Sats Week: 'My teacher seems to believe that learning the difference between a subordinating conjunction and a preposition is vital to my future success'

One headteacher imagines what a child's story of their experiences of Sats might look like: "I am going to start secondary school with the label 'not good enough'"

Siobhan Collingwood

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I used to love the bath, book and bed routine with my children, both of whom are now too old for me to share a beautiful picture book with.

One of our favourites was the Charlie and Lola series, especially I am Too Absolutely Small to go to School. We always enjoyed the endless reasons Lola gave as to why she couldn't possibly go to school, except of course the truth, that she is too frightened to go to school: “I probably do not have time to go to school, I am too extremely busy doing important things at home.”

The sad thing is that the sentiments Lola expresses would now accurately reflect the feelings of so many of our students and staff – but without the happy ending of a fun and positive experience of school.

For too many, school is becoming an increasingly more stressful and unhappy experience. We must hope that the recent parliamentary inquiry on assessment and the report on the role of education in promoting wellbeing for children and young people, forces the government to stop and think.

We must hope that the growing movement of parents and communities fighting high-stakes testing and school budget cuts, forces the government, whatever the colour, to halt the damage being done to our children’s experience of education.

I fear that if current policy remains unchecked, the following would be a more representative story written from Lola's viewpoint as a 10-year-old today, nowhere near as sweet, and classified in the horror or non-fiction section of school libraries.

Dear Charlie,

Today was a dreary day in which I tried hard to make my teacher smile. I don’t think she had a good enough rest over the holidays; she was very busy running the Easter Sats booster classes. 

She seems to believe that learning the difference between a subordinating conjunction and a preposition is vital to my future success, so now I know that conjunctions can act as prepositions when they are followed by objects, rather than dependent clauses and can spot the differences on a SPaG paper.

This did make her smile for a little while until she realised that I don’t understand what the subjunctive form is. At this point she put her head in her hands and looked like she would cry. 

I told her I would try harder in my SPaG club and homework after school and that seemed to cheer her up for a while, but then she went out to the staffroom, shaking her head and muttering something about not joining the profession to do this to children.

When she came back we started our next practice paper because we only have a week left in school before the Sats start.

These are the most important things that we have ever done in school before – they must be because we have spent an awful lot of time preparing and they are the only thing that my teacher seems to be thinking about.

The only break she seems to get is when the headteacher comes in to ask her about predicted percentages that will meet expected standards and make accelerated progress (I think this must have something to do with a new car she’s buying; but it doesn’t seem to cheer her up).

In the afternoon most of the class started a cooking lesson, we were going to make fruity flapjacks, but unfortunately, Charlie, I have been chosen to do special booster sessions on multi-step calculation questions, which meant that I missed that lesson.

So instead I went out with five of my friends and we practised how many four-step calculations we could do in 30 minutes; the teacher said it would be fun, a race and a challenge, but I prefer running races.

My brain ached after trying to work out how many flapjacks you could make from a 750g packet of oats and 500ml jar of Golden Syrup, following the recipe that Miss gave us and how much we should charge for a 30g flapjack if we wanted to make a 35 per cent profit margin; and that was just the first question out of 10!

My imaginary friend Soren Lorensen who went away a few years ago, is back since we started practising for Sats in November. He started hitting his head on the table after the first question and the teacher kept glaring at us because we weren’t working fast enough.

The only consolation was that when we went back to class, the rest of the class hadn't actually made any flapjacks, they had written a recipe out to be included in their writing evidence portfolios.

Our teacher was telling everybody off because they hadn't included enough fronted adverbials or varied the length and tone of sentences sufficiently in this piece of writing, so they would have to do another piece instead of going out for our half hour PE lesson.

At the end of the day my teacher told us that even though she has only been teaching for three years, she is leaving our school and taking a job that is less stressful at the end of the year.

We were all shocked and asked who would be taking her place. She said that the school would not be replacing her and that next year we will be in bigger classes of  up to 40 instead.

I looked around our squashed classroom with no space between tables and little room for our bookshelves or cupboards. She saw me and smiled, saying: “Don’t worry, Lola, we won’t need those in classrooms from now on, we can’t afford to put books or supplies in them.” I think she was joking, but she looked very serious.

Charlie, I hope that you will be able to cheer me up and to help me understand all the bad things that have happened in school today, but I am worried about you as well. You are doing your GCSEs soon and I haven’t seen much of you since January, because of your new hobby: revision.

I saw your Instagram picture and read that you don’t think you can take any more because you can’t learn your Shakespeare book, poetry book and big story books off by heart. I don’t think that you will really be a complete failure, Charlie. I believe you can get 8s and 9s across the board, to secure your future place at a top university, to make a lifetime’s debt worthwhile.

You wrote that you can’t take this pressure anymore and last night I saw you sobbing on mum’s shoulder. She told you to speak to your school counsellor but I know your school has got rid of her because they can’t afford her any more. You could always come and help me with my SPaG homework if you want a break.

I gave a copy of this letter to my teacher because she wants a letter to put in my writing evidence folder. However she isn’t happy because she can’t find an example of parenthesis in it so I don’t meet "expected standards".

I think I understand why you were crying last night, Charlie, my teacher says I am going to start secondary school with the label “not good enough”.

I don’t think I can take this pressure either I think that I am too absolutely small for high pressure Sats.

Siobhan Collingwood is the headteacher of Morecambe Bay Community Primary School​

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Siobhan Collingwood

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