As a parent of an 11-year-old, there has been one major topic of conversation this week…SATs.
I am the father of a rather stressed and frazzled son and while our main concern should and always be with our children, I would like you to spare a thought for the teachers and staff.
There has been testing at this age group for many, many years, dating back to the 11+ and beyond. Back in those days, it was purely a divisionary device. The child would either reach the required level and go on to grammar school, or they wouldn’t and end up in a secondary modern. Now, whether you agreed with this old system or not (as with every system there are pros and cons) you can’t argue that this was absolutely about the child and their future, for better or worse.
However, in this modern world of league tables and constant performance evaluation, the main point of SATs is not to measure children’s development, instead, it is used as a device to measure one school’s “attainment level” against another.
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As a qualified teacher, I still talk to many former colleagues and I don’t know of a single secondary school that doesn’t undertake its own tests when a child starts, to ascertain the appropriate class to put them in.
A recent TES article reports that almost all (98 per cent) of primary heads are warning that teachers are placed under unnecessary pressure because of SATs.
A YouGov poll for the campaign group “More than a Score” also found that 94 per cent of primary heads felt pupils were put under stress unnecessarily – with 96 per cent concerned about the pressure of KS2 SATs on pupils’ wellbeing.
“The results of this survey demonstrate that the assessment system imposed on primary schools is neither liked nor trusted by school leaders,” Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said.
“Teachers want to work in schools where pupils are challenged, delighted, supported and engaged by their learning – it is a scandal and a tragedy that government policy frustrates these aspirations,” she added.
The survey of 230 heads and deputy heads also found that:
- More than four in five (83 per cent) primary heads say they have been contacted by parents, who are concerned that KS2 SATs are making their child stressed and anxious,
- 89 per cent felt KS2 SATs cause stress in teachers’ working lives, and
- 93 per cent said english and maths are prioritised in Year 6 to the detriment of other subjects.
An overwhelming majority (93 per cent) of respondents wanted the government to review the current system of standardised assessment. Currently, children take four statutory assessments during primary school. They are assessed by teachers at the end of the Reception year for the early years foundation stage profile, they take the phonics check at the end of Year 1, tests in reading and maths at the end of key stage 1 and tests in reading, maths, and spelling, punctuation and grammar at the end of key stage 2. In 2020, two more statutory tests are due to be introduced; the Reception baseline assessment to be taken by 4 and 5-year-olds and the multiplication tables check in Year 4.
Last year, 64 per cent of pupils reached the expected standard for the KS2 SATs tests in reading, writing and maths.
Is it right that academic attainment is the main focus when researching schools and their performance? This system of accountability means children are part of a machine. It could even be enough to put some children off education for life; my son currently states that is definitely “not” following in his big sister’s and brother’s footsteps and going to university. Okay, he is only 11 and he still has lots of time to change his mind, get re-inspired by a subject and take his learning to the highest level possible, but that is the whole point. The survey also found that three-quarters (76 per cent) of primary heads did not think SATs were an accurate way of predicting a pupil’s future performance at secondary school, so why are we inflicting young children to such a high pressured situation.
Poet, William Butler Yeats remarked, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Truer words were never spoken. For many children, a passion for education is often ignited by an inspiring teacher.
Teachers are dedicated, to say the least. They work long hours, spend their own limited resources on innovating their curriculum and do everything they can do to make sure their classrooms are safe and welcoming for our children. Still, teachers don’t receive the recognition they deserve.
Any good teacher will tell you that the worst kind of teaching is when we teach children to past tests rather than nurture their love of the subject and learning in general; I don’t know a single primary school teacher who entered the profession to teach children to pass tests!
So while we are understandably concerned for our children’s wellbeing, please spare a thought for their teachers.