Your average primary head has had much to worry about this week. By much, I mean one thing: Sats results. With the steady stealth of a praying mantis, they carefully position themselves, paralyse us and consume us. There is no escape and we can only hope that at the final moments we escape through cunning or most likely, a little luck.
July should be a celebration of the year’s achievements. We should reflect on and review the challenges overcome and the barriers broken down: that child who took their first real steps into understanding multiplication; the progress made in writing; new skills learned; abilities and traits developed over the whole school year. July should be the month of award ceremonies, sports celebrations, musical concerts showcasing talents gained and arts exhibited. It should be a month of presentations and a time to celebrate the many skills and abilities in our schools. It should be a time of inclusion where we look not just for the highest outcomes but towards the greatest journeys. It should not be hard to celebrate each and every child in schools across our country.
But no, do not be fooled. As much as we are told differently, education is a test results game.
Big Brother moment
Those who judge schools from a distance fall back on results to justify their decisions – they rarely have the skills, time or courage to dig deeper. Teaching is a pure and noble act; teaching goes right to the roots of a civilised society's identity and purpose. July is the Big Brother moment in primaries. It has little to do with reality and the chronology of real learning. it is the Hollywood moment when sensational results mean success and where soon-to-be-celebrity headteachers humbly receive their standing ovations for amazing outcomes despite adversity.
Give me my OBE, knighthood and six-figure pay rise.
So much rides on these results that the real purpose of education is lost in the high-stakes world of statistical positioning. So many schools flirt with the results regime, especially when they are good. Others crawl under the table wrap their arms around their heads and wait for the fallout to clear. For them it is a time in which they ask themselves: is it worth fighting another year? Like a mother whose child falls into the lion's den at the zoo, we are at the mercy of the unpredictability of the outcome – one unexpected pass here or two devastating near misses there. The fine line between utter success and total failure rides on the narrowest of margins.
The results illusion
We are seduced by results and we readily buy in to the illusion that they mean success. No one questions the exam-factory mentality; no one stops to ask: what is education for? I learned this very early in to my first headship. After 12 years and many schools, I know that results are key. My national leader status is on the back of successful results – not the outcomes of the support work I have done. Not on the many other successes I have overseen.
The results game is big. We have a hundred charts and graphs to prove it; top school, top progress, top academy…Do you want a table? We have it. Imagine the old Top of the Pops countdown: "In at Number 10: Gove Academy with 99.9 per cent achieving beyond the expected standard – those crazy clowns are doing it for the kids."
July is a strange month. The child who made you laugh, the child in the ambulance you followed to hospital, the tears you dried from bitter disappointment, bumped heads, uncertainty, anxiety and fear…Did those children, the ones you care so much about – the ones you have watched grow and change, the ones you saw fall, love, run, skip and jump to their own beat – did they pass? Did they make the grade? Did they do their school proud?
Losing sight of the child
I wish July was about more than waiting for test results to validate our ability to be the best schools we can. I wish that the system that holds us to account was able to look beyond the cold statistical rainbow and look in to the hearts of our schools and find ways to shine a light on the amazing things that also take place in them. Ask any parent what matters most to them and they will give you a personal account of how a school is (or is not) making a difference to their one in 7 billion child.
Do not confuse my plea with a blob-like lack of accountability or a progressive’s laissez-faire attitude. I believe in tests, I believe in the basics and I believe that they form a vital part of the education system. I just feel that when it comes to using test results to measure success – when we place so much importance on them – we lose sight of the child in an attempt to create a big picture. It is a lie; it is false and means nothing to the individuals whom we try to do our best for. July should be a celebration of everything that schools do to improve the lives of so many, but it’s been reduced to simple test-based culpability.
Brian Walton is headteacher of Brookside Academy in Somerset. He tweets as @Oldprimaryhead1