Tuesday, 3 May 2016

SATs Debate; Testing in Moderation

Child writing with title overlaid. Every SATs season, there is more debate over the necessity of testing in schools, particular in the lower year groups, and whether it puts too much pressure on pupils. Parents are concerned about the effects of formal exam conditions on their children's stress levels, as well as the increasing demands of the new curriculum. With some seriously difficult and demanding grammar questions added to the mix, there is even more potential for problems this year. So, is testing really necessary and, if so, how much and under what circumstances? Do children need to 'learn' to cope under exam conditions from such a young age? 

For what it's worth, I believe there is a need for testing in schools. Without evidence of pupil's learning, how can we find out what works and what doesn't? It would be lovely if teachers could work out individual education plans for each child, based on where they are academically, and, to a point, they do. Teachers do know their pupils and they do set individual targets for them, to keep them motivated and ensure they can see their own progress and work towards personal goals. However, those chikldren are taught in a class of up to 30 others, all with different levels and abilities. Tracking of the group as a whole is vital. Where children are learning as a class, those responsible for running the school; the Governors, the Head and the senior staff, all need to be sure that the strategies implemented for that class are working and everyone is making progress and no one is bored or getting left behind. Tracking pupils' progress is also important for their journey through school life. Knowing what that child knows, helps their next teacher, or school, know where to place them educationally. Without that information, they might miss vital building blocks in their education that will cause them big problems when they reach GCSE level. The most important reason of all, though, above everything else, is one of pride. Teachers, children and parents work hard all year round and why shouldn't all their efforts be quantified in some way, to show what they've achieved? Presented in the right way, testing could provide an important resource for pupils to draw confidence and self belief from. 

Pencils, pens, sharpener, eraser

That's what it's all about though. How these tests are presented. Yes, we need a way to track pupils' progress and ensure they are learning at an appropriate level and getting any support they may need, but, does it need to be structured, formal 'exam' type testing? I don't think so. The emphasis on results-based league tables has caused the Government to become increasingly obsessed with numbers, but our children are not numbers. They are children. Therefore, they should be constantly encouraged and rewarded for their efforts. The self esteem they build up at primary level will be the one thing that gives them the ability to tackle the wider world of secondary education when the time comes. It will be the foundation upon which they form their lasting opinions of education in general and how they fit into it. Their educational ability should be measured in ways that show progress from where they were to where they are now. That's what's important, not how they compare to another pupil, or even another school. It's not difficult to see that all children are different; learn at different rates and cope with situations differently. All formal exams tell you in the case of primary children is how they perform under stress and how much they can recall, on one particular day, under those conditions. By changing the way we test children, we can change the whole focus of the testing system and make it into something more positive. In the main, our teachers are doing an amazing job under difficult circumstances, teaching a curriculum that gets more and more demanding with each passing Education Minister. Smaller tests, over the course of the year, integrated into the school day, would show progress, without culminating in enormous stress and potential failure for pupils. They could become part of school life, so that no one is fazed by them. It's important to monitor progress, it's even worthwhile learning to cope with failure, but not on this level, at this age. it's too much too soon.

Read my last post about education here; How to Complain about your Child's School

Green school railings

Bubbablue and me school days linky


  1. Well written post Lucy, and I'm in total agreement with you.

    I didn't learn grammar in the way they do nowadays. I don't even recall learning what a verb and noun was at school, I learnt it from an Usbourne Inspector Noun reference book that my mum bought me...oh and via secondary school french grammar! Has it held me back? No, I got As for my English GCSEs and English A Level as well as studying it for a year as a minor subject for my degree. I am obsessive about grammar and spelling but I know it from reading. We need to inspire more kids to read more, and for parents to support them, but the level of technical grammar knowledge they expect children to have at a young age is ridiculous and therefore the formal testing of that is wrong.

    But yes, we need some sort of assessment to understand how teachers can adapt to their class and to ensure people are reaching the level they need to. What I can't understand is how it's fallen so far compared with in the past. It's got to be down to external conflicting interests of children where previously we'd have been more about reading and non-screen/pop culture interests, respect for teachers and school, and support of parents. I've been listening to it on Jeremy Vine's show today, and they're saying disadvantaged kids are those falling behind. That's not new, but sure that's not about testing, surely that's about ensuring good teaching in those area, interested parents, respect for society/school/teachers by the kids. Put all of those together and any amount of testing isn't going to improve that, it's the rest of the factors that do it.

    Thanks for linking up to #schooldays.

  2. Hear hear!! I can see the merits in a school having methods to keep track of its pupils, it's the too much too soon and at the expense of so much else that gets me. That schools do so much despite the department of education not with or because of it is just desperately sad.

  3. Continuous assessment is so much better than one 'be all and end all' test at the end of the year, as it doesn't accurately reflect much beyond that particular day. Especially at primary level! I was really pleased when SATs were scrapped here in Wales. Children are still tested, but there is much more emphasis on teacher assessment and, of course, our league tables are constructed very differently anyway. x #schooldays

  4. I completely get that levels needs to be assessed in some ways, but not like it is atm. I don't agree that a seven year old should have to worry about being a failure - its too young! My daughter is two years away from her first SATs and I'm dreading it, if I'm honest x

  5. I'd rather not see these tests in primary school and what is worse for me 'teaching for the test'. It should be about getting an education first and measuring progress second, but the government seems to be wanting the measuring at the expense of the education.

  6. I am still of the belief that these are tests to see how well the school is doing. I disagree with tests in primary school, they should be assessed but not formerly tested. My daughter is on the autism spectrum and is being tested alongside other children who are not, she won't do well, she can't cope with tests, but she does know as much as the other children, despite losing 11 months of year 4 due to serious illness.

  7. I don't honestly know what the answer is but it is interesting to read different points of view on this. My kids have both completed their SATs unscathed - at their school they weren't even aware that they were taking the tests. But all the parents were aware and I wonder if some of their reactions had an influence on the overall stress levels and moods of the time?

  8. I went to a private school as a child and I remember learning grammar that they are learning nowadays and I think it is brilliant they are doing it in the midst of all this "text jargon". They are learning our language and that is important. Our school has got it right, the SATS are not stressful, the kids all get to come in early for breakfast and get a party at the end - they even look forward to them as there is no pressure on them to pass

  9. The grammar that kids have to learn before secondary school is beyond even what I had to learn in Uni! It really is THAT. I have no issues with testing and that is what kids should go through, but there is no need for published tables and if the testing is done to plug gaps in education then it needs to be done in Y5 not Y6.

  10. I have a daughter in yr 6 and my twins are in yr 2 so I've had two lots going on this year. My twins don't really have a clue, their class teacher has kept it low key and will test them quietly and not make a fuss. My twins are premature August borns so won't even be 7 until the end of August and I think it's so unfair what they're expected to know. I mean, possessive and omissive apostrophe's? Subordinate clauses? Really? They HAVE grasped much of it though believe it or not because it's been drummed in when they do their phonics in the mornings but it's not necessary. My daughter meanwhile has been practicing for her sats since last term. They've been like robots. Yes she knows her stuff and it's good that she knows so much of the technical side of the English language but the creativity and imagination side has been lost and I think and that's sad.

  11. I think that schools and teachers shouldn't be under so much pressure and also that it's important schools don't pass the stress on...

  12. I think some assessment is needed but I don't know what format is best, I just wish my boys did not have to face such a formal test so young x


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