SATs have killed my daughter’s love of learning

Exam stress has led to some uncharacteristic outbursts at home: ‘I’m bored, I’m not enjoying school, I hate this’ – it breaks my heart

James Moore
Tuesday 10 May 2022 12:27
<p>SATs are administered by primary schools in year 6 and year 2, ostensibly to check on children’s educational progress</p>

SATs are administered by primary schools in year 6 and year 2, ostensibly to check on children’s educational progress

Solidarity if, like me, you have a child at school in year 6 – for this week is SATs week for the nation’s schools. For the uninitiated, that stands for Standardised Assessment Tests. These are administered by primary schools in year 6 and year 2, ostensibly to check on children’s educational progress. In reality, the exercise has little enough to do with that.

It’s there as part of the Department for Education’s Stasi-like monitoring of schools; perhaps for the purposes of putting a line in a press release, designed to show what a tough guy the incumbent secretary of state Nadhim Zahawi is.

“Stats, standards, stats, SATs, wizzle, drone, wizzle bejizzle… bull****.” If you’re in the SATs twilight zone this week, you won’t need the asterisks. You may already have used the full-throated Anglo-Saxon (just not in earshot of the children).

“We’re not going to apologise for prioritising high quality education,” is the sort of pious, self-serving crap you’ll doubtless hear from ministers if anyone dares voice a criticism of the hellscape that is inevitably created for parents in the run-up to SATs week. “Oh God, would you just belt up,” is how I tend to react when I hear that sort of statement. I can’t help thinking that an education secretary who really cared about our children’s schooling would just go back to their constituency for five days a week, with a view to leaving us all well alone for a bit.

Sorry not sorry for being so potty-mouthed and using words you’re never going to find in a SATs paper. Thing is, in my family we’re already dealing with one child’s autism and the mulish refusal of the local authority, and other agencies, to do what the law says they are supposed to do with respect to that. Now, we have the other one waking up in the middle of the night through (needless) exam stress at the same time. Do you blame me for swearing a bit?

We care very much about our children’s education. We give money to their (state) schools. We’ve volunteered. I’ve even served as a governor. But I’m afraid that my daughter had to hear something I never thought we’d say this week: “We don’t care.”

Actually, there was a bit more to it than that. For the record, this was what we said in full: “We don’t care about SATs. We know you’ll try your hardest because you always do. We know you’ll do you best. So don’t worry. We’re not. We think the SATs are silly and pointless too.”

This was because we care about our daughter’s mental health and happiness much more than we do about Nadhim Zahawi, his junior ministers, his spads, his sycophants, Ofsted and their dribbling. She’ll probably do just fine, which is good because her school has done well by her and we are deeply invested in it. The problem with SATs has been created because that school has to care more about the tests than about educating our children. They all do.

Schools are only too well aware of what’s at stake here. Once the numbers are in, they will be crunched. If they don’t crunch nicely, if there is the merest hint of sogginess, then just like a brand new box of cornflakes, they risk of being crushed under the weight of Ofsted’s bovver boots. They thus teach to the test.

Almost the whole of year 6 seems to revolve around exams that otherwise don’t matter (teachers are perfectly capable of assessing their charges’ progress and communicating it to secondary schools, which are perfectly capable of correcting any errors). This has led to some uncharacteristic outbursts from our daughter. Here are a few: “I’m bored.” “I’m not enjoying school.” “I hate this.”

We’ve never heard this before and it’s tragic. It breaks our hearts. It’s painful to hear because, prior to this, she loved school. Absolutely adored it. She used to make the teachers on the gate smile on her way in because she skipped. She made me smile, too.

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Her writing, meanwhile, has stirred deeper emotions. It’s had me filling up on occasion, such is her enthusiasm for the exercise, and her obvious ability to string words together. The fact that she knows and understands grammar, which I was barely taught (you can tell, can’t you?) when I was at a school should serve her well even if the teaching of it gets completely over the top. Unfortunately she’s been put off writing lately, too. You can only spend so much time being grilled on fronted adverbials before you start to scream.

So yes, if I were in her position, I’d be sorely tempted to say “adverbial off” to the whole thing too. But joking aside (yes, yes, I know I’m not supposed to use “but” at the start of a sentence, now “adverbial off” if it bothers you) studies have suggested these things have a severely negative impact on some children’s mental health, already frayed as a result of the pandemic.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the same wasn’t true of teachers. One of the few good things about the pandemic was that the tests weren’t conducted. Pity that wasn’t permanent. We really need a SATs vaccine.

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