Is there really life after Sats?

21st May 2004 at 01:00
THE Sats are over for another year. The relief is such that you can almost hear every parent and teacher in Wales sigh. Turn your ear to the border, though, and you will hear wailing and gnashing of teeth as our frustrated counterparts in England take in the news that Wales has probably seen the last of key stage 2 and 3 Sats.

In Wales, KS1 is already long gone and I don't remember any howls of protest from parents or educators. At last education in Wales has grown up, taking the lead instead of being the testing ground for every half-baked idea to come out of London.

But what next? As we rip up the mountain of practice papers that Year 6 has just struggled through, what is going to fill that great hole left by endless Sats practice?

Some schools do little else in Y6. Many spend at least Christmas to May almost solely on English, maths and science. The Easter holiday is an excuse to load pupils down with more home practice.

Hopefully, the proposed end of KS2 Sats will be a golden opportunity to reinstate some of the subjects that have suffered so badly because of the pressure to over-concentrate on the core curriculum. History is often seen as a way to cover non-fiction writing in literacy hour - rather than to develop historical skills. Along with geography, art and music, it is relegated to the "fun zone" - the time when Y6 has been promised no homework for six weeks as a reward for the hard slog.

When they get to secondary school their Sats results are already out of date. Half a term of "fun" followed by a six-week holiday means that some disadvantaged pupils have not read seriously for almost three months.

They also display strange, learnt behaviours forced on them by government strategies. They concentrate well in the morning, when they are used to having literacy and numeracy hours, but equate afternoons with less important subjects or even that dreaded "fun time" again.

Unfortunately, in secondary schools, it sometimes happens that Y7 has maths followed by English on a Friday afternoon. The pupils and teachers are unprepared for this situation. In the crater left by Sats will we see real subjects and skills being taught by motivated and less stressed teachers, or will we fill the time with several months' worth of red, "made in Wales" tape and lose the opportunity that our English colleagues are so envious of?

And what do we do with all the money saved? Now that's what I call a really worthwhile test.

Kay Smith is head of history at a secondary school in Newport, Gwent

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