What is the point of SATs?

What’s the point of SATs?

What’s the point of SATs?

In short: Very little!

Firstly, I’d at least try to provide some balance to my argument. The main arguments for SATs are:

  1. They provide the data for the ‘standards agenda’
  2. They provide an objective snapshot of children’s progress.

In 2009 I sent an email to Ed Balls at the Dept of Education and below is a quote that sums up the Government’s position. (A position that still holds true in 2011)

‘The majority of parents value the information our system of testing and assessment provides to help them choose the right school for their child and to have objective information on their child’s progress.’

From this quote there is, could I add, one more argument for SATs:

The fact that the Government feels that teachers are unable to offer an objective assessment of pupils.

I’ve facilitated learning with my class for the past two years, taking the children at the end of Y4 and all the way to the end of their primary education. It may seem odd to say that ‘Standards’ are one of my lowest priorities; learning and enjoyment are my top priority, with the belief that ‘Standards’ will be one of the many outcomes of my pedagogy. Children in my class have excelled in SATs this year and the cries of, “this should keep Ofsted of our backs!” have reverberated around the staffroom. I therefore feel in a position to add my two penneth’ worth

I suppose I should be happy then, my children have done great in their SATs! Ofsted (even if they do turn up), will be drooling over RAISEonline…I am not happy though. In their current form, I despise SATs with such a passion that I’d happily see them abolished yesterday.

The simple truth is that SATs do great harm to children. They fix their ‘ability’/mindset in maths or English. The ‘level 5’ children think they’re great or clever, the ‘level 4s’ will spend their secondary education in what we call ‘an average kind of hell’ and the level 3s will feel so stupid they will want to finish school now!

From the beginning of Y1 until the end of Y6 children spend over 6000 hours learning in the classroom . These youngsters put in a lot of effort in that time; they laugh, love, cry, complain, question, find friends (and enemies), have chicken pox and lose teeth along the way. In that time we hope they have become a child with the potential to flourish now and in the future.

Towards the end of primary school, the children sit ‘Standardised Tests’, in less than four hours, the Government decide whether the 6000 hours was all worth it! Children are then pigeon holed into the ‘bright ones’, the ‘average ones’ or the ‘slow movers’. All this assessment based up on two principles, maths and English. (see our blog on Multiple Intelligences http://wp.me/p1upWt-1S )

Imagine this: Ofsted, come into a maths lesson, maybe yours (I can feel the shivers down your spine as a write this) and you decide, based on your understanding of ‘Standards’ that:

  • There will be no differentiation.
  • Any word problems will involve the same three people and involve sweets or buttons.
  • Children will, under no circumstances, be able to talk to one another, reflect upon their learning, collaborate with each other or think creatively!
  • The lesson will be 45 minutes, not a second more, not a second less
  • Pupils will not be allowed to apply any ‘help’ strategies if they get stuck; if they do get stuck, the MUST stay stuck
  • All learning prompts will be covered up or removed from the pupil’s desks
  • At the end of the lesson each children will be explicitly told they are either
  1. Above average
  2. Average
  3. Below average

After the lesson, you sit down with the inspector and confidently ask “Did you like the way I really focused on standards today?”…

Why assess children in a way so detached from the learning process? It’s like asking Lewis Hamilton to complete his next race in a submarine! SATs bear no resemblance to the learning process – the only thing being assessed is how good the pupils are at sitting a test, or as one little boy (Niall) said to me, “SATs only prove how well you do under pressure don’t they”

Chris, who had the highest raw score in the maths test, also happens to be the one boy who struggles most with problem solving! I also have a wonderful writer, she writes with such vivid description, creating wonderful pictures inside the minds of her readers – she ‘scraped’ a level 4 in the writing because her handwriting was poor and in this extremely unnatural situation, she failed to show the wonderful figurative language she shows day in day out in class. For the past two years I’ve shared my admiration of her writing with her, her parents and colleagues, only for the ‘Standardised’ test to inform us that she’s average! Sadly she’s not so sure she’s such a great writer now.

SATs are also used to put schools into a league tables. The only conclusion I can reach from this is that schools move from being collaborators to competitors. Teachers look to see if they’ve ‘beaten’ the nearest rivals and schools from economically challenging areas are looked down upon.

By creating league tables an ethos of competition, winning and losing, comparing and contrasting emerges; the motivation to collaborate slowly ebbs away. Self perseveration rules!

If it were a football team, the Y6 teachers would be the strikers who score the ‘goals’, they too often carry the weight of the team on their shoulders and should they miss the target, they are forced into finding excuses to save their skins. The Headteachers are the managers who watch on helplessly as the results come in, hoping they’ve beaten the school up the road for the kudos it supplies at the next meeting. And the sharing of ideas is something that can’t be done, after all why would you give your competitor the edge?

