'Sats are past their sell-by date and the data they generate is not worth the paper it is written on'

1st September 2016 at 11:42
Sats results by local authority
Today's Sats data will result in yet more navel-gazing about supposed problems with a north-south divide, the plight of rural areas and ongoing issues with coastal towns, writes one veteran educationist. But by doing so we are deflecting ourselves away from the main issue: the testing regime is not fit for purpose

Today is the day that we find ourselves reviewing how local authorities and regions have done in this year's Sats. Inevitably many column inches in newspapers will be devoted to how well certain parts of the country are doing. Much debate and naval-gazing will ensue over these results.

How farcical it is that such an utterly flawed system, from beginning to end, will actually provide the data which will generate these often heated conversations.

This is a total outrage and one, as educationalists, we should really not be party to.

There is much talk at the moment about a boycott of this year's Sats and a rethink over elements of the tests, from the ludicrously difficult reading test to the overly demanding Spag test. Such action would be laudable, but really we should be demanding a full scale national debate on the whole testing regime. 

Why? Well let’s start by looking at what we actually know about Sats...

  • Firstly we have a system which only the government believe measures pupils attainment. What it actually measures is whether they know what has been presented to them in the test, and whether they have been prepped to answer. Such a system is actually deeply damaging to children both in an academic and social way. This year it was recognised by virtually all teachers and now a vast percentage of the parents of the children involved.
  • Secondly whatever happens with these tests, we are left with a bitter pill to swallow:  children either passing or failing. How sad is it we are telling 11-year-olds they are not ready to take on secondary school because of a 45 minute test paper.
  • And thirdly this flawed and antiquated system is then used in an aggregated way to decide the fate of every single primary up and down the country. Ofsted inspectors paw over the data from the comfort of their laptops, and decide the futures of school leaders by totting up the number of passes against those who have failed.

Isn't it time we recognise these truths?

Isn't it time we shouted loudly that the need to 'pass' this test has led to a narrow, stifling curriculum designed more for robots than the children we have in our care?

Isn't it time to remember that this curriculum adversely affects individuals’ talents, their skills and undoubtedly their creativity?

The approach we have been forced to follow is slowly suffocating our children of all true individuality.

What will this inevitably lead to? Evidenced by so many teachers, the emotional and social health of our children is compromised, their self-esteem is at an all-time low, and love of school is being lost. Told to close the inequality gap, we are actually widening it.

All of this is sad to write but these are the facts. We could add that test results do not reflect a child's underlying understanding, or that teacher-pupil relationships are affected or that the most affected are the disadvantaged or the special needs.

But what we will wind up doing today is comparing areas, complaining of a north-south divide, waxing lyrical about the plight of rural areas or coastal towns.

By doing so we are deflecting ourselves away from the main issue: Sats are past their sell-by date and the data they generate is not worth the paper it is written on.

This is not a reflection on any teacher or child who did them in this year, and worked so hard to do well. No, it is a sad indictment on an education system not able to recognise that it needs to change.

I wouldn't hold my breath.

Colin Harris is a former primary head now supporting teachers and headteachers

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