SATs should be here to stay

SATs should be here to stay

Right now Year 6 children across the country are sitting their SATs and every year it attracts a hue and cry from critics.

Now the official opposition are saying this valuable measure to push up standards would be abolished if they came into power.

And Ofsted has also announced that it will be taking less account of SATs in future inspections.

But you won’t see me joining in the anti-SATs brigade, quite the contrary.

SATs are essential for accountability. It is crucial that measurable national standards are maintained and this can only be done through testing.

It is simply not good enough to say that teacher assessments are sufficient, they are not, they are subjective.

And how would you compare it to other teachers’ assessments if there is no moderation of results and marking?

Researchers have said that SATs are no more effective than teacher assessments at predicting how well children will do at GCSE. 

Well, of course, we can say someone will be a high, middle-ranking or low outcome performer from SATs or teacher assessments. This is obvious and no extended study would need to be conducted to show this.

But what matters is whether we have an accurate picture of what happened at the end of primary school. We need to know, with a degree of accuracy, how these children have fared in their primary school. Why? This is because primary schools are there to ensure as many children as possible reach a good standard of literacy and numeracy. 

More and more headteachers and teachers are also speaking out publicly against SATs and sadly this is not surprising as it involves accountability.

However, in every job people are expected to deliver outcomes and when these controls are removed standards slip. In what other job would a person be allowed to not deliver and expect a pat on the back?

If SATs are abolished there will undoubtedly be a fall in standards and no one will know what’s going on in schools except the school itself – it will be making its own homework. I suspect a small but significant minority of teachers will secretly be glad the results of their teaching will not be monitored effectively. 

Another criticism is that children are just being taught to pass the test. This, in my view, is a superficial criticism – why not abolish all tests then? After all, we test at GCSE, A’ Level and degree level – are we advocating just impression marking and giving people qualifications on the basis of teacher assessments with no national standards? This is a ridiculous argument.

If the tests are rigorous and well-conceived it is not possible to teach to the test. Children will need a thorough knowledge of the curriculum and will be able to demonstrate this aptly under test conditions. 

One of the main criticisms of SATs is that they put the students and teacher under a lot of stress.

Stress is something we all encounter and going through a degree of stress helps makes us perform better.

These tests are not only helping to prepare our young people for more intensive testing as they go through secondary school but also for life itself.

An athlete trains hard to make their body conform and an actor attends rehearsals for a play in order to perform and it is similar with the mind.

Various levels of pressure need to be applied to ensure the human brain develops and one factor in this process is the ‘crunch’ moments. These happen through recall and questioning in class, but a vital part of this is the testing process.

Testing should be informal for the majority of the time but there also needs to be formal testing too – and for primary school children this is where SATs come in.

Some children might find them difficult and they can be stressful, but how can we prepare children for real-life when we remove all difficult situations? We need to train them to deal with this as much more of it is coming down the line later.

Teachers are paid to do a job and it is stressful.

However, teaching is also immensely rewarding.

It is stressful because it involves contact time with children and this is tiring and challenging.

However, it will stress teachers far more if their children are not reaching the required standards and SATs is the only way the country can be sure they have delivered. 

If the Labour Party got into power and abolished SATs it would set the education system back 30 years.

All that has been learnt will be lost.

The progressive wing of the educational establishment will relish it.

Teaching will lose focus, the technique will be substituted for experimentation and standards will drift.

The second step will soon follow in its wake, as I predict Labour would also get rid of the relatively new maths and English curriculum (2014 onwards).

I believe they would soon follow Scotland’s lead and introduce a highly progressive approach to teaching.

But if you ever needed a warning of how well that has gone on – Scotland has tumbled down the PISA education ratings worldwide.

And just think, it was once one of the best education systems in the world.