It has been interesting to see the variety of responses to this topic. I was surprised to see the amount of support for SATs. There clearly is a need to reassure parents that someone is monitoring schools, and SATs to a degree, have put pressure on schools to work towards some standards. So in one sense SATs work and have been successful. I know that I still look towards league tables as some sort of guide to the quality of a school.
Unfortunately, SATs only give part of the picture. As long as a school is achieving ballpark SATs, there is no pressure to improve. If they are lucky enough to have a good intake and are supported by a significant number of children being tutored for secondary entry tests in year 5, then a complacent approach is sufficient. In contrast, other schools that offer truly excellent leadership, teaching and value add, but have to deal with a more challenging intake, don't score well in SATs. (Challenges such as high percentage of free school meals and children with English as a second language.)
Education both suffers and benefits from performance targets in the same way that the health service does. I know that my local GP stopped making appointments more than 24 hours ahead in order to meet government targets to reduce appointment waiting times. Government happy... GP happy... patients very unhappy. This practice was brought to the attention of a surprised Tony Blair on live national television. It has since been changed and we can now book days in advance. Common sense finally prevails.
I feel that this is the stage we are at with SATs. There is a need for monitoring schools, but we also need to join up some thinking and provide a truly enriching education for these children in their final year at primary school. Hopefully, common sense approach will address some of the following:
- Year 5 is the key year for secondary entry preparation. Because SATs measures the school's performance during year 6, the best teachers and the majority of boosting efforts go into year 6. It would make sense to join up the SATs type tests with secondary entry tests, so the focus of the school's teaching benefitted the children rather than the school.
- Year 6 is one long slog of revision, with teachers trying to fit in other curriculum areas to try to break up the tedium. In almost all primary schools, the year 6 curriculum is not delivered completely. With all the SATs revision, there simply is not enough time.
- In talking with heads and year 6 teachers that I work with, the universal view is that SATs negatively impact the education of children at their schools. Now, before you say "of course they would, no one likes to be measured, here's my observation. Those teachers that are truly outstanding, who work very hard, have a good personal relationship with every child, who would score top marks in any type of evaluation are more vocal in their condemnation of the SATs process.
- I feel some sympathy for comments such as, "A good school can provide a rounded education and minimise the impact of SATs". However, there is very real pressure on Heads from County level to improve SATs, even if everyone knows this is to the detriment of good learning. It would take a very brave head to focus on education and not push relentlessly to get those extra one or two level 5s.
- Apart from league tables, who actually uses SATs results? Most children going into secondary schools are thoroughly tested to allow them to be streamed correctly. SATs might be part of the evaluation process, but any Year 7 teacher that relies solely on them clearly is short changing their children. (I don't believe any do!) If league tables are scrapped, then where does this leave SATs?
I've been wondering if we need to take a Bank of England approach to education and try to remove it from the political agenda. I am sure as much time has been devoted to "how can we extricate ourselves from SATs without making it look like a failure" as to "what system of monitoring can we evolve which promotes excellent teaching, excellent school leadership and provides parents with confidence and the ability to make informed choices".
Overall, I would have to come down on the side of damning SATs. But, I am more than happy to declare it an outstanding New Labour success, if it allows us to move on to the next evolution of the system. What do you think Ed?