Catherine Scott: Pupils under pressure as tests bring stress

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IT’S SATS for thousands of 10 and 11-year-olds across the UK.

I thought I had another year before we had to even start to deal with the worry of the first real set of tests. But, oh no, everyone seems to be sitting them, which is causing a few sleepless nights in our house I can tell you.

My eldest is a born worrier and, so far, doesn’t show signs of thriving under pressure. Even though she has been told that they are just sitting the tests for practise she is determined to get worked up.

The tests have always been controversial since they were introduced for 11-year-olds in 1995. Two of the main concerns of critics are that they place children under constant stress for their whole academic lives, and that the principal purpose of national curriculum testing is for school league tables.

Testing is part of school life, whether it starts in primary or secondary school. When my daughter sat her Key Stage One SATS aged seven she didn’t even know, because the teachers took great pains to play them down. As they head towards secondary school I can see the merit in exposing them to testing, however traumatic that might be at home, so long as they are handled in an age-appropriate manner and with the right support.

While this year we just had a few sleepless nights, and a lot of reassurance that so long as she tried her best we would be happy, I have concerns about next year.

A study of those who sat the test last year found 43 per cent could not eat beforehand, because they felt so nervous – while 2.5 per cent relied on energy drinks.

And one in 200 did not eat at all – but went into the exam having only smoked cigarettes. We may move to Scandinavia next year.

While testing is a fact of modern life, children and parents for that matter, need to be given advice on how best to handle the obvious stress youngsters are feeling at this time.

And the pressure to succeed isn’t just being felt by the children. Parents fearing that children will be left behind are increasingly paying for private tuition. It isn’t just the pressure of getting them into the best schools, but in some areas it is seen as the only way to give their child an equal chance. If everyone else is doing it then the only way to give your child an equal opportunity is to it too. According to the Sutton Trust, 18 per cent of children received private tuition that had risen to 23 per cent in 2008. My daughter has had extra tuition for maths. This isn’t to get her into a better school or because everyone else is doing it. It is because she felt she was falling behind the others. In a small village school with just seven pupils in a class even average can feel like failure. But at the end of the day it is about her confidence and happiness.