Pupils have Sats test panic attacks, says NUT study

The BBC is reporting research that suggests primary pupils in England are self-harming and having panic attacks because of anxiety over national tests…

…The research, by Prof Merryn Hutchings of London Metropolitan University and released at the NUT conference in Harrogate, is based on a survey of 8,000 teachers and in-depth interviews with staff and pupils at seven schools.

Nine out of 10 teachers said many pupils became “very anxious/stressed in the time leading up to Sats/public examinations”.

And three-quarters (76%) of primary teachers and 94% of secondary teachers said pupils had “developed stress-related conditions around the time of Sats/public examinations”.

In the interviews, one teacher said: “Many girls self-harm, have panic attacks and emotional problems because they cannot be perfect”…

The study found that in primary schools, many teachers report that the amount of time spent on the core subjects of English and maths increases in Year 6 in order to prepare for the Sats tests taken by 11 year olds, with other areas taught less, or not at all.

NUT general secretary Christine Blower said her union has “long argued that league tables, high-stakes testing and other accountability measures have a negative effect on children and young people”…

More at: Pupils have Sats test panic attacks, says NUT study


See also: School league tables raise pupils’ stress but fail to reduce attainment gaps


Unfortunately, as mentioned in the related article, there’s no obvious sign of this research on the NUT website or anywhere else I can find. If you have a link please share in the comments below.


This sounds awful, but presumably it is also the case that many children are not having panic attacks or self-harming over SATs. Indeed, many seem barely to know they are happening. So whose fault is this kind of reaction? Is it the tests or it the teachers/heads/putting putting the pressure on the children?


Don’t forget you can sign up to receive our daily email bulletin every morning (around 7 am) with all the latest schools news stories. Your details will never be given to anyone else and you can unsubscribe at any stage. Just follow this link!

NUT: Teachers’ strikes loom after election unless funding crisis tackled
Inspections are inconsistent and too dependent on data, warns former Ofsted chief
Categories: Primary and Teaching.


  1. Surveys are not evidence.
    The stress is not created by the tests themselves, which could easily be administered without great build-up.  The stress is created by the use of the figures by government to create league-tables etc and the consequent cascade of stress from senior staff down through teachers to their pupils.
    However, once we recognise that the exam results will improve if the skills of the teacher improve, then we can change focus, lower stress and get on with upping our skills.
    But we are all too stressed to do that!

  2. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove The results of the Sats could make or break a teacher’s career; students know this. Political obsession with data to blame

  3. Interim report downloadable here (second attachment):  http://www.teachers.org.uk/node/23627

    Full report will be published in the summer after parents have been interviewed.

  4. Mike Bell And we’ve seen what happened in USA when high-stakes tests were introduced – widespread cheating in 40 states.

    The OECD warned in 2011 there was too much emphasis on test results in England.  This risked negative consequences such as teaching to the test; ‘gaming’; schools erecting barriers to pupils likely to depress results and neglecting other subjects or skills.

    Professor Hutchings’ research (which included case studies and citations from relevant literature not just a survey) appears to confirm these worries (for link to interim report, see my comment above).

  5. 5N_Afzal

    My three went through SATS without knowing they were doing them! The school informed us they will be doing tests but they will not be telling children or parents when they will happen. They were administered just like class tests. My three not stressed at all. There is stress during public exams but again that needs to be managed by teachers and parents. You can’t di away with GCSE orvA Levels. Even if there were no league tables students know that universiry places depend in these exams. So, let’s work on helping students through this.

  6. 5N_Afzal Your children’s school is one of the enlightened ones.  I know one anecdote doesn’t prove anything, but one school I know started SAT practice in Year 5.  It was so intense my friend’s daughter came home tearful and was reluctant to attend school.  My friend eventually sent her daughter to another, more relaxed school.

    You’re right that secondary pupils need to prove their attainment.  But the exams don’t have to be high-stakes.  School league table position depends on them.  This doesn’t necessarily result in a good education being offered – other skills and subjects can be neglected; pupils can acquire only superficial knowledge and not deep learning.  

    Most developed countries do not have high-stakes exams at 16.  If they do, they are few in number (no more than 5) and restricted to core subjects (eg national language, maths, science).  They are used only to assess achievement and decide 16+ progression.  They are NOT used to judge schools but are for the sole benefit of the pupil, parents and those providing 16+ options.

  7. 5N_Afzal

    My point was that as we are talking about stress faced by students then doing away with league tables won’t help with that. I have friends abroad who take universiry entrance exams which aren’t used to rank schools. However, stress felt by their kids is still there and parents know which school/teachers have prepared them well. So, there is an unofficial ranking going on anyway.

  8. 5N_Afzal I agree exams are stressful – pupils’ future progression depends on them.  But there’s no need for high-stakes exams in Year 6. 

    The high-stakes nature of exams at 16 increases the existing stress.  Teachers pile on pressure because their school’s reputation (and ultimately their jobs) depends on league table position.  Our 16 year-olds are expected to take at least 8 exams (for the new Progress 8 measure) – this is unheard of in other countries.

    Our children are among the most-examined in the Western world.  It should stop.  We should do what most of the developed world do – have graduation at 18.

  9. rubycabernet131

    SchoolsImprove I’m sure I’m not the only one to see children cry before and during SATs – even in Year 2.

  10. extokyotyke

    SchoolsImprove Seen a child start to lose clumps of hair due to the stress. Remember, the youngster was 11 years old.

  11. h_emoney

    SchoolsImprove As a parent, I want my child happy and settled in school not the pressures of baseline tests NickyMorgan01 TristramHuntMP

  12. h_emoney

    SchoolsImprove As a parent, I want my child happy and settled in school not the pressures of baseline tests NickyMorgan01 TristramHuntMP

Let us know what you think...