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The real impact of SATs

Paul Brockwell from PBR Education asks, are we putting too much pressure on pupils?

Posted by Stephanie Broad | May 12, 2016 | Teaching

I remember my own education in a comprehensive school in Coventry in 1979. It was post the 11+ and was meant to be a truly mixed comprehensive education school. After a series of exams at the end of the first year, we were all stood outside of the house block waiting for our ability set based groups to be read out. Get into the top sets and you were expected to perform; to take languages and humanities and go to university. The responsibility wasn’t on the teacher, it was on you, fail and it was your fault. 

Competition within education existed then as it had done before and it still exists now. We did exams then as children do now, the pressure was on us to perform. So why is it so different today? 

We felt pressure; we were put under pressure by parents and teachers. We put pressure on ourselves. 

I listened to a primary Headteacher on the news recently, explaining that the reason that children feel so much pressure over the SATs today is that they feel that they will let their school down if they don’t perform well and that the results will affect what groups they will be put in when they go into secondary school.

The first is down to political interference within the system. When politicians want to show what impact they have had they need data, and unfortunately, in education, that comes from testing. It may be unfair to put a child through a set of exams just to prove that education policy is working but that is the system we find ourselves in. If they would leave the goalposts alone and let schools get on with educating children, I am certain far greater progress would be made. 

The second statement is also very true. Secondary schools use data to set children in year seven. As a long serving senior leader in schools, I have used data provided by primary schools to set children. This included teacher assessment as well as SAT results. 

KS2 SATs are “standardised” pieces of data that a secondary school uses to enable it to understand and stretch all children according to their ability. Take away the political meddling and the idea of assessing a child’s level of achievement at the end of a period of time is sound. All teachers, as professionals, are rightly proud of their achievements of the children in their care. We pass those children on to their next teacher with an assessment of their ability so that the next teacher can understand each child and support their continued growth. 

Children will feel pressure when taking examinations, they always have and always will. It is part of their education learning to cope with that pressure. Politicians should perhaps have more faith in educational professionals and let schools get on with teaching children, assessing how they are progressing, supporting those that struggle, and setting high expectations for all. Perhaps then we would have a system of which we can be truly proud.

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