Being a primary school teacher for nine years, I feel suitably well qualified to write about the importance of SATs tests and can write from two perspectives: my head and my heart, as a teacher and as a parent.
The acronym SATs will do one of three things to you. It will either fill you with dread and an overwhelming sense of panic, stir up emotions and opinions that you didn’t even realise dwelt inside you or have absolutely no bearing on you and in your humble and most honest opinion someone has clearly become muddled with their past and present tenses. As a teacher, I fall into the first category and as a parent the second and I’m going to attempt to explain why.
The Standard Assessment Tests (SATs) were introduced to the National Curriculum for seven year olds in 1990 and then four years later in 1994 for eleven year olds, and since being embedded into our education system they have proven to be a controversial topic for discussion. The aim of the assessment tests were to assess whether or not a pupil had reached the average level for their age, but as time passed the average level soon became the expected level and today in 2017, even though the goalposts are constantly shifting, our children – regardless of any exterior factors in their lives – are expected to achieve the learning outcomes for their age. Some, of course, will argue that this sets high standards for our children and provides them with opportunities to succeed and whilst this may be partially true, the SATs must not be used as a ‘one size fits all’ cliché.
Children enter the classroom at very different and unique starting points, how they got to that starting point is becoming seemingly more redundant and instead the question is becoming – how quickly can we move them all to the expected standards? Again, many would stress that this is an inclusive and challenging approach to teaching and learning and again there will be others who remember the individuality of each and every child and their learning journey.
As a teacher, of course I believe in assessment and frequently value the pretty, colour-coded data and target setting it produces, but sadly much more than this, I feel that it proves my worth as a teacher; it justifies my pay scale and earns me respect amongst colleagues. Is this a substantial enough reason for putting seven year old children through rigorous and laborious assessments every May time? What is the importance of SATs in 2017? Will they better equip our children for adulthood?
Life in schools is exciting and exhausting, created by successes and ruined with disappointments, as graceful to visiting eyes as a swan gliding through open waters and yet desperately flapping against the ebb and flow to all those who work there. And for what purpose and at what expense?
Speaking to a friend and colleague currently working in Year 6, I think she hits the nail on the head so to speak.
‘As a Year 6 teacher, I understand the need to assess the growth and development of children’s learning however, I don’t think that this should be at the expense of their well-being. The Year 6 SATs process reduces a child’s identity to a statistic. It does not take account of the daily challenges and struggles that many children overcome, before any learning can take place. From a teacher’s perspective, I think too much emphasis is placed on data and statistical analysis at such a young age. Despite any efforts to deliver an over burdensome curriculum in a fun and exciting way, children are at risk of being ‘burnt out’ or ‘switched off’ from education, making any future learning even more of a challenge.’
- Heaton (Y6 Teacher)
Isn’t the health and well-being of our future generations of more worth to us than whether or not they can multiply fractions and use the passive voice? This question led me to consider a primary education without SATs, an interesting question indeed which prompted even more discussion with colleagues.
‘If SATs were removed from schools then children would leave primary education as much more rounded individuals with better social skills and without the fear of failure.’
- Cunliffe (Deputy Headteacher)
I’m yet to meet a person who isn’t afraid of failing, as adults we strive to achieve whilst our children sit in classrooms all over the nation and attempt to battle down the daily torrents of a regime which ultimately many of them are told they aren’t good enough for.
It’s a long time until my child will reach Year 6 age and I hope that in the meantime education in primary schools is rewritten by people who have lovingly taught for many years, people who have experienced immense challenges, people who have battled against the voice inside that tries with all its might to convince us that we ‘can’t’. And most importantly, people who care about more than just a statistic, people who are enthusiastic about teaching and learning and above all else, people who believe that our children deserve so much more than this.
As a parent, I challenge the title of this article and instead question – what actually is the importance of SATs and why do they have a role in primary education? As of this very minute, I’m yet to hear a convincing enough answer to justify their being in any school, for any child, anywhere.
As a teacher, well, see the above.