'The education community is saying enough is enough when it comes to Sats'

After the social media storm on Sats over the weekend, it's clear that it's time to organise and put together a positive voice for change, writes one headteacher

Siobhan Collingwood

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Our assessment system is broken. It is breaking teachers and it is breaking children.

The Department for Education has proposed a three-year period in which current arrangements remain unchanged and bed down, but I don't know how much more we can and should take of this.

I do not want to be feeling this way again next year, with a different cohort of children forced through the exam mill and my teachers another year more exhausted and downhearted.

I have spent all weekend reading and commenting upon reports for Year 6 children that bolster their confidence and try to prepare them for the largest and scariest move of their young lives, while reassuring some of them that that they have nothing to fear, despite having received results that show they have apparently not met expected standards.

Nationally, 40 per cent of our children will have to come to terms with this derogatory label, that does not acknowledge their true worth or ability. How many of this group were beaten by punitive time constraints and marking systems, or were frozen in headlights of fear and anxiety, unable to show their true ability?

How do I tell them that the flawed content of the tests, the ridiculous marking system and broken moderation system all devalue their results to such an extent that they will either be freshly assessed on arrival in secondary school or the results will be largely ignored?

How do I tell them that despite the Herculean efforts that they and their teachers made, the only real purpose of their results is to pit school against school, to label some schools by using derogatory terms such as coasting and floor level, whilst preparing others to polish up their badges of "outstanding"?

This week, I will pore over their scripts checking for the worst excesses in marking schemes that are ridiculously punitive, examples of which have been provoking outrage across the internet this weekend.

How much time will I waste on this exercise, at a time when we are rushing flat out towards the end of term?

The voices expressing dissent are growing in number, volume and anger.

Parent groups across the country are looking to their schools to take a lead and stop inflicting this system upon their children. The belief that parents find them useful is a fiction; when asked to rate reasons for selecting a school, parents across the country place test or exam results as sixth most important. They are concerned about their children enjoying learning and being socially literate, as well as attaining highly in English, maths and across a broad range of subjects.

Parents want their children to emerge from their schooling as confident and able learners, not burnt out, stressed out and counted out.

Our unions have all debated these issues widely, with all agreeing that things need to change. Cross-party parliamentary inquiries have said that things need to change, especially in linking tests to a high-stakes accountability system, the recent assessment inquiry saying:

"Many of the negative effects of assessment are in fact caused by the use of results in the accountability system rather than the assessment system itself. Key Stage 2 results are used to hold schools to account at a system level, to parents, by Ofsted, and results are linked to teachers’ pay and performance.”

Don't get me wrong, I want high standards. As a school leader, I want accountability and I want to be able to identify the progress that children are making.

The inference that without high-stakes tests, we will let children's precious school years drift by without rigour or high expectations, is an insult to the professionalism of the highly skilled and highly motivated professionals that I know and work with.

The statistics around recruitment and retention show that teachers can not take this relentless barrage of exams and meaningless tests. A quarter of recently qualified teachers leave the profession early and mental health statistics amongst teachers are horrific. 

But, I can now sense that across the country headteachers, teachers, parents, unions, academics and politicians are all standing up and saying enough is enough – we can not keep standing by and allowing our children to be broken by this broken system.

It feels like the time to organise and to put together a positive voice for change that offers a viable alternative, based on positive educational values.

Will this be the last year that we put our children and teachers through these disastrous and discredited tests?

Siobhan Collingwood is the headteacher of Morecambe Bay Community Primary School, winner of the Creative School of the Year category at the 2017 Tes Schools Awards. 

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Siobhan Collingwood

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