Parents speak out against school SATS tests
Seven year olds in grip of fear
SCHOOL children across Britain are facing a nightmare regime of high pressure tests. It is driving parents to speak out against the government's compulsory SATs (Standard Assessment Tests) which seven, 11 and 14 year olds are put through. Penny Holmes from Chipstable in Somerset voiced her deep worries on BBC Radio 4's early morning news programme, Today, last week. Penny said she was concerned that children were being subjected to unnecessary pressure by the tests.
She said she would be prepared to risk the 1,000 fine by refusing to allow her seven year old child to sit the tests. After her radio appearance Penny was flooded with telephone calls and letters of support from other worried parents. Gaynor Woolley said, "I have a ten year old son with dyslexic problems who will have to sit the same test as everyone else in the class. Any test is a great source of stress to him. It is all such a waste of valuable teaching time."
Parents are right to be worried about the effect of New Labour's regime of testing. A report by the Mental Health Foundation last year showed a rise in mental health problems in children as young as four.
The authors of the report said they had "huge concern" about the narrowness of the national curriculum and the increased pressure in schools. Yet New Labour's education secretary, David Blunkett, wants to ignore the pleas from parents, children and teachers. The government is committed to keeping the tests which are used to grade schools into league tables.
But a child's progress cannot be accurately measured at a fixed age through a national standard. The tests don't measure the problems faced by children in deprived areas or a child's different strengths and weaknesses. Teacher Kevin Courtney from Camden in London reveals the extent of the pressure on parents and their kids. "I had a case of a parent of a six year old daughter who had tonsillitis," he says. She was off school but that didn't stop the school sending her practice papers for the SATs. She had a tonsil operation the day she was due to sit the SATs. So the school rang up to try to reschedule her SATs for two weeks later."
Bookshops display rows of study aids to lure parents who can afford them. One Bristol school reported that on the first day of the Easter holidays 100 pupils turned up for four hours of extra lessons. George Arthur, a primary teacher in Barnsley, told his union conference last week, "I cannot see how any of this is doing the children I teach any good. We are producing a generation of children who only know how to pass exams. They are being turned into factory fodder. Private schools don't have the national curriculum. They're allowed to experiment and develop the individual talents of children. But the government is telling state schools and working class children that they're only fit for the regimented world of work."
OUR CHILDREN are the most tested in Europe.
- When a child goes from nursery to reception class they face a Baseline Assessment.
- Two years later they have the first compulsory SATs test for six and seven year olds. Even though these are described as tests for seven year olds, many will not actually be seven until the end of August-after they have finished their SATs.
- There are "optional" tests every year till children are 11 years old, when they face the next compulsory SATs test. These tests are critical for the school's position in the league tables.
- Pupils then face more tests-the compulsory SATs test at 14 years old, mock exams at 15 years old and GCSEs at 16 years old. Seven year olds, who started sitting their tests just before Easter, are put under exam conditions. They sit separately and are not allowed to talk to each other.