Sats Hell

Next week will be first time in a while that I haven’t been involved with end of key stage two assessments in a professional capacity. I don’t miss it, I’ll be frank. I don’t miss creeping through the school, shushing younger children, or sitting with the anxious ones, reading questions and watching them squirm in their seats and yet still plump for the wrong answer.

I don’t miss hour after hour of practice papers. (And hour after hour of subsequent marking.) I don’t miss sending home homework involving page after page of sums in those shiny brown revision books (also to be marked). I don’t miss spelling tests and mental maths tests, explaining how it will be on a CD just the same so get used to the funny voice and no, there will be no second chances, no opportunities to go back over a question you missed.

I suppose the quizzes and games were quite fun, and visiting schools with the LA badge was endlessly fascinating, even if I used to come away with a frowny sense of perplexion that our schools should be materially so different, and yet so similar; so full of hot and cold writes and purple polishing pens (it’s probably something different now, fashions change quickly in edu-land), so many guides to keeping miptors to assess. But I don’t miss the sight of science books with one date in September followed by pristine empty pages, the heavy knowledge that the Borderliners spent a dry year doing two subjects in the morning – and the same two subjects again in the afternoon. I don’t miss the negative, waste of time answer to the question: where is the poetry? Did you study any poetry?

This year, it is different. This year, although I am working still in education, I am not in the classroom, and, instead of guiding other people’s children, with a smile and an encouraging nod, this year I must support my daughter.

I’ve seen my sons through the experience. Sam, divorced as he was from the goings on of the class, wasn’t aware that Sats week was even a thing. A, assessed on a curriculum he had completed and supported by a teacher who made him feel special, funny boy that he is, enjoyed it. But L, my baby, born into a year, 2006, a group of children who have had their increasingly tired looking teachers attempt to squash four years of learning into three, is having a very different experience indeed.

She doesn’t say much, but she has changed this year. She still likes school. She still goes willingly into the building, obediently walking because running is forbidden. But she who has always been Little Miss Enthusiasm has started to complain. There are tests every day. Homework is met with deep reluctance and music practice and lessons with tears. Her sleep is disturbed, and I am worried about her, about her health and her mental wellbeing.

She’s only in it for the party, she says (a picnic on the school field, the food provided by home). She wonders what Sats stands for, what does it mean?

I don’t want to tell her that she is caught in an international political dance. Instead I tell her that I don’t care if she writes sausages for every answer if she likes. It won’t change how much we love her, whatever she achieves on paper, how high she comes in someone else’s measure doesn’t matter to us. I remind her that to try her best is to be kind to her teachers, because it is they who are being assessed for competence, not her.

She won’t be the only child beset by anxiety, I know that. She won’t be the only child perplexed by the overblown importance of school tests for eleven year olds.  But after another broken night, I look on next week with deep concern, and I find myself wondering what the hell we adults, with our obsession with measuring and testing, of bathing in reflected glory, think we are doing?


17 thoughts on “Sats Hell

  1. Totally agree as always, mine is in year five and has spent all weekend talking about the tests they are having this week – practice SATs for next year. I can’t even imagine how anxious she’ll be next year. Sending much love to you all – sausages I think is a very apt answer!

    1. It makes me cross and sad at the same time. I could take her out next week – but she will still have done all that practice. It’s not just a week, but from September to May.

  2. Our household has been beset by the same angst and anxiety and tears for the last 12 months when he started panicking about how he would do in his SATS this year. I hope L sees her way through it, knowing that you believe in her no matter what the SATS results bring – that’s what we’ve told M, but I just can’t wait for the next couple of weeks to be over and summer to start xx

  3. Went through this last year with my son who luckily, being a somewhat laidback boy, passed through it relatively painlessly.
    This is, however, my second year as a reader during my school’s Sats. We have over 60% SEN and it is heartbreaking to see children who try SO hard all year and who as part of our inclusive school are used to being able to access the curriculum, faced with a test so loaded against them. No matter what support and preparation we put in place for them, their needs and lack of wider life experience outside school, will always count against them hugely under the current test format. It is demoralising for them and for the staff who work with them- who only want the best for them. Success surely should be measured on so much more than a Sats test can show. The trouble is, those things are so much more difficult to quantify and put in a data grid.

  4. My son did his last year and the really sad thing is they don’t matter. The secondary school didn’t use them to determine classes as they were so unreliable! He’s learnt and progressed more in 2 terms of secondary school than he did in two years of primary due to the restrictive focus on SATS. His love of learning has returned.

  5. it will be interesting to see what happens if every child in a school wrote “sausages” on their papers. Perhaps – just perhaps – it might make the point that this is a bad thing to do to kids.

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