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NFER - Tests for Years 1-6

“This Is Not Education – This Is Spoon-Feeding”

We need to ditch SATs tests, do away with punitive accountability measures and start seeing children in the round, argues Madeleine Holt...

  • “This Is Not Education – This Is Spoon-Feeding”

Last summer a quarter of the children in my son’s year group were in tears after taking the KS2 SATs reading paper.

These children had been brilliantly prepared for the tests by their teachers, and the school had been rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, so it’s not as if the students felt pressure to deliver for the sake of their school’s future.

This brief story tells you that something has gone very wrong with primary assessment in England. SATs are too hard and children see them as too important, hence they are becoming increasingly anxious about them.

And because they are the principal way of judging a school, teachers are having to push creativity aside and teach to the test.

This is not education, this is spoon-feeding. The tests are too narrow. As we all know from our experiences as both teachers and parent, children are so much more than this.

Disaffected voters

These are the key reasons why 11 organisations have come together to create the More than a Score coalition.

Now’s the time for parents, mental health specialists, heads, teachers and academics to join forces and argue the case for why SATs and other current forms of primary assessment must be suspended for 2017.

What we need is an expert and independent review – rather than the government-led one we’ve been promised – into how we can assess children in fairer way and hold schools to account via means other than test scores.

What’s significant about More than a Score is the involvement of parents’ groups. Among those on board are Let Our Kids be Kids, which led the first ever ‘Kids’ Strike’ in May of this year, and Rescue Our Schools – a broad-ranging campaign that I helped set up in the wake of the March 2016 White Paper.

There are nearly 14 million households in England with dependent children, so the government would do well to take note of our involvement. Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles are all affected when a single child becomes unhappy at school. That’s a lot of voters – increasingly disaffected voters.

The wellbeing of children is becoming a major issue, and the government can only ignore it for so long. The highly confident children we’ve seen in tears after taking the reading paper are just one part of the story.

There are the children who don’t want to go to school in the first place, who feel like failures the moment they step into a classroom; those with special educational needs, who miss the fun lessons for endless booster sessions; those whose talents in other areas don’t count for anything when it comes to SATs.

And let’s not forget that nearly half of all 11-year-olds were told in July 2016 that they were not secondary school ready. They had a six-week holiday to mull over that, and get increasingly worried about big school and whether they would cope.

Alienating a generation

What civilised country treats children in this way? We ignore their experiences at our peril. We risk alienating a generation of children from education. They are a ticking timebomb. They will not forget what is being done to them, and nor should they.

More than a Score is a positive movement for change. We are not against tests per se – it is all about the context. We expect our teachers to assess our children continuously, so that they can plan for them to progress. Tests have a part to play in this, but they don’t have to be national tests.

The government also sees tests as a way of judging schools, but it seems plain daft to argue that high scores mean high standards. As long as it’s possible to prepare children for SATs tests factory-style, the results will be largely meaningless. Why else would secondary schools do their own tests on transition?

It is similarly obvious that test scores are closely related to a school’s socioeconomic intake. Schools could be judged more effectively through peer review and an informed inspectorate that doesn’t rely on test results to form its judgements. National standards could be continuously reviewed by testing only a sample of children each year, without them having the chance to prepare, as is currently done in Scotland and New Zealand.

Standards matter

I, like many parents, have got to a point where I am tired of England’s top-down, reductionist and punitive approach and its effects on education and young children’s lives. It seems a poor preparation for the challenges that lie ahead, both in secondary school and the difficult wider world they will have to navigate as adults.

Students need an education that encourages them to question and to think creatively. How else will Britain punch above its weight post-Brexit?

SATS are useless. They are a shoddy way of judging students and schools, and are having an increasingly toxic effect.

We all agree that standards matter – by which I mean that we want the highest quality education for our children. But test scores don’t guarantee that. A broad, imaginative curriculum delivered by happy and well-qualified teachers does.

Our children are so much more than just a score. They deserve better – and now.

Madeleine Holt runs the social enterprise Meet the Parents and is a co-founder of the independent, parents’ campaign group Rescue Our Schools

For more information about the More Than a Score coalition, visit morethanascore.co.uk or follow @MoreThanScore

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