Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock this week, you’ll have noticed that the SATs for 10 and 11 year-olds across the country has made the news. At least, that is, if you’re an educator. If you’re not, and you’ve stumbled across this innocently clicking my links through Facebook or something, I can only apologise for embroiling you in what is a total shambles of a system (it’s too late to turn back now, you have to read on!).
It is, by the way, a total failure and mockery of our education system. And I say that with utter conviction. Testing children isn’t something I’ve ever been a fan of, but I find myself growing more and more cynical each and every time the subject of standardised assessments (tests) is brought up. With good reason too.
Let’s start with the idea of turning all Local Authority (LA) schools into academies. Without going into the whole host of reasons that I don’t think this to be the right step forwards, the link to SATs is interesting. Failing schools are forced to turn into academies. Schools which perform less-favourably in the year 6 SATs are called into question when OFSTED come knocking – almost like a preconceived idea that, because the data has been ‘bad’, the teaching must be terrible. Everyone knows not all children perform well on tests. I’ve been fortunate enough to teach some of the brightest, hard-working, and enthusiastic children who performed above and beyond when in the comfortable classroom environment… and then absolutely flopped in the test due to worry and stress (and I try as much as I can to not pass that on to the children). Though, the curriculum has been made more tricky, the SATs more so, and doesn’t that set children up to fail? Is this just a ploy to force all the remaining Local Authority schools into academies by almost automatically deeming them unsuitable?
Even if that’s not the case, there’s another major argument against SATs. They’re not actually needed! That’s right. Throughout the year, teachers do their own assessment. How else are we supposed to know whether the kids in the class have retained what we’ve taught? Hours are spent each term trawling through paperwork, ticking boxes and identifying targets and next steps. That’s how we know what to teach next, and what to re-cover, and what the children understand, and to what degree the children understand. It’s what we do. And secondary schools don’t use this. And why should they? The summer holiday is often synonymous with regression in understanding. 6 weeks of time away from school inevitably means children forget what they’ve learnt. So, when the year 6s move to secondary and become year 7, they sit another ‘baseline’ test… just as they would be assessed when moving into any other year, by any other teacher. Just to double check what they’ve remembered, and what they haven’t. This is the 21st century, and 11+ tests don’t exist anymore, and SATs don’t determine which school you get into. It’s amazing the number of people I’ve spoken to recently who just don’t know this. Put plainly, SATs don’t have an impact on future education. At all.
Even if they did, then it’s wholly unfair! My current, tiny cohort of year 6s consists of an amazing flautist, fantastic swimmers, they’re the most cheery bunch of kids you could hope to teach, and there’s a young chap that can tell you anything you’d ever want to know about the weather and World War 2. It’s a crying shame that their passions, knowledge, and (let’s be fair) expertise in things which I have no idea, are simply not even considered. We spend years building up confidence, enthusiasm, excitement for learning; nurturing children’s interests, encouraging them to take on extra challenges which interest them… and then the SATs make it all seem so worthless. Sorry kids, we only care about reading, maths, spelling and grammar.
And it does have an impact on the children. Thankfully, I think I’ve done just about enough to avoid passing on the pressure of SATs. Our performance-related, and school targets are largely based on the SATs, and it must be awful to be a headteacher in today’s world where data is essentially the difference between a ‘Good’ OFSTED rating, and one of ‘requires improvement’ (something else which, and I’m being polite, is an absolute joke). So I can understand year 6 teachers who tear their hair out when May comes round, and can’t help but place an emphasis on a few bits of paper which children are made to sit in silence and answer. It’s going to come round to the kids. They’re not stupid, they know the pressure we’re under. But do we really want an education system for the country that makes little people break down into tears caused by a feeling of inadequacy?
What really makes this whole system an absolute farce is that the Department for Education clearly don’t even value the SATs as highly as the teachers. With leaks being a regular occurrence this year (we can say that, right? – There’s been two and it’s only day 2 of the year 6 tests), there clearly aren’t enough precautions being taken to ensure these all-important tests are kept fair. I make no joke when I say that the test papers at school are stored in a locked cabinet, have to be signed in and out of that cabinet by two adults who must also be present throughout the entire test, and who aren’t allowed to even keep a copy of that test… incase we spread the answers to our friends in another school who might be taking the test later that day. Honestly, the mockery of the system when you find that two tests have been published online, for all to see… one on the very website of the group of people who asked teachers not to discuss the tests! What a joke!
It seems Niki Morgan is keen to get tests though. Apparently, we need more of them, even as young as 5 and 6… oh, and no parties after we’ve done them. We wouldn’t want to have fun now, would we?
I can’t begin to think what the education system will shape up to look like at this rate.