The head's view - Don't ever tell me Sats are a matter of life and death

26th September 2008 at 01:00

Time for a confession: as well as teaching other people's children, I have some of my own.

Clearly this is an embarrassing admission for any headteacher, bringing with it the recognition that I have allowed myself to be distracted from targets, data collection and the Government's overall standards agenda. Despite this obvious flaw in my nature, I must confess that having children has enabled me to see my job from an entirely fresh perspective.

My oldest son is in Year 9 of my own school. My early fears about him being on the receiving end of bullying or retribution proved entirely groundless. Broadly speaking, the more I rant in school, the more he has people take him to one side to express their sympathy over his unfortunate choice of parent.

Even more impressively, these commiserations have been received from both pupils and staff (and, on one occasion, the editor of the local newspaper). Pluckily, he has assured me that when he receives such supportive comments, he tells everyone that I am "just like anyone else's dad - almost normal at home".

A few months ago, he woke us complaining of severe pains in his stomach. At 6am we received the expected confirmation that he needed to have his appendix removed that day. It was only when the doctor who was to carry out the operation asked me if my son would be missing anything important at school, that I realised the significance of the timing. In three hours' time he was due to begin his key stage 3 Sats, but now he was going to miss the lot. When I explained this to the doctor, she smiled and said: "Glad it was nothing important." Thank heavens for the NHS.

My son's reaction was equally instructive. When the nurse said that she'd heard he had an important week coming up at school, he replied: "Yes, I was meant to run for the school athletics team." When told that there was something else as well, he responded: "Well, there was a five-a-side tournament."

As things have worked out, having a major abdominal operation rather than sitting KS3 Sats in 2008 looks like a rather good decision. The operation was crucial, while this year's tests have proved to be a complete waste of time. The operation dealt with an issue that might be a problem for the rest of his life, while the assessments were completely irrelevant to his future.

As parents, we are delighted that he has been spared the pain of dealing with shoddily marked papers, producing inaccurate results designed to feed statistically devalued league tables. Compared to this, the pain of the operation was quite a small price to pay.

Perhaps one day soon we will develop a system of educational testing that is less painful and actually helps our children. Until then, having your appendix removed beats doing Sats every time.

Peter Kent, Head of Lawrence Sheriff School in Rugby, Warwickshire.

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