Would Chelsea and Manchester United ‘share’ players and tactics whilst performing in their ‘league?’

The Government and the media have hyped-up SATs to be the pinnacle of excellence, the gold standard for primary education, a system that gives bragging rights to some and embarrassment to others. SATs bog the education system down, skewing its purpose. The recent uproar relating to the marking of writing assessments illustrates our point; the anguish and anger caused by this cannot be good for children’s education.

It may then seem odd that we think getting rid of testing is not the answer. What we argue is that the significance attached to them is disproportionate to the data they produce. In short, good SATs results do not mean a good school and vice versa. They are the wrong criteria to use.

The ThoughtWeavers


15 thoughts on “What is the point of SATs?

  1. I agree whole-heartedly with what you have said here. It actually heartens me to think that, through twitter and blogging, there are still many educational professionals who DO choose to collaborate. A shame that this mentality is not always replicated on the ground

  2. This not just true of primary education. We are dealing with the same nonsense in the secondary sector. I make a point of treating new year 7s’ SATS results with disdain and discovering for myself what the students are like. But, as you know, we’re judged by the progress they make from ks2 – ks4 so ignoring it entirely is not an option. Ofsted tells us that all children must be able to recite targets and reel off how they are working towards them. Schools them insist that these targets be recorded in big letters on their books. As you say: way to fix mindsets! But maybe it’s not exams that are the problem; maybe it’s ofsted?

  3. I read your blog posts regularly and, generally, I agree with your sentiments. However, I felt it necessary to respond today because, as a Primary teacher, I feel strongly that we stand as a model to our pupils, their families and to a wider society, particularly when we choose to share our views in public. In such instances, I believe that we should make every effort to ensure that, if we are going to criticise others, we should ensure that our discourse will stand up to counter-criticism.

    So, while I agree that the system of testing we have in place in schools in England (and the justification behind the system) is ultimately flawed, I am saddened that you haven’t take the time to be precise with your own spelling, punctuation, grammar and syntax. On this occasion, I don’t think you have done justice to our profession.

    I am not usually driven to comment on things like this and I am happy to forgive occasional typos since I am well aware of my own tendency to do the same when working at speed. Unfortunately though, I counted more than ten errors within the first few paragraphs following your jokey, critical assessment of the DfE’s response to your e-mail (I have assumed it to be a quote from the response as you don’t specifically mention the source) so I feel that commenting is necessary, even if it seems rather negative.

    To balance my negativity I would like to say that I am thoroughly heartened by your refreshing view of learners’ needs, your ‘anti-system’ ethos and your commitment to giving young people (and others) the highest quality learning experiences. The more of us who promote teaching as a creative profession which is otherwise stymied by unnecessary bureaucracy and rigidly imposed boundaries, the more likely it is that someone important will begin to listen. Thank you.

    1. Hi Neil, thanks for your comments. You’re right, my grammar etc is not always my strength. The other thought weaver (David) excels in this department! So I (Lee) take full responsibility for these errors as the blog was my work. Just to make a point though, it does seem ironic that as a primary school teacher you choose to criticise rather than advise and move away from the real point of the post. I hope this is not typical of your pedagogy. As a writer, I’ve never excelled ‘technically’ but like all good learners I’m improving all the time. Every week we receive countless tweets and comments that are very positive, these inspire us to keep posting blogs despite being very busy. We are passionate, skilful and innovative teachers who are looking to inspire others; this is how we do justice to our profession. However, I am pleased you share some of our sentiments with relation to SATs and you balance your negative thoughts with some positive comments.
      I’ve just reread my post and actually found 11 mistakes! Can you find the miss-takes in this reply? Have fun! Seriously though, like all professionals we do take criticism seriously and I’m sure next weeks blog will be better! Look out for it!

      Best wishes
      The thought weavers

      1. Hi Lee – and thanks for your response.

        Firstly, my apologies: The irony is very evident – my criticism is less desirable than a good ‘way forward’ might have been and I promise that, in class, I remember that the children are children and thrive on being told what they’re doing right rather than what is wrong! – AfL has taught me that, at least 😉

        If truth be known, I am aggrieved when I see criticism for its own sake, but I had hoped mine wasn’t in that category (re-reading it makes me wonder however!). It was uncomfortable putting it in writing I must add! It was certainly not my intention to ignore the point of your post and I should re-state my whole-hearted support for your passionate stance of innovation, creativity and (dare I use this hackneyed phrase?) out-of-the-box thinking. The plaudits you receive are deserved – perhaps the back-pedalling in my last paragraph could have been a bit harder!

