Across England, parents of children in Year 6 are getting to grips with the fact that the assessments that their children will be sitting in just a fortnight will be the educational equivalent of injecting dubious substances in guinea pigs in a hermetically-sealed laboratory. Except, as we have seen in the recent KS1 spelling paper debacle, this particular lab is not so hermetically sealed. It is in fact, just plain leaky. The way that parents are reacting here (at least) has been troubling and disturbing to behold.

We invited parents a week ago to sit with us for an hour while we explained exactly what it is that their children will be tested on; we explained the differences, the way that standards have been artificially raised; the way that best-fit understanding of children’s learning has been scrapped in the interim assessments; the way that the content of the grammar test has been expanded to include a range of terms with which the parents were utterly unfamiliar; and the way that the tests will be reported to parents. We did not want to scare them, but you could see, while watching, the blood drain from the faces of some parents, and their anxiety visibly rise. Others, often from cultures where their schooling was couched wholly in a pass/fail mindset, made internal decisions about the language and pressure that they must now use to get their children to the “expected standard”. I have had two conversations with Y6 parents since yesterday morning, and in both of them I am hearing the fears that parents have that their children will see themselves as “failures” because they have not got the “required standard” in one or other subject. Another child I know has been threatened with being sent back to their country of origin if they do not “pass the test” – as though it were a school entry qualification!

We made it absolutely clear to parents last week that we could not under any circumstances follow what several other schools (I am sure) are doing, and abandon large chunks of the rightful educational entitlement of Y6 children for the sake of boosting their learning only in English and maths. Such a policy is iniquitous and a mark of craven cowardice, placing the school and its standing above the needs of the children they are called to serve.

The level system of assessment used before 2015 had serious flaws, and was not a particularly useful tool for comparing children with the same level of attainment. However, it had one inestimable advantage over the new interim framework being used by Y6 teachers in preparation for the SATs: it was “neutral”. Yes, we all knew that there was a national expectation and there were some ridiculous schools that said stuff like “level 4 is a right for every child”. But it meant something for a child who was struggling to “make it” to Level 3 from a year working in  Level 2, or to get a Level 5 after a lot of hard work by everyone in the family and class. Whether or not it was terribly accurate (and bits were not) it provided a range of attainment for children: there were lots of hurdles to surmount and celebrate, and children (except in the most draconian and unwise of schools) did not in any way see the word “failure” as attaching to any particular outcome, unless they themselves had set targets that they were focusing on – and in that case, the psychological fallout is easily dealt with.

Not here, not now. This current system is appalling, no matter how willing we all are to embrace higher standards. On that subject, by the way, the government will always push the button of “you don’t want higher standards for your children” for those of us that believe that this testing is ill founded and poorly argued. It is a false argument, making a serious category error and confusing our desire for a challenging curriculum with a decent, fair and low-stakes way of measuring progress in it, with a view of the profession that does not want to be held accountable. What this could easily be, if schools are not pastorally very well equipped, is the psychological blow to a child’s confidence in writing or maths (even strong achievers may well fall short) that would affect their learning from here to whatever passes for GCSE by the time these children reach 16.

History will judge this paltry SATs effort as just that – a pathetic attempt at braggadocio over standards by an inept and intellectually-challenged government. The deep pity is that children and their parents will be the lab rats used to prove that.

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About Huw Humphreys

I am a headteacher in the city of Milton Keynes, where I have been since April 2011, looking to make education effective for the whole child and keeping a distant relationship with the powers that be and their narrowing approach to education... but most of all I am looking to find out what it means to be both a follower of Jesus Christ and a passionate educator in the midst of an unsettled community. I am also a part time musician, part time linguist and lover of history and literature...committed both to freedom to learn and depth of learning for all our children. The views on this blog are all my own, and not in any way those of the school I lead!

