With the end of Sats week, no doubt thousands of children up and down the country will be heaving a sigh of relief. The tests – this year ramped up to an unprecedented level of difficulty – have been dogged by controversy. Two leaks in a matter of weeks cast doubt on their integrity, causing the key stage one spelling, punctuation and grammar test to be scrapped; and throughout Britain, parents boycotted the national exams by keeping their children away from school.
My daughter underwent key stage one Sats, taken in school year two, last year. I wish I’d been brave enough to stop her from doing them. My reasons for allowing her to take part were, first and foremost, that they didn’t seem to affect her, and, second, that I didn’t want to damage my – and consequently her – relationship with the school. I knew that Sats were imposed without its say and felt that it did its best to mitigate their ill effects. Other schools, I know, are unable to do this, or do it less effectively.
Every year, stories abound of children not eating or sleeping, traumatised by the prospect of Sats. This clearly isn’t healthy – if one of the key aims of education is to incite a love of learning, then this can hardly be conducive. That’s not to mention the lasting damage that putting so much pressure on children might cause to their sense of wellbeing.
We all know that in life, there is success and failure. As adults, with experience of both, we can rest assured that, generally speaking, the two balance out. Children lack this basic resource, so how can they not feel that their entire future is predicated on their Sats results?
I have a friend who is both a year two teacher and the parent of a year six child, so has been involved in Sats from both sides of the fence. She recently shared her concerns over her year two class – as a group, they’re not especially bright so, despite her efforts, they’re unlikely to do well. Her daughter, on the other hand, is able but under pressure to achieve.
This seems to illustrate the impossible position teachers are in – mindful of league table rankings, they’re forced to crack the whip while also knowing that some pupils simply won’t measure up, no matter how hard they, their teachers, try. What Sats seem to overlook is that children aren’t robots but human beings, perhaps simply incapable of meeting an arbitrary standard or liable to fall apart on the day.
At the heart of my opposition lies the fact that the very people being tested have nothing – or very little – to gain from the results. Doing well might elevate them in the eyes of their school, parents and peers, but, in practical terms, its value is negligible. Sats have become so discredited, with accusations of schools teaching to the test to gain artificially good results, that secondary schools don’t rely on them, with many retesting in year seven.
They are, in essence, a measure of the school and its teaching and not the child’s natural ability. As we have Ofsted for this purpose, why involve children at all? They should be removed from the equation entirely, with standards and benchmarks in teaching being evaluated purely at the point of delivery.
In education secretary Nicky Morgan’s view, this would be to deny children the right of being stretched to reach their potential. In a recent statement, she said: “What are the limits placed on a child’s imagination when they cannot write down their ideas for others to read? That is why the campaign being led by some of those who do not think we should set high expectations is so damaging.”
She’s missing the point. Far from being against the setting of high expectations, I’m fully supportive of my children being challenged. As a parent who wants them to be allowed to develop fully, however – the “whole child” mantra we hear repeated so often – I object to them being pawns in a political game that negates them as individuals.