I am a teacher and I don’t want my children sitting Sats exams

New Delhi, May 06, 2018: The Sats – a British stand testing system which children take twice during their academic lives – are a quality control measure to ensure that at the end of Key Stages 1 and 2 (Years 2 and 6) parents can be informed about how their children are progressing and the effectiveness of schools can be compared to national averages.

This sounds pretty good and is comforting for parents. Let’s face it – although we put our little ones into the hands of professionals five days a week, umpteen weeks a year, by the time they have moved through the early stages of education, our grip on how they are doing loosens. We have to trust that our children are somehow moving in a direction that is likely to reap rewards in year 11.

Parents’ evenings and reports help to keep us posted, but as a secondary school teacher, I know that glazed look well: there are things that parents do not understand and they trust teachers to get it right.
Sats enable schools to attach a number to a child that a parent can loosely understand. If in year six a child gets a five then they are a success story. If (heaven forbid) the number is a two then that child has flopped according to reports published in independent.co.uk

But before the celebrations or commiserations are handed out to seven and 11-year-olds who are the successes or failures in a numbers game, a lot has gone on behind the scenes. I don’t just mean that parents have worried themselves sick (“as long as you have done your best, it doesn’t matter”) or that the number of primary children diagnosed with stress (don’t get me started on the teachers) is creeping up to record levels.

When children come to me in year seven, most have forgotten what they learnt in year six – because it was learnt purely to pass an exam. Facts have passed into short-term memory and out of it again like the soul trickling out of a lesson. This doesn’t matter: I don’t care if children can convert a sentence into a progressive form or tell a determiner from a subordinating conjunction – especially when some of them are still unable to apply a full stop correctly. What matters is they come to language with an open heart and with confidence. They are only children, after all.

Any successful learner has a growth mindset. They have not been taught that learning is about failure and success, but know instead that learning is about progression on a personal journey. This leaves the doorway open for any child to be a success. A growth mindset is rocket fuel for the mind and it isn’t achieved by tugging children up a mountain which has a number waiting for them at the top.

A growth mindset is what I wanted for my daughter when I pulled her out of state education to avoid Sats (call me a “scab” if you will) and it is what I want for my son who will not be sitting Sats when his time comes.

Will it matter for them? No. Sats data from primary school will be absorbed into other data at secondary level and teachers will generate their own predictions for him based on their own testing. Can children get an excellent grade at GCSE if they were absent on the day of their Sats? I think so.

Don’t for a single moment think that I’m criticising primary school teachers – these powerhouses of creativity and resilience will try, try and try again to get their children through Sats with meaningful and joyful lessons – but they have to teach to tests nevertheless. I’m not criticising testing per se, either. I simply trust teachers to incorporate their own, meaningful testing into their teaching.

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