Should the tests for 11-year-olds be scrapped?
Saturday 11 April 2009
With all the maelstrom of preparing for the SATs (national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds), you get a narrowing of the curriculum in the two years leading up to them.
History, geography and arts almost disappear from the curriculum as a result. The pressure is on things like literacy, maths and science – this happens in a lot of schools – and it can leave no time for anything else.
The build-up to the SATs can start in year five (nine and 10-year-olds) and carry through into year six. It's not just preparing them for the six months leading up to the tests. It can be two years during which the curriculum is affected.
Children who are finding it a struggle to keep up become increasingly disillusioned by school. They think of themselves as failures. I think looking at the effect on the pupils is hitting the nail on the head.
Boycotting the SATs is just one of a number of things that we should be doing to draw attention to the problems with them. That's why I support what the National Union of Teachers is planning at this conference. Compared with 10 years ago when they were introduced, they have become an all-encompassing monster.
SATs have become a very important marker for drawing up a school's "value added" performance (which shows how much it has improved upon pupils' performance since their arrival at the school) and is a link used in Ofsted reports. That puts pressure on the headteachers whose jobs are on the line over the results.
I've been a teacher for 30 years and we had another monster when I started teaching – it was called the 11-plus. We got rid of that but now it seems as though we've created another monster to replace that with.
Stephen Pickles is a teacher at High Crags primary school in Bradford
Generally members have supported the idea that you're always going to have some form of testing for pupils. Their concern is not about the tests themselves but the use to which they are put – that is, the league tables. They would prefer them to be just diagnostic tests which tell them about the progress of children.
I think a boycott is a very interesting position. But are they boycotting preparation for the SATs – which would mean everything teachers do in the run-up to the tests in the classroom, which they have a contractual obligation to deliver? Or are they boycotting the tests themselves by not administering them, which somebody else could do? Or are they refusing to pass the results on? It's not clear.
Our preference is for an assessment system which is fit for purpose and testing that teachers can apply at stage rather than age, (i.e. when a pupil is ready to take them).
We don't want to follow the road they have gone down in Wales where the SATs have been abolished – to be replaced by more internal tests, which means teachers spend less time in contact with their pupils.
Chris Keates, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers
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