You would have to be a hermit living in a cave on a deserted island not to know that it’s SATs week in schools. I could say they’re a bit marmitey to say the least. People either love them or hate them. Ofsted love them, everyone else hates them.
I tweeted this last week and it seems to have generated some interest just about everywhere from the Daily Mail to the Sun. <sigh>
But it wasn’t about an event this year. It was nearly 3 years ago when my eldest was facing doing his first SATs. It’s a memory that haunts me every year. We’re currently in that non-SATs limbo world where youngest will be doing KS1 next year, and eldest will be doing KS2 in 2 years time.
But will they? To be honest, I doubt it. I doubt very much that I’ll put a child of mine through that again. Sooner or later they’ll have to face tests and exams but for the time being, let them be children. Full of wonder at the world and keen to learn about it. Not just how to pass a test.
As a school governor I get to the see the other side though. The side that generates pages and pages of data about the children and their results. All that data is carefully analysed and is used to assess how the school is performing. Which in many ways, it can be very useful: Children can be tracked through their education to see progress, it’s easier to see what difference any Pupil Premium or SEN funding has had and it easily identifies areas in which the school could improve and what they should be targeting. Which is great in theory and our school certainly are very good at this.
However, children are not machines and they are not a product – they do not represent the sum total of their education, it’s not a case of input = output. There are other things thrown into the mix which can’t be identified by a straight SATs result. Results in individual schools can be skewed by the numbers in the class, one child in a small cohort in a tiny village school can represent 25% of that years results. If that one child doesn’t reach the expected target, the school will be seen to be below National Expectations and the next time Ofsted come calling, they will ask about it and the explanation had better be a good one. That tiny snapshot of a child’s education on one particular day can be used as a great big stick to beat schools and teachers with.
Yet what those results won’t show you, unless you really go digging for it, is that perhaps that child hadn’t been in the school very long, perhaps they had a learning difficulty, perhaps they made enormous progress from their starting point, yet it wasn’t enough to meet the generic expectations required. Every child has a story, their education is a journey and a single set of results doesn’t show enough of each child’s individual unique learning ability.
This is the time of year the teachers get stressed, they know they will be judged on how well those children perform in those minutes. The parents are stressed because the kids are worried and the kids are worried because they don’t want to let anyone down. Is that really necessary in a 6 year old? In a good school, the little ones don’t even know they’re being tested, but not all schools are good.
Today was the first day of the Year 6 SATs. They came into school looking worried and fearful. They left it looking tired and pale. Are we really to judge the whole teaching quality in a school on how a 6 or 11 year old performs on one particular day? Out of the 190 days they attend?
Out of curiosity I had a go at a grammar test. I failed it spectacularly. My husband laughed – until he had a go at the maths test and got some of that wrong too! I doubt I’m all that intelligent, but I’m not all that stupid either, however the test made me feel that way! So imagine what it would feel like for a 6 or 11 year old. The most awful thing is that none of it had any real world practicality behind it. It was testing for the sake of testing.
I agree there needs to be a way of monitoring progress in schools, but there must be a way of doing it without stressing children out in this way.
So will I let my children do their next round of SATs? Probably not – I don’t want to put youngest through what his brother went through. comforting a small child who thinks he is stupid is not easy. When eldest is due to take his Year 6 SATs, I will be less than a month off going away for 6 weeks during my Clipper Race leg. It didn’t occur to me this coincided with his SATs when I booked it and I’m not sorry. He will be stressed enough about that without adding SATs into it.
You couldn’t pay me enough to do what teachers do. They have a juggling act of having to push the more able children while supporting and encouraging the less able to do their best as well. I suspect there is a large element of teaching to the test going on, so how is that representative of the school?
Let kids be kids and let teachers teach. Monitor progress but without the stress and most definitely without the tears.
You can find several SATs tests online to test your own ability if you fancy having a go. I warn you though – they’re harder than you think.