For the past few months, our children in Year 6 have been preparing for SATs. These end of year assessments test children’s abilities in arithmetic, mathematical reasoning, spelling, reading comprehension and grammar.
The results of these tests will be published and our school and children ranked against the performances of children in other schools. Local Authorities around the country will publish the saddest little premier league of the year. Schools, teachers and children will all be judged accordingly.
The results have little impact on a child’s future, but can have lasting consequences for the school. A school which underperforms might prompt a surprise Ofsted inspection, or deter parents from applying for a place for their child at that school.
Parents might become concerned that their child will be pushed more academically at other schools that are higher up on the tables, and start exploring their options. These rather drastic consequences can come down to a ten or eleven year old child not being able to recall the difference between varying conjunctions, or getting one answer right, or quoting the text incorrectly in some of the most pressurised situations of their young lives.
With so much emphasis placed on how children perform for a handful of mornings in May, schools can be forced to ensure that children know the grammar curriculum like the back of their hand, and are able to multiply and divide fractions in a timely fashion. This type of knowledge based assessment means that children have to be drilled in the curriculum and the art of answering ‘exam’ style questions, all of which comes at a substantial cost – time. A lot of it.
We endeavour to find ways to hide those vegetables as the saying goes. Creating games and quizzes, outdoor activities and collaborative tasks, because that’s what we do as teachers, we try to make the learning as joyful and as memorable as we can. But ultimately, saddled with these tests and the vast burgeoning curriculum filled with terminology that can make one’s eyes water, there can be little choice but to resort to tried and trusted methods: skill & drill sessions followed by practice tests. Rinse. Repeat.
So, how do we counter balance these demands with what we hold dear as educators?
By holding on to the very simple idea of school in the first place – give us your children, and we will help you prepare them for the world.
It’s very difficult to know what that will look like by the time our current Year 6 are fully fledged adults, taking their first tentative steps into the world of work. It’s difficult to know what areas of technical expertise that our children will need to develop when technology and culture move at such a bewildering pace.
But we can see what skills helped people regardless of the age and development of society. We need people who can be creative, who can problem solve, and who can work with others, who can adapt to new situations and technologies; people who see technology as a tool to create and inform, rather than as a pacifier.
We need people who can be resilient and caring. We need people who can question the established thinking of our society, and be determined to push for progress and fairness in how we treat each other.
Our children are amazing. They frequently surprise and delight us with their abilities in a wide range of disciplines, with the quality of their ideas and opinions, and with their empathy and resilience. These are the things we wish to celebrate and cultivate. Developing these skills also takes time, and because of the national focus on results and statistics, we have less of it, and that’s a crying shame.
There’s no league tables published to display just how extraordinary our children are as young people, just figuring out the possibilities of the world we live in. But if we are to hold schools accountable for anything, and we should, there is an argument that these are the qualities which we as a society should value.