I've seen 18 Sats results days come and go – for 15 of which I've been a headteacher. And even after all of that time, it still feels like a scientific stress-testing experience.
To prove their worth, many things are tested. "Stress-testing" (otherwise known as torture-testing) puts a system or object under extreme pressures, trying to push it to breaking point. It’s a little like the experiences of Year 6 teachers and school leaders had on the Tuesday morning of results day this year, as they frantically logged in to the NCA Tools website to find out how their children had performed, and if they were likely to have a job next year.
For me, Sats results were put firmly into perspective this week. They were the perfect antidote for what really matters in a school.
Like most headteachers, I was in school early to log on to NCA Tools as soon as I could. I sat with my deputy as we looked at the numbers, and we felt confident. Even though 11 per cent of our cohort were unable to take the test due to us providing specialist provision for profound and complex learning needs, the school had done well. We've recently won the Tes alternative provision school of the year award… this is what we do. This is what we stand for. We had made progress and, on paper, we were an improving school. On paper, the "Ofsted algorithm" would flit its binary eye over us with no more than a "Meh…"
'A life-affirming experience'
I wrote to the governors, providing the provisional data. I chatted with my fantastic Year 6 teachers (watching their stress slowly dissolve), discussing surprises and excitement for the children who had worked so hard. I love those stories behind the numbers. The stories that only teachers know so well.
I then did what every community headteacher should do. I went swimming in our local outdoor pool with 59 Year 5 pupils. Well, I say swimming, but I jumped in the pool with my clothes on. It felt amazing. It was a truly wonderful and life-affirming experience. We had laughter, sun and a friendship that only a school community can have.
The first tweet we sent from our school's Twitter account simply read: "We are here Callum."
Callum was, still is and will always will be number 60 in that cohort. He was a brave, strong and wonderful young man adored by all his friends and remembered with such love and companionship. Callum left us recently. As his family say: "He has gone to live amongst the stars."
That afternoon, in the bright, warm sun, splashing, playing, laughing and running, we became a small part of the vitality of Callum and his family. Though I can only begin to imagine what they have been through, the family have been with us as a school every step of the way. They have been there for Callum’s friends and his class. At the end of the afternoon, Callum’s little sister took sweets around to every child and said: “Thank you for being Callum’s friend." Courage in the young is a magical thing.
So yes, we received our Sats results this week. I am so proud of the children and the teachers.
But schools should be SO much more than Year 6 outcomes. As a system, we seem to believe that the only stress test for a primary school is the Sats results. Life is a bigger test than Sats. Children need more from us because there is so much that we will come across in life. Deep down we need school communities that are at the heart of this.
We need schools to focus on what is right rather than "bow down" to politics that are so detached from the communities and the realities of school life that they lose sight of what really matters. When the UNICEF index of child wellbeing puts children in the UK at the very bottom, you would think someone, somewhere would begin to change this for the good. Instead, it seems we are still obsessed in ensuring that grades are high – even when wellbeing is low.
As Callum’s mum said to me: ‘Life is about so much more than numbers.’
Brian Walton is headteacher of Brookside Academy in Somerset. He tweets as @Oldprimaryhead1