Socialist Worker

The Sats don’t work - they just make things worse

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said his party will scrap the hated Sats school tests. Sadie Robinson spoke to people about why they should go now

Issue No. 2652

Some parents and children struck against Sats in 2016

Some parents and children struck against Sats in 2016 (Pic: Socialist Worker)

Millions of primary school children across England are cramming for the hated Sats tests. The tests, which focus on English and Maths, do nothing to help their education.

Instead they are used to rank schools and teachers—and to justify more privatisation in education as the “solution” to poor grades.

But there is a growing mood against the tests. Earlier this month Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told the NEU education union conference that Labour would scrap them. And the NEU is set to ballot next month for a boycott of Sats in primary schools.

Stefan is divisional secretary of the NEU in Ealing, west London, and has a daughter who is preparing for the Sats.

He told Socialist Worker, “My daughter is having nightmares. Her friends think that if they don’t do well enough in the Sats, they won’t be able to go to the secondary school they want to.”

Melanie, a parent in Cambridge, has a ten year old son who is preparing for the Sats.

She told Socialist Worker, “The process leading up to them has been really stressful. They seem to have been doing Sats every day ever since year 6 started. I don’t think they’ve learnt anything new.”

Stefan said tests stop children enjoying learning.

“They feel like a cog in a machine,” he said. “They are just jumping through hoops.” Children sit Sats in years 2 and 6, when they are aged around seven and 11.


But fear of the tests affects parents of even younger children.

Former reception worker Desi told Socialist Worker, “I have known parents of five year olds asking if they should get extra tutoring for their kids so they can ‘catch up’ with their maths.

“There is this constant stress of feeling, ‘I’m not good enough’.

But you want children to have fun. Education is about curiosity, not just passing tests.” Sats caused outrage in recent years by becoming so difficult that teachers and parents complained that children were being “set up to fail”.

Melanie said, “I bought a book about how to help children with Sats. My son and I did the test in the book and both got some questions wrong. He’s dyslexic.

“How can he get them all right if I can’t?”

Melanie is angry that her son’s dyslexia won’t be taken into account—and that other problems children may have are ignored. “Because all they are doing is Sats, my son is being told he’s a failure every day,” she said.

“He’s ten years old and the system’s not meeting his needs.

“I felt relief when Jeremy Corbyn said that Labour would get rid of Sats. I would support any action by school workers that sends a clear message against them.”

Anger after comments about autistic children

One primary school told parents that its Sats results would likely be worse this year because of the number of autistic children in the school.

Paul Campbell, headteacher of Monteagle school in Barking & Dagenham, wrote to parents during World Autism Awareness Week. Autistic children at the school won’t sit Sats but Campbell said they would still be “included in the data published”.

“This is why the data will not be so high this year,” the letter said.

Author failed Sats test - on her own book

Author Pat Thomson failed to get full marks on an English Sats test in 2003—which was based on one of her own stories.

She wrote in Socialist Worker at the time, “If I couldn’t get full marks on this, who could? The answer seems to be children who have been trained to pass the Sats.

“It is not for children who think outside the frame.”

How many reasons do we need to scrap the tests?

by Alan Gibbons, children’s author

Sats should go. They should have gone a long time ago. I first launched “Authors Against the Sats” soon after their introduction in the early 1990s.

Alongside other educationalists, I argued that they were crude, inaccurate, dishonest, time-consuming and contrary to the interests of the children doing them.

The first thing you notice about the Sats is that they distort the entire school year. They transform schools into tracking and testing factories and marginalise the truly enriching activities that should be at the heart of education.

The tests’ defenders say teachers can soften their impact, introducing them in a way that the children don’t know they’re being tested. If they have to be sugared in this way, what’s the point? They are also not remotely standardised or valid as indicators of children’s abilities.

Hardly a year has gone by without these tests being reformed, rejigged and reinvented. If they were genuine assessment tools, why have they had to be altered endlessly and why do they co-exist with so many other banks of summative testing?

Early childhood in particular should be protected from high stakes, high pressure testing. It should be a time of exploration and excitement, not one of drill and drudgery.

Even in their own terms, Sats don’t work. The Tories love the Pisa education rankings, but here British kids languish far behind countries such as Finland, which steer clear of this rollercoaster of testing.

That would give any government with a genuine interest in our children’s wellbeing pause for thought.

They have a negative impact on children’s mental health. In a Children’s Society survey, British kids came second in the league table of unhappiness. Testing is only one factor, but it is impossible to argue it is not a significant one.

Jeremy Corbyn’s speech at the National Education Union conference should inspire every child, parent and teacher to hasten the end of these regressive tests. Change is long overdue.


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