Trust, emphasised: "What is striking about this report is not that younger children like science but that they value assessment and the importance of feedback in helping them with their learning. We need to respect these views and find ways to nurture their natural curiosity whilst helping them, and their parents, to understand how well they are performing. As we have seen from other reports, an undue focus on testing and grades too often kills off children's enthusiasm for the subject."

When asked how assessment could be improved in schools, the children suggested that more variety in the way they are tested, with a greater emphasis on investigative work, would put the fun back into the subject and help them to learn more. Some also suggested that children should be given choice in the type and timing of their science assessment.

SATs have been shrouded in controversy since their inception and have been accused of driving a 'teach to test' culture in schools to the detriment of pupils' enjoyment of the subject. The report comes as the debate around statutory National Curriculum testing prepares to kick off again, with the government expected to announce a review of the National Curriculum and how it is implemented in the autumn.

Colette Murphy from Queen's University Belfast, who led the research, commented: "The report couldn't come at a better time. Adults may have the responsibility of making the decisions but it's the children who live with the consequences. It's vital that we give them the opportunity to express their views and listen to their responses, and to make sure their voices are taken into consideration by the policy makers who decide their future. By including the children's perspectives, we can make better decisions regarding the way children are assessed."

The survey was conducted one month after the announcement in 2009 that science SATs in primary school were to be stopped in England and revealed a level of concern among both children and parents in England. They felt that children would not learn as much science and would be less well prepared for secondary school without the exams. They also worried that the status of science would decline in the schools.

On the other hand, parents of Welsh children, where the exams had already been stopped for five years at the time of the survey, agreed that the change from SATs for science assessment had been for the better. They felt that children were enjoying science and learning more without the statutory exams.

Professor Bell added: "The Welsh findings back up teachers' views highlighted in earlier reports, that they can teach more creatively and effectively without having to worry about the pressures of SATs and school performance in league tables."