I wrote a tweet on Friday that echoed my concerns regarding SATs. I have always been concerned about SATs but these last two years have highlighted these concerns to a point at which I feel that I can no longer just sit back and moan.
I want to make this clear from the outset. I am no, to quote The Sun, ‘thick as mince, lefty teacher’. I believe in high standards. I believe in testing knowledge. We must have accountability in our system. I remember a time when heads bemoaned the old SATs and said, “…they can’t”… I do not believe this in the majority of cases. Those days are long gone I hope. I want and expect accountability in our system. I want to be as proud of it as teachers from China were when I spoke to them last October. They look to our education system as a guiding light – they were shocked that we test Y1, Y2 and Y6 in the ways we do. I want to be part of the best education system in the world. I am increasingly concerned that in this country we measure our education system the wrong way. We have given data and testing the greatest influence and I believe it has become corrosive… they are stones in our pockets, a chain wrapped around our feet and the block in our system to moving us forward. We are shackled to numbers that, as I will explain, achieve no more than confusion and subterfuge.
Why do SATs concern me?
I believe the SATs tests are flawed for the following reasons:
Secondary schools immediately retest Year 7’s because they do not trust or understand the information that SATs provide them. They are worthless to Year 7. I do not know the exact figure but the STA have a budget in the realms of fifty million. Couldn’t we use that money for a more effective transition?
High stakes accountability means that there are concerns that the administration and implementation of the tests are not fair, even or equitable. If schools are cheating the system then these numbers are a smokescreen and it is honest schools that suffer. In a recent twitter poll (I know… but it was as anonymous as can be) 17% of teachers said they were either cheating or forced to cheat. That is shocking. How can any head have trust in the system if this is the case?
I believe that SATs have pushed SEND in to a more marginlised corner of our schools than any other process. When a deputy head tweets that 100% of children should pass SATs, and a teacher writes every child should pass the tests we know that there is a serious divide here. My own agenda on this is I run a Specialist Provision. This year four children were educated in this provision (Plus many supported in mainstream through the skills and resources of this provision). This knocked my results down by 5%. In all but mathematics I went from above the national average to below. It is disheartening on many levels. Why should any school be penalised for being inclusive? These children are wonders of perseverance, compassion, soul and life. In the system… they are just a burden, every one of them hitting my Value Added by at least negative four (some as bad as negative 11). I hate myself for saying that. Next year I have 8 Year 6 in specialist (11%). I have done a prediction. If I do not score over 85% in RWM I will have negative progress scores. I feel sick to my stomach knowing this.
The tests seem to be marked inconsistently. There are many examples on social media (which is only a tiny echo chamber of the bigger picture). From what I have seen every school should be checking in detail – every paper (just what we need at the end of term!). When the stakes are this high! You would be a fool to let this pass you by. Again, how can we trust a system that is the major factor to our future success when it is even slightly flawed?
Tests that use progress measures from KS1: A flawed indicator; that good 2A writer? Well you better give them Greater Depth or it’s negative progress for you. Key Stage 1 tests are so prone to manipulation to make them the progress indicator? Every good head knows they need to take control of Key Stage 1 tests – even when the children ace them!
Tests, so unreliable, where an invisible force changes the thresholds to make it all work and no one understands why… we just accept it?
SATs impact on some children’s well-being in very negative ways. As part of this process I think it is important that we get better data on this. Though experience tells us that there is no doubt some children are absolutely failed during SATs week. What is the real impact upon children’s well-being? How do we know?
Too many teachers and head teachers are demoralised by SATs. I have sat and listened to far too many heads who have left the profession (over the years) because of some dodgy results. Sometimes it was the best thing… at other times young and promising heads have left. Knowing that some Y6 teachers will cry over results and want to leave the profession cannot be right… We have internal accountability systems to filter good and not so good teachers… SATs fail good teachers.
Writing… A blog in its own right. Utterly flawed and a total shambles.
SATs narrow the curriculum for thousands of Year 6 pupils. Ofsted (and who visits schools more?) seem to have got it. As Amanda Speilman put it in June:
“To understand the substance of education we have to understand the objectives. Yes, education does have to prepare young people to succeed in life and make their contribution in the labour market. But to reduce education down to this kind of functionalist level is rather wretched”.
With or without SATs we have the brightest and best academic cohorts leaving our primary schools ever. At what point do we say…
“Where’s the balance and what do we truly value as a society?”
I want to spend time in my school on the ‘real substance of education’. I want to be given the freedom and space to find it again. I want to ask each and every teacher, parent, governor and child, “What is the body of knowledge that we want (AND NEED) to give our young people”. SATs are such high stakes they choke the curriculum. Even schools that do well become obsessed and want bigger and better results in narrow tests. Schools looking over their shoulders fearful of losing their outstanding grade, or worse!
I look forward to Ofsted’s first ‘outstanding’ for a truly inclusive school with average data. We can but hope.
So I have opened my mouth and said ‘Enough, it is time to act’. I hope we can all come together to make this a positive rallying cry to ensuring a just, equitable and effective assessment system.
This is what I propose:
All those who DM’d me. Can you send me your emails please? I will set up a closed Facebook site so all those interested parties can speak to each other and keep up to date with actions.
How much interest is there in change? Is it 50 heads on twitter or is there a bigger appetite for change in the testing system?
Check every paper. Send every one that is wrong back.
There then needs to be a statement of intent. Something that is proactive and positive. Something that gives us hopes of a better education system. I still want accountability and a vision for the best education system anywhere.
Finally, spread the word. We need to engage with all parties; teaching organisations, parent groups, governor bodies, local authorities, unions and politicians. (plus anyone else who has a voice in our children’s education). I need you to engage with your communities and ask, ‘What needs to happen? How can we improve this system?’ We need this to a roots based challenge to a system that is broken – that does not work. We need secondary, outstanding schools and heads, we need politicians and we need parents… We need to stand for positive change and moving our schools away from flawed, narrow and damaging tests into a new era of children leaving our primary schools truly ready for Year 7 and their lives beyond.