13th May 2016: SATs week: where I am judged on whether I have sufficiently taught to the test

This week around the country our 10 and 11 year olds have been sitting their KS2 SATs, a test which arguably means more to teachers, schools and governments than it actually does to the children themselves. Hang on though…don’t we chastise those children and parents if the SATs aren’t the be-all-and-end-all of a child’s primary education?

I have been a year 6 teacher, and I have also been a Head of English in a secondary school, coaching, coaxing and doing whatever I can to make Year 11 realise the importance of their GCSE results. Those are exams that do matter. They are asked for in nearly all job applications and interviews; be prepared to be judged all your life on that set of results.

I was lucky (a word that most core subject teachers and leaders are unlikely to use given the marking the subject generates) because all teenagers understand that their English results are some of the most important. Don’t get me wrong- the amount of times I had to listen to complaints that studying Shakespeare was pointless, or that writing a description of the beach was a monumental waste of time (if only they had used that phrase, I would have at least been impressed by their choice of language instead of having to interpret a series of grunts that only serve as proof that not all of us have evolved over time!) However, I was able to get even the most disengaged young people to do their best.

But the KS2 SATs- what are they?

Yes- it may be important to determine how much progress a child has made since they started school. Yes- basics in grammar, reading and mathematics are to be encouraged. Yes- it is important that we don’t all rely on spell check every time we write something. I don’t think anybody would argue that those things need to be taught. But at what expense?

When I was in Year 6, creativity was minimal. We did practice tests every half term. Some days children only had one hour doing something other than maths and English, and even then they were pulled from their PE lessons to do catch up sessions. We would lose our tempers (well I certainly did) when the children no longer wanted to sit most of the day quietly.

I personally struggled with it. I am a creative person, but also someone who values education. For me though, education is more than just maths and English, and the promises made that after SATs lessons would become more enjoyable wasn’t enough. I would squeeze in a ten minute art lesson, or decorate my classroom, so that when the children came in the following day there was something to distract them. I was there until 8pm one night, creating Dracula’s castle and the kids loved it. Sitting reading part of the story in a black cape and with fake blood dripping from the corner of my mouth, I remember thinking this is it. This is what primary education should be. But it was a façade; we still had to follow the strict timetable.

Reforms are part of our education system. I don’t know about you, but I am waiting for the one where a rounded education is not only encouraged, but implemented on a daily basis. Because at the end of the day, those Year 6 students are still children.

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