The SATS have slowly crept up on us, until suddenly they are here.
I have to admit they haven’t really been on my radar that much, and that’s for a few reasons. Firstly, the school haven’t mentioned anything about them. Secondly, Seb is my first child who is old enough to be experiencing them – so it’s not something I’ve dealt with before. And finally, Seb himself has not mentioned anything about them, and to me, that means that he doesn’t actually know they exist. Because when Seb knows about something, he lets you know he knows about it.
Recently though, the SATS came to my attention for a different reason – I noticed a lot of people on social media talking about the Let Kids Be Kids campaign. Thousands of parents, protesting about the SATS by boycotting them completely – taking their kids out of school for the day so that they won’t have to sit the tests.
I can understand this position. I don’t think it’s right for children (or adults, even) of any age to feel pressured, to feel that they are pitted against their peers. I don’t think that blanket testing for the purpose of league tables is really necessary, and I do think that there are better ways of assessing the stage that a child is at – and the things they are doing well with, and the things that might need a little bit more support. In fact, teachers, from what I can see, are doing this every day. They teach, they allow children to explore, they use activities to facilitate learning through doing and they get good results. They check back later with questions and listen and observe to see whether the learning has gone in, or whether it needs a bit more work. They could tell you better than a one day test can what an individual child has achieved, and could achieve.
But that’s not the way it’s done nationally.
What I do know is that if I kept Seb away from school today, he would have questions. He would ask me why he isn’t at school when his sister and his friends are. And if I kept his sister away from school too, and talked to his friends parents and tried to convince them to take their kids out of school too, that would lead to even more questions. And the questions would lead to explaining that schools do tests, and the tests give scores. And that he is being measured, and compared to his friends. And then…more questions. And the realisation, which at the moment has not emerged, that some people are considered ‘better’ than others due to how well they can answer questions on one day.
Whereas, at the moment, it’s not on his radar. Last week, I asked him as I always do ‘how was school today?’
‘Oh’ he said ‘we did some quizzes. I really liked the maths one and it was fun, but English was a bit boring’.
And that was that. He wasn’t bothered by it, it hadn’t upset him, he didn’t realise that the school was gearing him up for the SATS. There is no pressure. It’s no different to him than any other day. If it was, I might feel differently, but the school have kept it all very much a normal part of normal school – which, as with most schools I imagine, does revolve around a bit of assessment and testing pretty much all the time. The spelling tests, the homework, the mental maths, the parents evening reports, the merits system…for Seb, it’s all just another part of that. What wouldn’t be normal is me telling him he can’t go to school, even though it’s a school day.
Equally, it would have an impact on the school. Because it’s not just the kids that are assessed, it’s the school too – on how many kids attend, and how often. Lots of kids missing just that one day of school can have a big effect on attendance figures, and that’s just one more thing for the school to deal with unnecessarily. Seb’s school only recently managed to escape their special measures status and be regraded good, with regular OFSTED visits and close scrutiny hanging over their heads. Not to mention the fact that unauthorised attendance is meant to be notified to the local authority, who may then also issue a fine. Lots more problems for the school, and for the teachers who have worked so hard to turn it all around.
I can see why some parents want to keep their kids away. I can understand that the more parents who boycott, the more impact it is likely to have. I hope for the people who really are against the SATS, who maybe have a difference experience to us, that they are listened to by someone who can take what they are saying and look at a different way of doing things. And perhaps by the time it gets to year six, I might have changed my mind – it depends on Seb and the way the school are dealing with assessment then. But at the moment, I don’t feel like boycotting is the answer…it kind of causes more problems than it could cure for us individually, and as a school. There’s no doubt that the education system needs to be changed, but it isn’t something that will be solved in a day, not today, anyway. I don’t have an answer, but I know for us this isn’t it.
So Seb will be off to sit his SATS tomorrow. And when I ask him, ‘how was school today’, I expect it’ll have something to do with macaroni cheese – for him the most important thing about tomorrow is that it’s ‘week one tuesday’, and that means he gets his favourite food for lunch. A normal response for a normal tuesday. That’s what I’m hoping, anyway.