SATs and all that

Just read that the NUT conference supported the suggestion of a boycott on SATs in primary schools.

I am, of course, glad to see teachers making a stand on an educational matter, and prioritising pupils’ welfare.  I certainly agree with the quote from the General Secretary “”Drilling within a narrow set of disciplines and expectations is taking the joy out of learning and much of it is of questionable educational value.” There is a very great danger that the SATs focus leads to “valuing what we measure” and thus impoverishing the curriculum.

But I am also concerned about what on earth is going on that pupils are getting so ridiculously stressed.  Of course the DoE’s assertion that “tests should not be stressful” is a little unrealistic in the real world – it’s almost inevitable to be a little bit on edge if you feel you are being judged (and kids will encounter that in competitions, music exams – even a big football match).   But for them to be so uptight and tearful over something which, if we are honest, really will have no impact on their life, is just plain wrong.

And no, it’s not just that it’s an exam. You might get the impression from reading much of the commentary that children never used to sit exams in primary school before the era of SATs. Well, they did – we had exams every year at junior school, and my mother had them every term in her day! The exams in themselves didn’t reduce us all to nervous wrecks.

It seems to me that – setting aside for a moment the content of the SATs and whether the new required standards are even halfway reasonable – that either the children are unduly sensitive to doing something hard, or (or more likely “and”), there is too much emphasis – from school and home – on doing well in the SATs.

Now I know schools are judged by SATs – so there is going to be a very great temptation to drill those poor kids to get the highest grades they can, since having OFSTED come down on you like a ton of bricks if you go down a few percentage points is most definitely a thing to be avoided at all costs.  It must be hard to avoid passing that anxiety on to the kids, though I sincerely hope all my primary school colleagues try to.  I’d like to live in a word where teachers were all brave enough to say they valued education more than the results of a dubiously valid or reliable test and did their own thing – but that is not the world we are in. And that, of course, is down to the government – its ever-increasing focus on regarding data as the final judgement, its lack of awareness that education is not a one-size fits all matter and is not confined to what can be measured by tests, and its failure to trust the professionalism and good faith of teachers.

But – what on earth is going on with parents who prioritise it, or take kids in for extra cramming sessions for SATs? What on earth do they think they are achieving?
Now I know this is not new – when I was at school I saw parents taking a similar approach to the 11-plus. But – whilst I’d never condone the way a couple of my peers were treated in the name of trying to “get them through”, at least I could understand why the parents felt short-term pain was worth it for the long-term gain of avoiding the hell-hole of a local secondary modern that those kids were otherwise destined for. But with the SATs – there is no ambiguity! The parents need to be supporting education, their children’s well-being, and helping them deal with tackling hard material without crumbling, rather than focusing on results and upping the pressure. Of course many parents do exactly this – but what is up with those who don’t?

And as for the change in demand of the SATs… when will the powers that be actually get the idea that just saying you want “higher standards” does not actually mean that all children will now be able to achieve what the top 30% or so once achieved? It is as if it were decreed that we should all be at the standard of at least county-standard athletes, or of professional musicians. See, that’s ridiculous, isn’t it, and everyone can see that. But understanding the same thing works for academic disciplines appears to be beyond the powers that be. Of course no one wants poverty of aspiration limiting achievement – but that is not an excuse for a complete lack of appreciation of the spectrum of ability and attainment.


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One Response to SATs and all that

  1. sarah evans says:

    All good sense. But how to get through to parents and Ofsted….?

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