SATS; a good idea gone bad?

Like many households up and down the land, we are preparing for SATS tests. In our case, it is Helen, our eldest daughter who will sit the Key Stage 1 tests at some point this month.

Pressure, SATS, Standards and Testing Agency, education, KS1, Key Stage 1,

In theory I don’t have a problem with SATS. In practice, however, there seems to be a lot of pressure in the education system and I don’t trust some schools to handle it appropriately. Pic credit below.

My knee-jerk reaction is to oppose the tests. These kids are so young it just seems wrong. several of her classmates won’t be seven until August and they just don’t need the stress of sitting formal tests.

This, however, is only part of the story. As parents we need to know that schools are performing and that we are helping and supporting our children with their education. The obvious method of achieving this is through testing.

As far as I am concerned, it’s the teachers who are being tested, not the kids. I don’t have a problem with this. In fact I think school assessment, up to a point, is a very good idea.

If I think back to my own school days, I had to tolerate some horrendous teachers. Okay okay, I’m thinking more about teachers at secondary than primary school. Even so, thorough, hardcore testing would hopefully have weeded out some of these uncaring, uninspiring individuals and kept them away from children they shouldn’t have been allowed near in the first place. I am, nonetheless, leading up to but.

The but it this. I was, for one academic year, a Local Authority appointed school governor at a nearby primary school. We’re going back almost a decade. At the time I was taken aback at the amount of ongoing assessment teachers faced. There seemed to be a never-ending stream of paperwork and it did seem like there was too much of it.

The newly introduced (…some would say muddled) Key Stage 1 SATS will add a further Excel spreadsheet to the burden already faced by teachers. These guys need and should be assessed, but I would prefer them to concentrate on teaching than preparing and marking tests. The pendulum was too far in the wrong direction a decade ago. If anything it’s gone further.

This brings me on to the pressure faced by the children. At my daughter’s school, I trust the teachers. Helen gets on very well at the school. She’s inspired by her learning and she enjoys it. The teachers aren’t telling the kids they are sitting Key Stage 1 tests. The tests will simply be incorporated into the school day.

Part of the reason my wife and I were so keen on this school is that it takes a holistic approach to education. Learning is made fun and enjoyable and the children are encouraged to build a school community. It’s the kind of environment that Helen thrives in.

I’m not overly concerned about my daughter’s school. It’s other schools that worry me. If I think back to the days when Mrs Adams and I were doing the rounds, visiting school open mornings so we could decide what school would best suit Helen, we had one particularly bad experience.

We were visiting one establishment which we’d have had a very good chance of getting our daughter into. It was a school that boasted its own swimming pool and that had recently had some building work done to it (building work that, in my opinion, left it looking like the entrance to some third-rate league one football club, but that’s just my opinion). This was the ‘it’ school; the one that many local parents were battling to get their offspring into.

Mrs Adams and I wanted to be impressed. We already had a good idea which option would be best for our child. Even so, we wanted our perceptions to be challenged to ensure we were making the correct decision.

The head teacher left us with such a poor impression it simply confirmed our choice. The guy was obsessed with league tables and performance and informed us we’d be “lucky” to get our child into his school. You won’t be surprised to hear we left this one off the application form, largely because we wanted our child to receive an education that was rounded and inspiring and encouraged creative thinking, not simply to be part of a system churning league table statistics.

As an aside, it didn’t escape our attention that numerous children were being taught on their own in the school’s corridors. Why were they there? Were these children with special educational needs statements whose performance needed to be improved for the benefit of the head teacher’s statistics? Were they simply struggling and being segregated so their performance could be improved? It was very odd and I’ve never seen this happen anywhere else.

When it comes to SATS, what is happening at schools like this? I dread to think what pressure the teachers are under. This, in turn, is bound to be forced upon the children.

I’ve a particular concern about what’s happening at the academies. Some of them have a dreadful reputation for piling pressure on teaching staff. This has to filter down to the kids. Let’s not forget we’re talking about children who are just six years old.

I’ll admit it, my own thoughts are somewhat confused and contradictory. I’ve no problem with SATS per se. I would like to know how my daughter is performing. Aside from anything else, the results will be a clear sign whether we are doing enough to support her learning at home. I’m also in favour of teachers being assessed. Education is so vital I want the poorly performing teachers to either re-train or leave the profession.

SATS tests seem to be a sign the education system in England has become incredibly fractured between the ever-more complicated array of schools. It strikes me the SATS aren’t wrong, more that the school system is in desperate need of attention.

Pic credit; Pete Birkinshaw. Reproduced under Creative Commons agreement.

Mummuddlingthrough

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20 Comments

  1. Nigel higgins
    May 3, 2016 / 6:30 am

    Excellent post John a school that is only concerned with stats is no go for me too. We are lucky that the catchment school for the girls performs brilliantly, but and this is the biggest plus for me like you its friendly and fun and the headmistress has built a lovey atmosphere and children appear happy most important for us thanks for sharing
    Nige

    • John Adams
      Author
      May 4, 2016 / 5:40 am

      A friendly and constructive atmosphere for young kids is, frankly, everything. Get it wrong in those first couple of years and you’ll put kids off education for life. That’s what really worried my wife and I about the school I mentioned above and also concerns us about SATS. SATS aren’t such a big deal at my daughter’s school but at some institutions kids are clearly being pushed far too hard.

  2. May 3, 2016 / 6:32 am

    I am limited in what I can say but my questions, especially this year is this……

    You state the results will give you a clear sign if you are doing enough to support her, a lot of parents will be thinking the same but with the new grading and no targets set at present do you really know how well your daughter is performing now and if she is making a good level of progress based on SATs results?

