Take a deep breath. Relax. Exhale. It’s over for another year.
If you have pupils in Year 6, work in Key Stage 2 or have any sort of dealings with a primary school, I’m sure you haven’t been able to miss the fact that Year 6 pupils up and down the country have completed their SATs this week. The past few days will have been about as far from the norm as you usually will find in the calendar. Schools practically fall over themselves to ensure that their statistics (how cynical of me, of course I mean pupils!) are in school in a frame of mind fit to sit the most important exams of their young lives to date.
Except of course… well… they probably aren’t that important to the child and don’t actually have much of an impact on that child’s future. They will be given a score and move on into secondary school where they will be assessed and put into ability groups according to the school’s new set of assessments. Even if the SATs scores are used initially, it won’t be long before they are shaken up and those that over-performed or under-performed find their way back to the groups that match their needs. The kids will go on to have the future in education they would have had if the SATs in Year 6 didn’t exist.
Don’t tell this to those in charge of primary schools though! I could swear that life itself might actually stop if pupils were to collectively have a bad run of form. Though, admittedly they are left with little choice. When OfSTED come in as heavy-handed as they do and make sweeping generalisations about the state of education in a school based on scores at KS1 and KS2, they better be damned good. It is of little wonder that Year 6 teachers, SLT and Headteachers have spent the week pulling their hair out. At times it has been like a scene from some kind of ‘Carry On’ movie…
The local bus and taxi companies line the entrance to the school being given directions to pupils houses as the sun makes its way over the horizon, marking the beginning a new day. A child was once ten minutes late in Year 1 and we mustn’t risk another late arrival. An empty chair is a wasted statistic. When they arrive we will gather them all in the hall where we will let them eat their fill: toast, milk, water, cereal, whatever they want. Somebody on the yard once read on the back of a yogurt pot that exercise helps you to think better so next get them doing laps of the school grounds and jumping on the spot. Hell they’ve never done this before but who knows, maybe a bit of movement will suddenly remind them of how to reduce fractions to their simplest form? Then slowly the mist of apprehension silently falls upon the mass of pupils entering the school for the second time in forty minutes. They walk to their places, looking at the classrooms that have been covered from top to bottom in bin-liners as if 60 minute makeover are going to film an episode over lunchtime. The kids are nearly ready to have the instructions read to them when the door bursts open. As if they have heard the music of their favorite wrestler break the silence, every head in the room spins round to see the line of additional helpers flood into the room. We have the PPA teacher, teaching assistants, SLT, office staff, the cleaners, dinner ladies and a bin man who arrived at the school at just the wrong time sitting next to the pupils poking them in the ribs to keep them on task and read questions. Then the moment it’s all done, just as the kids are about to leave the room, the Year 6 teacher flees through the corridor like a spy through cold-war Russia to give the Headteacher an in-depth analysis of how difficult the paper was and how pupils responded.
It would be comical if 90% of that wasn’t true! Sadly however, the truth is that the bus, breakfast, exercise and additional support is not there in the interest of the pupils. It is there to do everything possible to ensure that the data is positive by the time the assessments are marked and sent back to the school. And let’s be honest; who could blame those in charge for doing all this? When they are under such pressure, they will do everything they can to help themselves alleviate the stress. The blame for the farce that is SATs week does not lie with them. It lies squarely at the feet of those in charge, who increasingly demand that assessments be used as an evaluative tool of a schools capabilities and provision of education. Unfortunately, testing is the approach advocated by those who know least about education, oblivious to the fact that you don’t fatten a pig by weighing it. Nursery baseline assessments, Year 1 phonics screening, Year 2 SATs, Year 6 SATs- pupils in our education system are tested far too much.
At the risk of sounding like the vicars wife in an episode of ‘The Simpsons’, won’t somebody please think of the children! The system we have forces us to turn our back on real life skills and thematic approaches to develop through investigative and experiential learning, instead focusing on learning test techniques and narrow approaches to delivering English and Maths. There does of course need to be an approach adopted to ensure that schools are delivering the curriculum to a high standard. The irony is that the process we currently use ensures that pupils are deprived of exactly that, as the last time I checked the curriculum stretched outside of the core subjects.
The pupils in my school will spend the next week at the cinema, bowling, ice-skating or playing sports, but one week of rewards will not make up for the months of cramming that has deprived them of a broad and balanced curriculum. Until the system is changed, year group after year group will experience the despair of Year 6 SATs. Until the system is changed, the farce that is SATs week will continue annually.