SATs season is fast approaching and has subsequently reawakened my many thoughts and feelings regarding the subject. I write this as a parent to three children, as well as a Primary School teacher. Two of my children have already been through their Year 2 SATs, and it was a very different experience for both.
My eldest is very bright, academic and, unconventionally, enjoys tests! He had no concerns when it came to taking them, and neither did I at face value. I looked forward to seeing how he got on and it was a smooth experience on the whole. Whilst I had no concerns about his performance, I did have some regarding his well-being. His personality is such that he is a perfectionist, and holds himself to very high expectations. We do our best to help with this, but making mistakes is stressful to him and he has a quiet competitiveness with his peers.
He was very keen for his results and subsequently discovered that he had done very well indeed. If he hadn’t, I’m not sure how he would have reacted. Even though he had done very well, it was hard to get across to him that results don’t matter, comparison isn’t important, and that it’s effort that is key. We were very proud of his results, and of course we praised him for them, but wanted him to know we were proud of him anyway. I also felt it was very important for my daughter to hear this message, as I knew her turn would come soon enough.
When her time came around, I was really quite worried. She is clever, just not in the way that SATs would measure. She is creative, astute, smart, and mature for her age. She is a talented singer and dancer and has a natural ability for sport. She is kind, caring and has a sharp and honest wit. Academia is not her forte, and no matter how many times I tell her she is a clever and talented little girl, she tells me she doesn’t feel it. She tells me how she knows she is in the ‘lower groups’ and she begins to voice her worries about the tests.
At this stage she is six years old. Six. She was a summer baby, so at just six years old she is starting to feel she isn’t good enough. She is taking tests that measure only certain strengths and she (an enthusiastic school attendee) is now scared to go to school. She cries in the evening as she tells me the tests are too hard. That she isn’t allowed to ask for help, and that she did what she could but then just sat there until it was over. The thought of her sitting there despondently waiting for the experience to end, feeling that she wasn’t good enough or clever enough absolutely broke my heart. And this was only the practice run. We did our best make it not seem like a big deal, but since she volunteered her concerns to us we tried to reassure her as much as we could.
To make matters worse, this was the first year of the new, tougher testing and marking criteria. I tell her teacher our concerns, but there isn’t much she can do. She looks at me with a frustration and hopelessness. She doesn’t want to go through this any more than my daughter does. She quietly complains to me about the process and assures me that she will do everything she can to put my daughter at ease.
As a teacher, my philosophy has always been that every child is clever. Maybe not in the conventionally academic way, but I feel that every child is good at something. But how can they really believe this when the school system puts such value on only one type of ‘clever’. I believe all of my own children are clever in different ways, but it seems that the school system is succeeding in portraying the message that there is only one size and everyone has to fit it. Since returning to work, I have seen first hand the changes in the education system that have shifted more and more focus to tests, core subjects and pressure on both teacher and child.
I understand of course, that there is a need for assessment and accountability. But perhaps some of the methods used need to be reevaluated, especially for those who are in the earlier years of schooling. I applaud school efforts, as they try to turn attention to the ‘other’ children. The art competitions, sports days, even trips and residentials, plays, and music concerts, when it is finally their time to shine.
As it turns out, my daughter did better than we expected. But I made sure to praise her (as I did with my Son) after the tests, before we even knew the results. I wanted them to know I was proud of them for doing them and putting in their best efforts. Last year I was dismayed at Nicky Morgan (the then Education Secretary) when she announced that she heard that some were having SATs after parties, and then asked for them to stop!
I was so indignant, that I had to write about it:
‘I need to get this off my chest! Nicky Morgan. I hear you’ve been requesting an end to SATs parties. So it’s not quite an after party, but a celebration none the less. My lovely daughter who is still just 6 has undertaken some very difficult tests this past week. We didn’t make a big deal about it, but she did tell me they were too hard, and that she felt nervous. That she didn’t want to do them. But she got on and did them anyway. She did her best; she persevered through something that she found immensely challenging. She showed resilience, and worked hard. Now tell me why that isn’t worth celebrating? Why shouldn’t she receive the message that we are proud of her for doing them? That getting on with tasks in life no matter how hard, is an excellent quality to have and should be admired? So we decided to treat her. I took her to the ice-cream parlour yesterday to show her all of these things and how we are so proud of her. She is bright, creative, strong, funny, and loving. We are proud of her whatever the results. She is worth celebrating whether she fits the mould or not. She and countless other children have worked extremely hard and I believe they should be celebrated and rewarded. Simply, because we are proud of them. And if you were a teacher, you might know that it’s this approach that works better than any other.’
Children thrive on praise. Do they need SATs? I know that there needs to be assessment, but particularly in KS1, no, I don’t believe they need this particular form of testing. As it is, it’s looking more likely that KS1 SATs may have seen their day, and I really hope this is the case. I’m also aware there is an argument for the benefits of the experience. My daughter was taught that sometimes in life you have to do things you don’t want to, that life can be tough and competitive etc etc. But I think what she learnt more was that she didn’t fit the mould. That she wasn’t as ‘clever’ as others. She has continued with this line of thinking since her SATs, but interestingly, not before. I’m also aware that there are some children that go through the experience seemingly without any thought. It’s very individual.
Yes, schools may need SATs for analysis, for accountability, for parent information. But perhaps keep it for the older kids, and lavish them all with praise afterwards. Schools and their staff do an amazing job for our children in light of all this pressure. For this I am always thankful. As for me, I will do my best to teach my children, as well as those I teach at school, that they are all clever, and that we are all good at something.
Are your children doing SATs this year, or have they already done them in the past? How did they/you find the experience? I’d love to hear your thoughts.