Thank goodness for that; SATs are over for another year. As always, they have prompted much debate and discussion, in the staff room, at the school gate and in the papers.
There is a pretty well-established critique of SATs which suggests they put too much pressure on children while telling us little about their abilities that we don’t know already. The high-stakes nature of the SATs, with league tables constructed based on the results, narrows the curriculum and moves school life away from learning and creativity towards something best described as training (take a look at this blog-post written from the perspective of teacher and parent – it makes for painful reading).
Added to this criticism of the system and its effects on children, is a more forensic analysis by Michael Rosen, who brilliantly (and at some length) picks apart the detail of the reading assessment undertaken this year.
Reading Rosen’s argument was a huge relief – I was not alone. I had looked at the paper with amazement – and a sense of rising panic – wondering quite how some of the questions should be answered. Many of the references in the text were obscure and technical, pushing the capabilities of even the best readers.
And, as Rosen’s points out, some of the inferential question required a broader understanding or life experience which is simply beyond most ten or eleven year olds (except those, he argues, who have had a particular upbringing – middle-class and fortunate, with frequent day trips to national parks. I paraphrase a smidgeon here of course – the best way to do justice to Rosen’s words is to read them in full).
There’s nothing wrong with a challenge, but it should be within reach. Parts of this test seemed downright unfair. Along with the more familiar, systemic criticisms of SATs, Rosen’s line-by-line and word-by-word assault raises further questions about the point of such an assessment, particularly when it seems set up, by design, to create failure, rather than providing a meaningful picture of a child’s reading abilities.
A simple solution would be to scrap SATs and give children a ‘level’ at the end of Year 6 based on the assessment of the teacher. To ensure accuracy and accountability, schools should be expected to have internal systems to moderate and check these assessments. This could then be supplemented by an external check, perhaps with random sampling of schools or individual children.
That way, we would still have good, rigorous data on school performance, but without the hothousing and the strains brought about by the current system. And, who knows, instead of focussing a child’s final primary year on jumping through hoops, we could focus on what really matters and what really makes a difference to life chances: teaching and learning.