3 responses »

  1. Caroline says:

    As a parent of a SEN child at CtS I think it important to fully support a school in the absolutely resoluteness of producing happy, well balanced, well rounded children, as CtS achieves.

    The move away from Grammer Schools to Co-Ed comprehensives over a generation ago was specifically designed to recognise that the achievements of a child aged just 11 does not reflect the potential for that child for future life.

    There was a complete recognition by then then Government, local authorities, teachers unions and parents about the psychological impact of classing an 11 year old as a “failure.” Sadly, those in power currently, have failed to listen to the mistakes of the past and are determined to inflict such pressures on the young children of today.

    Our children, this year, are expected to take a test where the pass level hasn’t yet been decided. It will be decided once all papers are marked and some “men in grey suits” decide what political message they want to send out will be, so at that point the will decide who will or will not pass.

    The SATS test results should never come as a surprise to any parent, from personal experience I know how well the staff have kept me informed of my daughters progress and challenges.

    It is certainly my intention to wait until after the tests and then sit my daughter down and explain to her why it has been, this year, impossible for her to pass. Her expectations will be clearly set AFTER the tests that she will receive a “fail” and why, we as parents don’t care one bit.

    My daughter is happy, fun loving, kind, caring, considerate, talented in other areas beyond her years, quirky and precious simply because she is the person she is. No person in Whitehall has ever met my daughter and no SATS test can ever show the skills my daughter does have.

    As parents, naturally, we want the best for our children, but we all also have a responsibility to accept that not every child can be “top.”

    CtS is run by a team of highly talented teachers, these teach our children on a daily basis and, on the whole, do an amazing job. These frontline staff are supported in their roles by an outstanding head, but mainly he doesn’t teach. As parents we need to recognise that it is our own expectations and desires which are skewed. We need workers for the future as well as senior management. I personally trust that someone’s child will be willing to dig a hole to bury me when someone else’s child runs out of medical options to keep me alive!

    You only need to look to the past and see those who “failed” aged 11 to fully understand that life is “not over” I name Sir Richard Branson and Lord Alan Sugar as a couple.

    The Government, working to a hidden agenda, are utilising our children for their own twisted reasons it is down to US, as parents, to protect our children from this.

    For those who have not experienced a child moving from primary to secondary school yet, I am sure the fear behind these tests and results will be intensified.

    All I can say from experience is the child you see now will be completely gone within 6 months, replaced by someone you will, at times, wonder where they came from.

    One of the first things senior school does is re-test the children, even senior school doesn’t rely on SATS so why, as parents, are we bothered?

    We take a car for an MOT and get given a piece of paper which states that at that particular moment in time it was road worthy, it means nothing else. The SATS results simply show on that particular day the child achieved X, by the time the results come through it is already out of date as the child has done more learning.

    For the family threatening to remove their child from the country if the child doesn’t meet this artificial statistic I urge you to consider what harm you would do to your child. It is one-thing for an anonymous “grey suit in Whitehall” to classify your child as “a failure” but entirely different matter for you to do the same.

    Stand back and take a good, long hard look at the beautiful child before you and ask yourself honestly “is this person a failure?” If the answer you give is no then should the child “fail to meet excepted standards” then I urge you to take great pride in ripping the paper up in front of the child and for you to teach the child about real life and what is really important.

    I am just having my bathroom refitted and the tilers rates show that he is on at least £65k a year. He works the hours he wants, doesn’t have to work unpaid overtime, has a work life balance which suits him, he doesn’t have A levels. I wonder where “failure” fits into his life……… Not unsurprisingly he has his son working for him too…… Exactly what is “success.”

  2. […] in their schools – but rather take action against the much more venal KS2 tests, which undermine children’s view of themselves and which do not serve them. It was unfortunate that the parent who was put up on the BBC to talk […]

  3. […] very clear about what generally low importance should be placed on these tests, and despite the occasional and initial disturbing parental reaction, parents have since resolutely supported us in that. However, the main reason for calm lies with […]

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