Why Sats are like the Wizard of Oz: self-important and pompous

Sats remind me of the Wizard of Oz – pull back the curtain and they are exposed as ridiculous, says Siobhan Collingwood

Siobhan Collingwood

Sats remind me of the Wizard of Oz – once you pull back the curtain, the ridiculousness of the system is exposed, writes Siobhan Collingwood

And just like that, we’re back in Sats season again. The cardboard boxes have arrived, stacked full of sealed plastic packets with test papers inside. They have been counted, checked against orders and replaced in their boxes, before being sealed up tightly again.

We’ve checked the arrival of the clear plastic bags, white plastic bags, grey plastic bags, labels and registers. All are securely back inside their boxes in a locked cupboard, with the key kept securely to prevent access. They are like Harry Houdini, sealed, locked and locked again.

Taped on to the doors of the locked cupboard are sheets to record dates, times and the identities of those accessing the cupboard. We have read and reread the administration booklet, made requests for extra time for those eligible, printed off the responses and stored them safely in the file with the list of delivered items and proof of special needs for the children identified as needing additional support.

We have held our meeting for those involved in administration, explaining what is and is not alright to say to a panicked child sat frozen in front of a test paper asking for help. The handouts used in the training have been placed in the file with all of the other documentation to show that we’ve taken the security of these tests seriously and that we’re not up to anything shady.

Sats are taking themselves too seriously

If we don’t get the slightest of these ridiculously complicated arrangements right, we could be accused of maladministration and have to go through a ridiculously intense investigation carried out by a crack-pair of investigators who interrogate everybody who’s touched the papers.

This is no way to treat professionals.

Perhaps, these tests may be taking themselves a little bit too seriously.

In fact, the over-blown pomposity of this puffed up tests would be laughable if it wasn’t taken so seriously by our accountability systems. These tests are supposed to be the measure of whether or not whole schools are doing a good job. We have to take them seriously. But I’m finding it difficult to agree with this testing system’s opinion of its own importance.

I feel like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. I have looked behind the curtain at the ridiculously inept machinations of the so-called “Great Oz” and I’m afraid that what I see is really not worth all of these arrangements that we all worry so much about. Now that Labour have said that their policy will be to scrap Sats, the cries that we will all miss them when they’re gone feel like the frantic voice of an exposed and insignificant little man behind the curtain in Oz telling Dorothy to: “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

Like the exposed wizard, Sats are pompous and over-inflated. Looking closely at them, it becomes clear that the tests simply aren’t worth the fuss. This is for many reasons, but most notably, the following:

  • They are delivered during a set week each year, regardless of whether or not the child is ready or able to perform to their full capability.

  • They are ridiculously tightly timed, which makes children panic and rush through without taking the time they need. Others fail to finish and leave questions they are capable of unanswered.

Like Dorothy, I am beginning to hope that before too long I can go back home, to a place where teacher assessment is valued and tests are part of an assessment toolbox employed by teachers at their discretion, to inform their own assessments of the child.

Finally, it seems that enough voices are daring to say that educational policy should trust teachers to deploy tests that they choose without being doubted or forced to prove that their judgements are correct.

When this becomes national policy, our current testing regime will be outed as the pompous, ridiculous charlatan of a system that it is. When this becomes national policy, a whole generation of children will be saved from interminable test preparation that blights too many children’s final year at primary school.

Siobhan Collingwood is headteacher of Morecambe Bay Community Primary School, Lancashire

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