        To summarise my original point however, the message is great, but I worry that it might be perceived as less credible by some as a result of the errors. Only this week we were treated to the news that spelling mistakes could be costing the economy millions in lost sales. This article makes the case: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-14130854

        My concern is that those more pedantic than me (and I know plenty of talented, innovative teachers who fit this description!) might not ‘buy’ your ideas. This is an otherwise excellent blog with truly thought-provoking entries and which is already changing the way I, and no doubt many others, think about the way we teach our pupils. I like the accessible, conversational style (which of course allows for the odd broken rule – like I said, I’m not entirely averse to typos and slips). It deserves broad exposure in order to engage people in a rigorous debate about our education methods in the UK.

        On the main point then: I too detest the frankly laughable mandatory assessment system we labour under for judging our children. When my own children reach the appropriate ages, I will be withdrawing them from the tests – not as a protest against their school, nor of testing per se, but so that they don’t become statistics in what I cynically believe to be a barely-disguised re-election tool. The school they attend is a ‘good’ school, by Ofsted’s judgement. I have no cause to doubt this from my experience so far and am not keen to cause any difficulty for the staff and SLT by creating gaps in their stats. However, I feel strongly enough that the system is wrong that I am prepared to withdraw them anyway.

        I have taught in KS1 for many years, spending the vast majority of that time in Year 2 (hey – I like it there!). I have become increasingly aware of the build-up of pressure on the SLT and Year 2 to produce better and better results and have seen Performance Management targets linked to this drive for ‘Standards’ in a pernicious way. I don’t see this as the fault of the SLT who are, in my opinion, under as much pressure as those at the chalkface. This is the fault of successive short-sighted elected regimes who are unable to trust good teachers in good schools to to a good job their own way. Yes, there are bad teachers. Yes, there are bad leaders. Yes, there are bad leaders. But I’d like to bet that a fair proportion of those ‘bad’ teachers might be an awful lot better were the bureaucratic pressure on them relieved even 30%, freeing them to think and innovate more akin to yourself and David.

        On a philosophical level, I don’t believe it is the primary purpose of education to provide generations of workers who can serve the country’s economy – it is to turn out simply good people, who will try their hardest at whatever it is they end up doing, enjoy it, have a fair balance between life and work, and will make others’ lives around them enjoyable too. Currently, we’ve got it wrong.

        Hmmm – maybe you’ve even inspired me to start my own blog! Well – I guess there are sometimes unwanted side-effects to everyone’s good work!

        P.S. Friends? 😉

      2. Hi Neil
        Thanks for your response. Firstly, yes of course we are friends. Anyone who argues passionately about eduation, with good evidence, is a friend of ours! On reflection you do raise some very valid points. We blog for fun really, but what we do write, we truly believe in. In our busy lives our proof reading is normally done over a sandwich at lunch or in between marking maths and english books! Trying to get a blog out weekly can be tough! However, as you suggest, there are people who are even more pedantic than you! 🙂 so we should make a little more time for this! It is funny how the word ‘standards’ in education means so little now. Only maths and english seem to matter, this is a real shame for youngsters who have a hugely diverse range of skills and aptitudes. You should be applauded for withdrawing your own children from the tests; your reasoning is very sound, the school may not like it – but tough!

        And to finish (Am I allowed to start a sentence with ‘And?’), we think you should start a blog!
        Great debating with you!

        Lee and David
        The Thought Weavers

  4. Good to debate with you too and, for the record, I think starting sentences with ‘And’ is one of those rules that’s fine to break.

    I fully appreciate your point about blogging between other jobs as full-time teachers. I have been part-time for a while and it is a very different job. Only now, with this ‘spare’ time, am I able to even consider the idea of a blog! Now – where did I leave my list of safe psuedonyms?


  5. Totally agree with the sentiments here. SATs don’t tell us anything new and for some cause unnecessary pressure and stress. However, can’t see that the present government are going to agree with the teaching profession on this one. There may be light at the end of the tunnel as the Bew report http://www.education.gov.uk/ks2review seems to support a move towards teacher assessments having greater influence (as with Y2). In the meantime, the challenge to NOT make SATs the be all and end all will continue.

  6. It’s like the Government got a flat-pack, but didn’t read the instructions, so instead of building a ladder, they got a prison!

    There’s nothing wrong with testing per se (though other forms of assessment are just as valid) – it’s the use and timing of it that’s questionable. It can be a good way for a pupil to demonstrate understanding and have confidence and pride in their achievements. But that necessitates them doing the exam when they’re ready to, not when someone else dictates they have to.

    I also like the idea of a ladder of knowledge and skills, again for the progression of an individual’s learning. Indeed the only thing the government should care about is that students are making progress, and pupils moving up levels over time would be a good indicator of that. However, to use those statistics to pit one school against another is actually heinous.

    Each young person is an individual – learning at a different pace, and better at some things than others. That’s actually a good thing. They deserve better than a generalised education factory.


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