Getting Irate So That You Don't Have To

Getting Irate So That You Don't Have To

Thursday, 17 July 2008

SAT On The Fence ?

Womble On Tour Juniors I and II have done well in their SATs. They've both achieved the targets we set them and it's going to cost us £60 in rewards. We're pleased, they're relieved and we think that the grades they got were probably representative of what they're capable of. Now that it's all over for the next three years I've found myself reflecting on the whole experience.

Criticism is aimed at SATs on a wide variety of counts; they're stressful, they don't add value, they detract from actual education, they're the product of a target-driven culture. Which of these are fair ?

Stressful ? Well, my kids certainly worried about them. I've asked myself where the worry came from; did we contribute to it, perhaps by adding monetary incentive, or was it down to the school ? The latter, undoubtedly. They were worried before we offered them a prize for good performance. The school place great emphasis on SATs results, and I know that lots of other children worried too. I did wonder whether it was right that eleven-year-olds should be losing sleep over exams; OK, exams are a part of life but at what point should we expect kids to face them ? I understand why, but to my mind the school overdid the importance of these tests.

Add value ? Well yes, SATs do. they're an important measure of how well a school is performing. Whether it's the best measure, or whether someone could come up with better ones is another matter. But it has to be an improvement on the days when parents had no empitical evidence through which to measure how good a primary really was.

Do SATs detract from actual education ? Well yes, I'm afraid they do. undoutedly. Our kids were practicing SATs exams for weeks before the actual tests. Not learning anything new, particularly; just fine-tuning exam technique. I'm sure many of us have been on courses where the aim is less to learn the subject in hand than it is to pass the test. Well from roughly March onwards all my kids were learning in Maths, English and Science was how to pass a SAT. I wouldn't describe it as an out-and-out waste of time, but surely there are better things to do at that age...

Target-driven culture ? Well, yes, SATs are a part of that. In education it's no bad thing because we have to be able to measure how our schools are doing. Our children's school proudly trumpted their "best SATs results ever" yesterday and doubtless they'll continue to shout it from the rooftops. After all, I'd rather send my kids to a school with decent results. Some people in education don't like that idea; they'd rather parents didn't have the information or the choice, and they see SATs as promoting "elitism". That's tosh in my view, and I'd rather have the government running education than them (yes, even THIS government !).

All that aside, there are some other factors at play which I cannot help wonder about. Grade inflation, perhaps ? How many other schools have had their "best results ever", and how much of that might be down to the government trying to convince us that education is on the up ? I suppose we'll know more on that over the next few days, when the results at a national level become clearer. But is it not a tragedy when you cannot see improvements in results without being suspicious ?

And quite apart from the spectacular cock-up in marking and the inexcusable delays, you can't help wondering where all this takes us anyway when you see stories like this, from The Times (hat-tip Dizzy). When the hell are teachers and examiners going to take spelling, grammar and basic writing skills seriously again ?

Overall I applaud the idea of SATs. It's right that we should know how our kids are doing and it's equally right that schools should be measured. It the system perfect ? No, not by a long chalk. But it's better than what we had, and probably better than what many in the educational establishment would offer us, were it left entirely to them.

All that said, ask me what I think of SATs when my kids are 14...


nuttycow said...

Well done to both the Womble juniors. It must be a great relief for both you and them that they're over!

I am glad I didn't have to do SATs when I was in school. I don't think I had *real* exams until IGCSEs. I did common entrance to get into my secondary school and then end of year exams but apart from that, nothing. I think I got off quite lightly!

Andrew Allison said...

Well done to the Womble juniors from me too.

As a school governor, I suppose the governing body also puts pressure on the teaching staff. If the results are bad, we want to know why.

The problem I have with them is that - as you said - a school devotes so much time and effort in to fine tuning for exams, that the pupils are not getting a rounded education for a few weeks. Having said that, I think on balance we are better off with them, than without them.