As the Easter fortnight draws to a close and teachers step up their preparations for the Summer term we’ve been hearing reports of Year 6 children going into school every morning for at least the past week in order to cram and revise for their upcoming SATs tests. This is disturbing, and ought to be properly investigated. How many schools operate in this way? For how long? Has every Year 6 child in those schools been involved, or only the ‘borderline’ ones?
For whose benefit is this being done – the children or the schools? We’ve come to realise that many parents and children have been convinced by their schools that these tests are now more high stakes than ever and are now pass/fail tests – with who knows what consequences for the children? Naturally those children and parents are suffering a great deal of unnecessary anxiety. Many family holidays will have been cancelled or spoiled.
The reality is that no child will be unable to go to a secondary school that has already offered them a place as a consequence of “failing” their Year 6 tests. It’s true many children will feel “branded” a failure, with very damaging effects on their confidence and self-esteem. For this reason we’ve been advocating for a very long time the abolition of these timed and externally published tests. But it should be clear that the tests are for the benefit of those who see them as a measure of school “performance”, and not for the benefit of children or of schools, many of which already use sophisticated tracking systems to monitor pupil progress. They certainly don’t rely on a one-off test whose scores aren’t available until the children have already left the school.
An important driver of education policy for the past twenty years has been the notion that every child is capable of getting at least five A to C passes at 16+ if only they are driven hard enough at Primary school to achieve government-imposed academic targets (and if schools are made to suffer the consequences of any failure to reach those arbitrary targets.) Labour’s David Blunkett was the first exponent of this idea (“There can be no excuses for failure” etc) and he pursued it with the use of a beefed-up Ofsted led by Chris Woodhead and with the publication of league tables and a “naming and shaming” strategy. A succession of Secretaries of State for education have maintained this approach.
This was where disillusionment began to set in for many in the teaching profession, whilst others began to build their careers on support for this regime and on their apparent ability to achieve the targets, in some cases heedless of the cost to children and teachers.
So here we are again, with a Secretary of State for education who has no experience of teaching or of leading schools but who says more high stakes tests are needed (for those who “fail” the SATs) to ensure all children are “secondary ready” and will therefore be able to reach the target of five A to C grades in their GCSEs.
Do we still need to say this idea is completely bogus – linking the achievement of a Level 4 “pass” at the age of eleven to getting C grades or above at GCSE? Of course there’s correlation – we’d expect that. (Clearly many children who struggle to do well in tests at the age of eleven will also struggle at the age of sixteen.) But there is no causality. (Children don’t do well in GCSEs as a result of doing well in KS2 SATs) There are many factors that impact on progress in secondary schools that are of far more significance than the failure to score more than Level 3A in a timed test by the age of eleven. Living in poverty for one. Having educational special needs for another. Does Nicky Morgan really not understand this?
We suggest Ms Morgan reads some of the blog posts that were published this week (in response to her announcement about making children re-sit SATs) and we hope she takes some time to reflect on their contents.
“Mediocre Failures” by Disappointed Idealist – “Ranting from the chalkface”
“Testing Without Brains” by Debra Kidd – “Love Learning”
“Testing and Re-testing . . . and forgetting the individual child” by 3D Eye
A very short anecdote. Two students aged eighteen, a boy and a girl, went back to visit their old Primary headteacher. They very proudly let him know that they were about to start a Fine Art degree at university. They joked about their struggles at Primary school to master the demands of maths and English, and in particular the skills needed to do well in their SATs. (In fact they had both scored below Level 4) They also talked about a love of art and design that had been developed in Primary school, and the opportunities they’d had to be creative in various ways, as well as the many visits they’d made with the school to art galleries and museums. The boy had arrived in London at the age of eight, speaking next to no English, with a mother who’d fled from the wars in former Yugoslavia. (In the early days he’d found it difficult to adjust to school life and needed much behavioural support) The girl had been born into a family that had no tradition of academic success, and whilst very loving and caring with their children the parents had no particular expectations for academic success, especially when it became apparent that their daughter had difficulty in coping with the demands of maths and English. In spite of these difficulties both children retained their sense of curiosity and a love of learning. They enjoyed school. They also developed very healthy levels of self-esteem and self-confidence since their Primary school had chosen to work with them on their strengths as well as their weaknesses. Even if they hadn’t gone on to university these young people would still have been successful in life and successful as lifelong learners. And in spite of not reaching Level 4 in tests by the age of eleven they never once considered themselves as “failing”, and never once felt “mediocre”.
Possibly the most pernicious element in all of these announcements is the notion that a child who attains Level 3A in a timed test is illiterate and/or innumerate. Politicians have been saying this is so for years, and most people have no idea that 3A is the level that most adults operate at in their day to day lives.
Obviously we’d like all children to achieve the highest possible levels of literacy and numeracy, and with good teaching in these subjects throughout secondary school most children will make excellent progress. The key is having good teachers who are able to match learning to children’s needs – whatever their level of achievement by the age of eleven, and particularly in English and maths.
We can’t really blame schools for bringing in their Year 6 children throughout the Easter holidays, especially when the school’s standing and even its survival may be at stake – thanks to the high stakes tests and the publication of league tables. But it doesn’t have to be like this. And it shouldn’t.
Some Mumsnet views – “by parents for parents”