2019 note: I thought it couldn’t get any worse than this, but since I wrote this post, the government announced plans to scrap Year 2 SATs, and replace them with tests for all reception age children. There is a vocal movement to stop this horrible idea, and you can read more about it here, and join thousands of teachers, head teachers and parents who have already signed the government petition: https://www.morethanascore.org.uk/
I’m angry this week. I’ve learned something new – SATs are awful in every way, and I don’t even have an 11 year old, who are the ones subjected to the really gruelling stuff. I have a little boy who’s just six and a half – and he’s being tested, in proper sit-quietly, at-your-own-single-desk, no-cheating test conditions. It’s just wrong, and it makes me sad and angry in equal measure.
He’s not been told he’s being tested. The school is absolutely amazingat that. They told us at the start of Year 2 that the children would never hear the word SATs at any time, from any member of staff. They call it “special work”, and intersperse the testing with as much fun, music and physical tearing around as they can. They’ve asked all of us parents to make sure the children get a good night’s sleep, and come to school with a healthy breakfast inside them, to give them the best chance of concentrating.
The only thing is, I think he knows he’s being tested anyhow. All has not been right with him this week. He’s often been close to tears about things that wouldn’t normally bother him. I’ve caught him deep in thought several times. He’s been far more snappish and impatient with his little brother than normal, and he’s slept at least half an hour later every morning this week. He woke up with a night terror yesterday for the first time in 18 months, and he’s had bad dreams. Saddest of all, he’s started having bad “imagines”: scary worries that pop into his head before he falls asleep, usually involving the whole of our family meeting some sort of sticky end.
He sees that things have changed at school, too. The classroom environment is different – the desks are separated, and the beautiful learning prompts on the walls are all covered. He has different lessons with other staff, depending on who is being tested for what, and his whole weekly routine of different classes and sessions by day has been disrupted.
It makes me so angry that testing this level of stress and disruption is happening to my little boy. He’s SIX! He should be experimenting, discovering the world he’s growing up in, applying his knowledge, writing about it and taking delight in his reading skills. It’s so wrong, and it’s so frustrating for everyone. I haven’t met anyone who believes that testing six and seven year olds, in formal assessment conditions, over a two-week period during the best school term of the year, is a good, productive and healthy use of everyone’s time.
Aside from the mental and physical impacts all this is having on our son, it makes me so mad that this process is stopping his sparky, creative, engaging and brilliant teachers and staff from having every possible opportunity to study and discover exciting, interesting things, light fires in their pupils’ imaginations, and inspire them to love learning for the rest of their lives.
Our school is wonderful: it has such a broad and rich curriculum, it’s officially Offsted Outstanding, and it’s renowned in Milton Keynes for its music and expressive arts. But still, a huge amount of classroom time has to be consumed with teaching for the SATs. From the headteacher downwards, all hands are tied by compliance with the national edict, and all to prove that they are teaching the latest Education Secretary’s curriculum meddlings. It drives governors, teachers and parents mad.
I completely understand that schools need to be assessed for standards – a poor school is a huge failing in a child’s life. But must it be done like this?
And this is without even thinking of the pressures that face 11-year-olds. They know exactly what’s happening in this process: they are being tested so that their teachers can be judged. It’s intellectual and emotional blackmail, and so damaging to their mental health and family life; never mind what else they could be learning and doing at the sunset of their junior school years.
So I have been fascinated to read recently in The Independent (link here) that there is a growing movement of parents writing a letter to withdraw their children from the whole process, as there is no legal requirement for any child to sit their SATs. Perhaps this is what it will take for those in charge to listen. If nothing changes in the next four years to end this nonsensical use of everyone’s time – and provided there are no government-imposed consequences for the school from having children withdrawn in numbers – then I will certainly be open to writing my own.