This week, hundreds of thousands of Year Six children will be sitting their SATs exams across the UK. At 10 or 11 years-old, they will be feeling the pressure and strain of exam conditions, having spent weeks revising the compulsory elements of English and maths that they will be assessed on. However, how can the Government’s baseline primary assessments possibly reflect the potential of children at such a young age?
My daughter is one of the many who has this week taken a lucky mascot into school, to sit on her desk as she tries her very best with the “quizzes” she is being forced to undertake. Like thousands of others, I suspect, she is nervous about what the papers will include and uncomfortable working in exam conditions. She has worked so hard, and we are so proud of her, but I just can’t help but feel that this is unnecessary pressure, and an outdated way of measuring progress.
Pressure versus progress
The SATs assess progress against national standards in English and Maths, but they don’t touch on the myriad of other subjects, interests and talents that primary age children have. While, of course, I accept that English and Maths are vital – especially as they make the progression from primary to secondary school – I would also argue that a child’s creativity, their sporting ability, their musicality, their passions and their interests are equally as important.
But the SATs ignore all of that, narrowly focussing on two core subjects and condensing all of a child’s learning over their primary years into a simple score; 100 and they’ve met the standard, anything below and they haven’t.
In this day and age, it amazes me that there isn’t a more age appropriate way of assessing how much a child has learned during their primary years or, indeed, how a primary school is performing. Surely it must be possible to take into account the different ways children learn and the different ways they demonstrate learning, whether it’s through the stories they write, the art they create, the drama they perform, the music they play or the ingenuity they display in the classroom?
I understand that, as with any public service, it is important to measure the performance of our schools. But how can league tables – based on SATs scores alone – tell us anything about how teachers teach and the lengths they go to, to help and encourage our children?
Not every child is gifted at English and maths, but rather than focussing their attentions on those that are, great teachers help those that aren’t to progress to a level that demonstrates growth and accomplishment, even if their SATs scores end up below 100. Again, a score and a position in a league table won’t demonstrate this to anyone.
Where’s the creativity?
But most importantly, what are children getting out of SATs? You could argue that exam practice at a young age is a good thing, it gives them some idea of the seriousness of secondary school. However, I would also argue that this is all causing young children unnecessary stress and anxiety, and potentially depriving them of time in the classroom on subjects other than English and maths.
As a journalist by trade, I am all for ensuring that standards of English are high, but I also want to ensure that children have the opportunity to be creative whenever they can. And creativity can take so many different forms. So, while I accept that knowing your nouns from your verbs and your adverbs from your pronouns is important, I’d also argue that having time to just write, for writing’s sake – without worrying about the technicalities – is vital.
Mind you, when it comes to fronted adverbials, does anyone really need to know what they are and when to use them?
Regardless of the outcome of this week’s SATs, they won’t define the future of any of the brilliant Year 6 children doing them. Indeed, the most important thing to consider this week will be what celebratory, end of SATs treats parents across the country should be giving their superstar 10 year-olds on Friday evening. And, for the teachers, what type of gin to put in their very much deserved gin and tonics.