Socialist Worker

Sats: the tests that fail our kids

Issue No. 2199

Delegates at the NUT union conference vote to back a boycott of tests  (Pic:» Guy Smallman )

Delegates at the NUT union conference vote to back a boycott of tests (Pic: » Guy Smallman)

Primary school headteachers across Britain have voted to boycott the Sats assessment tests for 11 year olds. Around 600,000 children were to take the tests from 10 May.

Politicians and the media have attacked the NUT and NAHT union members for supposedly threatening children’s education.

The government is so worried about the effect of the boycott that it talking about launching legal action against it.

Here, Socialist Worker busts the lies about Sats and asks what the tests are really for.

Myth 1: Sats help children

Sats don’t help children learn – they turn them off learning. Much like the old 11-plus tests, Sats write off thousands of people as “failures” at an early age.

And the league tables created from Sats are used to relegate some schools into the “sink” category so that they become less popular and enter a cycle of failure.

Instead of league tables, we need a decent school for every child.

Some children may have specific problems at school. And issues like poverty and racism mean that working class students are more likely to “fail”.

For these people, Sats don’t encourage them to “try harder”. Instead they send the message that education just isn’t for them.

There is no clear evidence that Sats have driven up “standards”.

Sats results have stagnated since the year 2000. And Sats don’t mean that more help is given to those struggling at school.

There is strong evidence that the pressure to get good Sats results pushes teachers to focus on those who are just below the “level” they “should” be reaching.

This means that those who are really being failed by the system don’t get the attention they need.

The demands of the tests also encourage children to think in terms of quick and simple answers that can be easily memorised. They discourage more thoughtful, enquiring learning.

They mean teachers drill kids to memorise answers to questions, instead of making sure that they really understand the answers they are giving.

Teachers end up neglecting those subjects that aren’t distorted by Sats in the mad panic to prepare for the tests.

Myth 2: If we don’t do the Sats, children will have wasted the year spent preparing for them

The focus on Sats has already distorted education for hundreds of thousands of children over the past year.

It doesn’t mean the whole year has been wasted if a test isn’t taken at the end.

The students will have learned many things that can’t be reflected by crude Sats tests.

The best way to give children a better education is to use what would have been Sats week as a celebration of learning.

A boycott can be the start of abolishing Sats for good – and making sure that kids are given a meaningful, engaging education.

Schools secretary Ed Balls sees the year as a “waste” because it will fail to do what the government sees as the priority – provide figures that it can use to classify and rank schools in league tables.

And this should not be the priority in education.

Myth 3: Without Sats, I won’t know how my child is doing at school

We don’t need Sats and league tables to judge how children and schools are “performing”.

The devolved governments in Wales and Northern Ireland scrapped league tables in 2001. Wales scrapped Sats in 2004 while Scotland has never had the tests.

Even Ed Balls scrapped Sats tests for 14-year olds – and the corresponding league tables – in 2008.

This followed a series of critical reports and chaos in the marking of test papers.

Dumping Sats doesn’t mean dumping assessment. It’s just that there are more reliable, meaningful ways of doing this.

Education experts point out that teachers need to assess students and give them feedback as part of everyday learning.

Most experts agree that formative assessment is the best way to improve learning – where students are given feedback throughout learning.

If a government wants to assess the overall state of teaching of certain subjects, it can look at a sample of children and schools.

There are major problems with the accuracy of Sats. Researchers at the Centre for Educational Management at the University of Durham found that Sats have exaggerated progress.

The government abolished the official Statistics Commission when it agreed with this finding!

Myth 4: Sats hold teachers and schools to account. Without them, how will I know if there are rubbish teachers in charge of my child’s education?

Sats are not about giving parents an idea of how their children are doing or helping students to learn.

They are a mechanism for driving market values and competition deeper into education.

Sats results are used to close “failing” schools, attack “failing” teachers and write off “failing” kids.

If a school gets low Sats results, teachers get the blame. But if the school intake is from a poor area, or somewhere that a lot of children don’t have English as a first language, that isn’t taken into account.

Students in these schools may be making great progress – but the Sats will define them as failures.

Politicians want to move the attention away from the things that really impact on education, like class, poverty and racism, because they aren’t doing anything to tackle these things.

Using test scores to blame individual schools and teachers is very convenient for them.

Boycotting Sats will defy the government’s drive to ruin education for hundreds of thousands of working class children.

It will say that they deserve much better.

What you can do to back boycott

Everyone can do something to make the boycott a success:

  • Headteachers should call public meetings in their schools. They can invite parents, teachers and children to hear the case against Sats and spell out how children could get a better education.
  • Teachers can organise to support the boycott by leafleting and running stalls.
  • Parents can write to teachers backing the boycott and try to persuade other parents to do so.

The author Michael Rosen has set up the Parents Support Teachers’ Sats Boycott Facebook group. Join it

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Article information

Tue 27 Apr 2010, 18:51 BST
Issue No. 2199
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