Sats crucial in identifying pupils who are struggling, says schools inspector
The chief inspector of schools has spoken out in support of Sats for six and seven-year-olds as children across England went on "strike" in protest at the controversial exams.
More than 40,000 people signed a petition supporting a boycott of Year 2 Sats, while two children's laureates hit out at the exams which they said left youngsters stressed and in tears.
But Sir Michael Wilshaw said the tests are crucial in identifying children who are struggling with English and maths and helping them improve.
He said: "As I have long argued, children who fall behind in the early years of their education struggle to catch up in later years.
"If by the age of seven, a child has not mastered the basic skills of reading, writing and mathematics, the odds will be stacked against them for the rest of their lives. This is especially the case for poorer children.
"All the evidence shows that social mobility does not start at the age of 16 or even 11 but at a much earlier age. That is why it is so critical to lay solid foundations from the start of a child's education.
"I understand testing can sometimes be stressful but I am also confident that most schools do everything they can to minimise the stress that children experience in preparing for and sitting these tests."
He said England's "mediocre" position in international education rankings underlines the need for the assessments.
The Let Our Kids Be Kids campaign organised the day of action in protest at children being "over-tested, over-worked and in a school system that places more importance on test results and league tables than children's happiness and joy of learning".
Children's laureate Chris Riddell and his predecessor Michael Rosen added their voices to the protest, warning that youngsters are being tested on complicated grammar that risks crushing their love of learning.
In an open letter to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan published in The Guardian, Mr Rosen said children are going through "hell" with testing.
He wrote: "One ex-headteacher and now school governor wrote to tell me of 'six to seven-year-old pupils who, during the testing period, were crying, visibly shaking and reportedly waking up at 4am unable to sleep'.
"Any parent of children undergoing these tests has seen how it works. Children sit in school or at home with pre-tests. Then teachers, children or parents mark these tests and we see the looks on our children's faces as we mark this or that question with a zero.
"The child is wrong. It's a fail. And no matter how kind and encouraging we are, it's still a fail. And another fail. And another."
Mr Riddell joined hundreds of parents and children at a demonstration in Brighton, where fun and educational activities were laid on to show ministers schooling does not have to be all textbooks and tests.
He told the Press Association: "My feeling is there should be more trust in teachers and their ability to assess children at this age rather than through testing.
"The children are being put under undue stress and my argument is, what is the value of what comes from this testing? I think it is questionable."
He added: "We should be turning children into readers with the pleasure that gives rather than relying on a testing culture."
Sats are taken by children aged six or seven in Year Two and then again in Year Six, aged 10 or 11, before a third set in Year Nine, aged 13 or 14.
Parents and teachers have warned that a "hothousing" culture is seeping into primary school classrooms which has left children stressed and put off school.
Ben Ramalingam, from Brighton, kept his five-year-old son off school.
He told the Press Association: "There is an experiment being run on our children and there is no proof it works. It is really inappropriate and, I think, unethical to do it.
"We are concerned parents taking a stand, we don't want our kids to be stressed out by the time they become teenagers because they have been inappropriately taught. Our children are being pushed towards rote-based learning.
"It is like something out of Charles Dickens."
The Government defended Sats, insisting a strong grasp of English and maths is crucial to a child's prospects.
Schools minister Nick Gibb said: "These tests are vital in helping schools to ensure that young children are learning to read, write and add up well.
"The truth is, if they don't master literacy and numeracy early on, they risk being held behind and struggling for the rest of their lives."
Prime Minister David Cameron's official spokeswoman said: "It's not a new concept to test in primary school. What this Government has done is look at how to make sure those tests are truly reflecting the more rigorous standards we have sought to introduce in schools."
Currently one in five children - around 115,000 a year - leave primary school without a good grasp of reading, writing or maths, down from one in three in 2010, said the spokeswoman.
She said the PM's message for parents keeping their children away from school would be: "This is about improving the curriculum, improving the education of our children in schools. It's part and parcel of how we want to make sure that their child is getting the best education the Government can offer."
She added: "Taking a child out of school even for one day can harm their education. We've got clear guidance it should only be done in exceptional circumstances."
The spokeswoman said it was "a matter for schools to handle" whether any sanctions should result from unauthorised absences by pupils.
Asked whether Mr Cameron was concerned about his own children becoming stressed by tests, the spokeswoman said: "When it comes to the Prime Minister and his own children, like all parents I think this is part of supporting your children as they go through education."