It looks as though testing in primary schools may be changing once again, with the abolition of SATS at Key Stage 1.
Almost a year ago, my son was due to sit the new-style SATS tests and I was one of the thousands of parents who took part in the Kids Strike in protest. Although so many people around the country stood up for their beliefs that day, the numbers were clustered in very small groups and many of us felt alone in taking a stance. In fact, I was the only one in my son’s school who did it.
Some said they would have taken part in the strike, but had to work. Others said they didn’t see the problem with the tests. Others just didn’t answer the call to action.
Many people, even now, can’t see the problem. Their school are very good at making it low key, they say. The kids don’t even know they’re being tested, they say. But let me tell you what the problem is. For a whole year, children are coached towards these tests. This is how a school’s performance is measured; well it’s the first part of it anyway (they are actually measured on how each child has progressed from the results of the KS1 SATS to the tests taken at the end of year 6).
For almost the entire of Year Two, the children do test after test, being taught in such a way that all they are really gaining is how to sit them. Teachers across the country agree it’s at the expense of creativity, free thinking and an opportunity to ‘teach’ the children in a way that is appropriate to their age group.
My son didn’t suffer any stress last year, and yes, the school kept things low key. But that doesn’t mean the teachers weren’t under pressure to get the children up to the national average standards. There were projects and school trips too, but the vast majority of the work was geared towards these tests.
Year Two is not dissimilar to what some children go through in Year Five when they study for the 11 plus exam (sat at the beginning of year 6). Year Five is a time to focus on exam technique and repeat, repeat, repeat. Other things take a back seat during this time.
For children aged seven to have to go through this exact same process is just wrong. Teaching, I believe, should be done in such a way the children don’t even realise they’re being taught. That’s why I went on strike last May, despite feeling like I was the only one who cared (nationally, I wasn’t, I know that, but like I said, at my son’s school I was very much alone).
I’m not against standards being raised in schools or children being taught grammar.
The thing is, I don’t remember being taught it myself, I just know it. Why is that? I know where to put full stops, commas, apostrophes, colons and semi colons. I know how to construct sentences and yet, there were elements of the Year Six SAT papers I couldn’t answer because I didn’t know the correct terms. I could only just about keep up with the Year Two ones.
I might not remember being taught grammar at junior school, but what I do remember was spending a year learning about the Victorians. During that time, we apparently did maths, English, project work, geography and any other subject we needed to cover, all under that same umbrella. It never once felt like work, but I must have learned something other than who Victoria’s children were! Perhaps it was like a process of osmosis whereby the information moved into my brain without me even realising it. That’s how it should be.
It seems fitting to be re-visiting this subject almost a year later to find the tests might be changing. The plan is to do some sort of assessment at Reception age. My only hope is that there isn’t too much focus on this group as they make their first tentative steps into the ‘big school’ world. I know it’s important to assess progress, it’s how it’s managed that’s the most important thing. There are so many ‘experts’ out there. Surely they can get this right between them.