'Sats have become a cancerous growth'

Sats reduce pupils and teachers to tears – and they change the way that school leaders behave, writes Colin Harris

Colin Harris

Sats force teachers and heads to behave in a way that is alien to them, writes Colin Harris

Primary headteachers come in all shapes and sizes. Education philosophies can vary wildly, as can management styles – but mention Sats and a very similar feeling of trepidation and "why the hell are we doing these tests?" will be felt by the majority of heads no matter what area they serve.

It is no surprise that over the years parents have withdrawn their children from Sats, and, as a headteacher, I was proud to boycott the tests when I could. It was not a difficult decision: the tests are inherently bad for children, they reduce the curriculum on offer and allow people in positions of power (who often found the reality of a teaching career too challenging) to make decisions about schools based on the shady data produced.

Recent research based on headteachers’ opinions from the "More than a score" campaign supports my position. Some 93 per cent believe the current testing system should change, 87 per cent believe the government doesn't listen to heads on the subject, 96 per cent believe Sats affect the wellbeing of pupils and 98 per cent believe the regime places teachers under undue stress.

Of course, the government would not agree. Ministers of all shades have a long-held view of the necessity of maintaining Sats in something close to their current form. However, these Westminster policies are light years away for the reality of education in England.

Sats must be abolished

I boycotted Sats because I believe children should be treated as children not a number in an elaborate process of assimilation. Testing is not teaching and never will be. Sats are designed for those outside the system to make judgements of those within it. It’s worth remembering that this process is undertaken very badly.

When I was a head, I suffered in Sats week: most current heads will do the same. I watched the children cry, the parents cry and the teachers do the same. I suffered the stress of delivering a paper designed to catch children out.

However, one story sums up the tragedy that is Sats, for me.

An 11-year-old in my school, whose life had already been hard, to say the least, had an altercation at the children's home he attended on the morning of the reading paper. When the police arrived to arrest the boy halfway through the paper, one of my first thoughts was about the effect on that child and on my results. How callous I had been forced to become. 

This is what Sats do to heads: it forces them to behave in a way I’d rather not.

Sats have become a cancerous growth on our education system. One that should be cut out now. They should play no part in our schools in their present form. It is time we got back to educating our children, not preparing them for a malignant testing regime.

Colin Harris led a school in a deprived area of Portsmouth for more than two decades. His last two Ofsted reports were “outstanding” across all categories





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