People have got very irate about primary SATS this year. All the arguing has created a kind of “fog of war”. I’d like to give you some facts.
Primary children take SATS tests in year 2 and year 6. There’s been some serious protest and argument about the year 2 SATS and this has rather taken the attention away from the mixed bag that is the 2016 year 6 SATS. I have a child in year 6 who is about to sit 4 days of SATS tests next week.
I do not think testing is inherently a bad thing. Neither of my children were aware of being tested in year 2, the school were subtle and tactful. For the year 6 SATS there is no getting away from the test environment. For the exam environment all displays in the usually colourful classroom have been removed. No words or numbers can be visible; even the children’s water bottles cannot have a brand name showing. It’s weird and sanitised but the children have got used to it. The teachers have not piled stress on the children (although they themselves are stressed, and the children have noticed it). There will be a year 6 breakfast club for SATS week which is like a little daily breakfast party and the children can’t wait for that! The schools that keep it all cool, calm and collected for SATS tests are the ones who are really succeeding.
These year 6 children will be tested on maths, reading comprehension, spelling and so on, just like 11-year old children have been tested for generations. However they will also be tested on punctuation and grammar and this is where it’s gone a bit bananas. This is part of what’s known as the SPaG test (Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar). Clearly it’s important to learn this, but how far should it go? The school explained to us that the syllabus for the SPaG test was altered at the last possible minute, the standard was raised sky-high without advance notice and as a result the extra teaching has had to be crammed into a few short months. They’re learning grammar in extremis; they’re expected to know things that PhD students struggle with.
The result of this sudden hike in the SPaG test syllabus is that maths and English have been forced into a bit of a back seat. The schools would probably deny this, but it’s the unmistakeable elephant in the room. If – like many – you have a child who badly needed to improve on this core knowledge before moving on to secondary school, then you will be pretty disappointed. They won’t encounter SPaG again, it doesn’t feature in secondary school and no-one will ask them again to identify the hanging participle in a sentence, or a subordinating conjunction or determiner or modal verb for that matter.
Yearning for Balance
I have a teenager who remembers her SATS as a positive experience and she will tell you that year 6 SATS are basically a good thing because of how important it is to get used to testing. Children have tests six times per year in secondary school, they have to get the hang of it. But things have changed rapidly since she was 11. The over-arching problem with year 6 SATS is how fast the goalposts have moved, the chaotic juggling of the syllabus and the fact that core maths and English have sometimes had to take a backseat.
I was quoted in this recent blog about SATS. It made me want to write this blog today.