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Faversham MP Helen Whately causes social media storm with school tests tweet

A Kent MP has triggered a social media storm after saying children would be betrayed by a Labour pledge to scrap tests for primary school pupils.

Conservative Faversham and Mid Kent MP Helen Whately tweeted that SATs had helped improve classroom standards.

She also said she had not seen any evidence that the tests caused mental health problems.

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Her defence of the tests led to more than 1,000 responses, many from parents and teachers, who took her to task over her claim and pointed to a number of reports that had raised questions about the adverse impact of tests on the mental well-being of Year 7 pupils. These included a report by the independent cross-party education select committee which concluded that the tests were a cause of mental health problems:

Tests shoulld stay (8768452)
Tests shoulld stay (8768452)

She was also challenged by an award-winning author who said the emphasis on grammar in the English part of the tests had stopped children from enjoying reading and writing. It followed an exchange in which the MP admitted she had to look up the meaning of a 'fronted adverbial' to help her own children's homework:

SATS (8757587)
SATS (8757587)

Rowena House, whose debut novel “The Goose Road” became a best-seller and was nominated for a string of awards tweeted: "By forcing children to dissect grammar to this absurd degree you destroy genuine creativity and crush the life out of a love for language."

Others pointed to a report by a cross-party select committee highlighting the impact of testing on pupils:

Jeremy Corbyn said a future Labour government would abolish SATs.

In a speech to the annual conference of the National Education Union, Mr Corbyn said: “We need to prepare children for life, not just for exams. Sats and the regime of extreme pressure testing are giving young children nightmares and leaving them in floods of tears.”

Christine Dickinson, branch secretary of the Kent NUE, said: “There are plenty of programmes that could be used as an alternative to SATs. It is not that we have never had tests - schools have always done assessments - but not in an explicit way. Children have to sit them but it does not make them better children.”

She said the MP should listen to the testimony of teachers who regularly reported how the tests left pupils in tears because of the pressure they were under.

According to a NUE survey,more than eight out of 10 teachers say mental health among pupils in England has deteriorated in the past two years – with rising reports of anxiety, self-harm and even cases of suicide.


What are SATs? These are tests taken by pupils in Year 6 - the final year of primary school for 11-year-olds.

They are known as Key Stage 2 tests and involve written tests in English - reading, writing and grammar - and maths.

SATs aren’t supposed to be about passing or failing, but are used to reflect the level children are working to.

Progress is measured by comparing the results of tests taken at the end of Key Stage 1, by seven-year-olds, and those taken at age 11.

Schools are expected to meet a minimum "floor standard".

Schools are below the floor standard if under 65% of pupils meet the expected standard in reading, writing and mathematics and they fail to make sufficient progress in all three subjects.

The results are published each year in primary school league tables produced by the Department for Education.

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