Hope rises from the shambles

12th September 2008 at 01:00
Notice the different ways the Government, the QCA, the contractors ETS, and teachers in general viewed the problems with Sats this year.

The first three seemed to see it as "an unfortunate situation", "a disappointment" and "a regrettable delay with processing and marking", while everybody at the coalface called it "a complete and utter shambles".

Personally, I'm with the coalface. The problems I had simply getting the National Assessment Agency to send me some bags to put the tests in were beyond belief. Pin numbers that didn't work, a helpline that was anything but, emails that were ignored. The relief I felt when my tests returned before the end of term was immeasurable.

Then an email telling me I hadn't put my teacher assessments online. I tried. Honestly, I tried. But the difficulties would have made even Bill Gates take up knitting.

Apparently I had to create something called a common transfer file, and if I wasn't sure how, the NAA site would tell me. It didn't, so back to the helpdesk.

"Um . I'm not certain," said the lady at the end of the phone. "Hang on, I'll ask."

I hung on for eight minutes . and then the line went dead. After the bags saga, I wasn't prepared to waste more time, so I emailed and said I'd send a copy via fax - or carrier pigeon if they were desperate for it. Frankly, I can't see what use teacher assessments would have been to them anyway.

As the whole sorry story unfolded during the last weeks of summer term, I'm sure teachers all over the land must have gasped with astonishment. Why was ETS selected? Well, oddly enough, it gave the cheapest tender. Who checked the firm out? Ah, wasn't it the same consultancy firm that was paid a reported Pounds 4 million by the Government to produce a report on what makes a good teacher?

ETS appears to have a history too . haven't there been stories of several unreliability problems in the States?

But there you go. At least we don't have to use ETS next year. Its contract has been terminated. Trouble is, nobody else seems to want the contract either.

So look on the bright side for the moment. Is it possible, just possible, that this fiasco could be the beginning of the end for primary school Sats? We're only too aware that our children are tested to destruction. Ask any teacher, and they'll tell you the tests are unsuitable, the results unreliable, and they reveal nothing their teachers or parents didn't know already. They don't affect which secondary schools the children go to, nor do the secondaries use them as indicators of the children's ability. The reason for them is purely as a government tool to show whether "standards" are rising.

In reality, they don't even do that. Any headteacher who's been in the job for a few years knows how to handle the Sats and how to jump through the hoops. Take my own school. We get very good results in key stage 2 year after year, but my experienced Years 5 and 6 teachers know how to prepare the children to maximum effect. And I don't worry too much about lower KS1 results, because our value added then looks terrific. Good results mean we get no interference from the local authority, Ofsted or the DCSF, whose sole criterion for success is high test scores, and we are then relatively free to give primary children the educational experience we think they ought to have, filled with art, drama, music, creativity and, yes, fun.

So, if there's a chance that Sats will go, my fingers are firmly crossed.

Mike Kent is headteacher of Comber Grove Primary, Camberwell, south London.



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