    • John Adams
      Author
      May 4, 2016 / 5:38 am

      A very good point. Essentially this year we will be relying entirely on the teacher assessing the kids and getting it right. In my daughters case she has an experienced teaching team so I think they will grade her appropriately. You’re quite correct though, there’s every chance without other data to fall back on, this year is a bit of a gamble.

  3. May 3, 2016 / 6:36 am

    Excellent post. It’s all about the school. Our daughter in year two doesn’t even know she’s doing SATS as the school manages it so well.
    As for the so called Kids Strike I’ve just seen on Sky News the mind boggles!

    • John Adams
      Author
      May 4, 2016 / 5:36 am

      Yeah, I’m not sure where I sit with the kids’ strike. If a school has really pressurised the kids I can imagine some parents would want to keep the kids out of school. I’m not sure it sends out quite the correct message though. Anyway, the depth of feeling is understandable, especially for KS1 SATS.

  4. papa tont
    May 3, 2016 / 7:24 am

    Really interesting post John and one that will be emotive for very different reasons. You’ll have the camp that strongly oppose testing and the camp that wholeheartedly support them. I agree that school should be about the entire learning experience not just about test results but unfortunately it doesn’t stop at school. Targets and benchmarks are part of our entire lives, at school, at work, at home. Whether it’s an exam result, a level of education requirement, quarterly return, or budget threshold, we are governed by the measurable result not just how we feel about the process. I do think that too much pressure is placed on creating too many tests, at too many stages of our lives, but it is the only empirical way of measuring progress. I think the kids should only go through three sets of tests: 11yo; 16yo; 18yo. Everything else should be left to the teacher discretion, but this leaves us open to the ability and enthusiasm of the teacher.

    • John Adams
      Author
      May 4, 2016 / 5:34 am

      Interesting point Tony, children will always be tested so they have to get used to it. In fact I saw a comment on twitter yesterday from the mum of a teenaged girl about to sit her GCSEs. The daughter had commented she was relaxed about he exams because SATS had prepared her for it. Even so, I simply don’t trust some head teachers to get the balance correct.

  5. May 3, 2016 / 8:14 am

    Great post! We’re at several stages with our children currently. One will begin nursery in September and another is doing her Year 6 SATs. It infuriates me that schools are getting it so wrong. Educational is up there with the most important things in a young persons life, if not the most important, yet the education system is appalling. Luckily our children will eventually all go to XP. School Doncaster which is an innovative project based learning high school and their ideas are fantastic. We already have the eldest there. However, our youngest still has to get through all the rest first. Unless we take the plunge and home educate. You’re right, there needs to be some form of testing to make sure children are learning, but surely there’s a stress free easier way to do this. Kids as early as 6 being tested is everything that’s wrong with this countries ethos.

    • John Adams
      Author
      May 4, 2016 / 5:32 am

      Quite right David, but it seems to be quite a recent thing. I may be wrong, but our present Government seems obsessed with the Chinese school system. My understanding is that system produces excellent exam results, but individuals who are very poor at independent, creative thought. There may be no ideal answer, but constant, never ending assessment stops education being fun for children and teachers alike.

  6. May 4, 2016 / 1:58 am

    I think these tests can be useful as a means to identify which teaching methods in which subjects seem to be successful and which aren’t. They also are a means to identify which students are falling behind and which may be able to handle a harder curriculum. Unfortunately I don’t think that is what happens and you end up with over stressed teachers and students worried about their school’s funding if they perform badly. I’m not familiar with how it works in the UK, but that’s what’s happened here in the States and I think its a mistake.

  7. May 5, 2016 / 12:28 pm

    Excellent post and interesting debate. I think the problem comes when the SATS results are used as part of the teacher’s assessment – it’s not a fair reflection on the teaching, each teacher is not dealing with the same raw material. The teaching could be excellent, but results might still not be as good as the results from another school, for many many different reasons. From my point of view there is too much testing of the current generation, throughout their school life – fine at key milestones, but it seems to me to be neverending compared to what I experienced in school (and I was part of the first year group to go through the Year 6 and then Year 9 SATs) #coolmumclub

    • John Adams
      Author
      May 10, 2016 / 10:53 am

      Too many tests and too much pressure on kids and teachers alike. it doesn’t make for a good atmosphere. Thanks for commenting.

  8. May 5, 2016 / 5:23 pm

    I think my sons school are handling it really well. Like yours, the children are not even aware it is a test. The teachers are not using the results to assess the children, They look at the much bigger picture. It’s a shame the government don’t listen to teachers more. #CoolMumsClub

    • John Adams
      Author
      May 10, 2016 / 10:51 am

      The DfE really does seem to be on the war path and I don’t like the sudden curriculum changes. Not a good time to be a teacher.

  9. May 5, 2016 / 7:47 pm

    Completely agree. It’s not the tests themselves, but the increasing pressure on teaching staff for the school to be ‘performing well’. In my opinion, over the last decade or so education has become way too focused on assessments – the current government seem obsessed by it, and there’s no way of denying that this pressure will eventually filter down to the children and affect their school experience.

    • John Adams
      Author
      May 10, 2016 / 10:49 am

      It’s a really worrying time ot have kids in the education system. The best teachers are bound to leave. We can but hope for a change of direction in the DfE. It has to happen in time.

  10. May 6, 2016 / 1:31 pm

    I really don’t like the way that the way the education system is currently piling on the pressure on the teachers – the system has become absolutely obsessed with it, and I worry that this means that other things will fall to the side as a result. Tough times. Thanks for linking up this thought provoking post to #coolmumclub

    • John Adams
      Author
      May 10, 2016 / 10:43 am

      Yeah, teachers are under huge pressure. I’e no problem with them being assessed, but it needs to be in proportion.