It’s that time of year when many year 6 pupils and their parents (and their teachers!) panic about the Standard Assessment Tests (SATs).
Pupil testing has been around for as long as there have been schools, but never have the stakes for all concerned been as high as they are now.
Almost daily, I read reports from various sources about the pressures under which schools are placed to ensure their pupils meet the (often) unrealistic targets set for them. This pressure is inevitably passed on to pupils, causing anxiety – even depression – for far too many.
There are many issues regarding the current testing system, not least the fact that children are missing out on some of the things they should be enjoying during this part of their lives. I don’t mean just the opportunity to play and veg out – that’s a given; I mean also the opportunities to discover things within their education that would be useful in the future.
So much time is spent getting ten- and eleven-year-olds to learn the difference between a clause and a phrase, or to identify prepositional phrases, or to distinguish between a sentence or a noun phrase – quite frankly, stuff many quality writers would struggle to remember – that there’s not enough time to let children just enjoy writing stories where they can use their imaginations freely. There’s not enough time for them to just read a good book and enjoy the experience without having to analyse why the writer used a semi-colon instead of a comma.
For far too many primary pupils, there’s not even enough time to cover basic science.
I’m not against assessments: on the contrary, I think it’s necessary for schools – as well as rewarding for children – to be aware of where achievements have been made and what the next steps are for progress. And quite a few children enjoy the challenge involved in tests.
But this obsession with national targets and league tables has led to a narrowing of the curriculum where a disproportionate amount of time is spent on maths and English to the detriment of more physical, creative or scientific subjects.
That’s a real shame for those children who excel at art, or sport, or music, but who find maths or English challenging. Constantly being compared with ‘the nation’ is giving so many children the message that their talents are worthless.
I’m pretty old and struggle with anything tech related. If I was told I had to spend all my time learning how to programme computers rather than doing the stuff I’m good at, I’d become pretty despondent about my self-worth. I’d probably throw a few tantrums. I certainly wouldn’t learn anything.
Imagine how it feels for a child to have to miss the things they love so they can spend more time doing the things they find a struggle. No wonder so many children hate school and misbehave.
Childhood learning should be about discovery – not being constantly compared to every other child of the same age.