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‘New Labour’s tests damage our children’

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SOME 1.4 million children as young as seven sat down this week to five days of what one headteachers' conference has condemned as 'annual torture'.
Issue 1851

SOME 1.4 million children as young as seven sat down this week to five days of what one headteachers’ conference has condemned as ‘annual torture’.

The largest teachers’ union, the National Union of Teachers (NUT), is campaigning for a boycott next year of the SATs tests forced on seven, 11 and 14 year olds (who took theirs last week). WENDY GLENISTER, SANDRA ANGEL and MAXINE FRANKLIN have children at Fairlands Primary School in Stevenage, Hertfordshire. They spoke to Socialist Worker about why they want the tests scrapped.

Wendy You can sum up what’s wrong with these tests in one word-stress. The children are really worried. My son is sitting the year two tests, for seven year olds, this week.

This school goes out of its way not to let the year two children know they are facing the tests. But as a parent you still feel the pressure mount.

Maxine For the 11 year olds, like my child, they start to feel the pressure months before the tests.

The SATs aren’t really for the children, or the teachers or the school. They are there for the government.

As parents you try not to go on about the tests. But the children still pick up the idea that ‘you’ve got to get level four’ – the government’s target. Why, when it’s not for them? As a teaching assistant I’ve worked with children that have done year six SATs and gone to a senior school where they don’t use the SATs results.

That school assessed children as they arrived and had a far better picture of what they were capable of and what they needed. That was about looking at individual children, not filling in boxes.

Sandra I was in a SATs briefing meeting for parents the other night and one of them said, ‘This isn’t to help the children. This is about the school league tables.’ Not one other parent spoke up to disagree with him. Isn’t the children’s wellbeing more important than tables?

My daughter was practising over the holidays and getting really upset. She said, ‘I’ve got to do a maths test. And I’ve got to do it in 45 minutes.’ Well, she can’t do it in 45 minutes. Does that mean she’s no good? I don’t think so. She can do the work and solve the problems, but she can’t do it under exam conditions. All the SATs tell you is what you knew already – she doesn’t take to doing maths under pressure. It doesn’t tell you about what she can do. Everyone makes mistakes under pressure. But why should it lead to you being labelled at the age of 11 or seven?

Wendy If the government is saying the SATs are there because parents want them, then the government is wrong. They should try asking parents. But that would mean the politicians having to listen to the answers.

Sandra I’d far rather find out through a report from the teacher. The teacher has an overall picture built up from all the time they spend with your child. It’s not reduced to an accidental test in 45 minutes.

Maxine I have to say my views have changed over the last few years as I’ve seen the damage these tests do.

Teachers here try to make as many subjects as they can fun, relaxing and interesting. But they’ve got at least one hand tied behind their backs. If the school doesn’t go along with the system, then they get the inspectors sent in and pressure from the authorities on the teachers.

Lots of schools have got financial problems across the board, but the government only cares about the SATs, so the resources go there. We had a girl in breakfast club who came in in tears. We couldn’t find out why. It turns out she is working so hard, but still can’t do some of the work and she is frightened about the SATs.

That poor kid came here full of hope about school and now she’s in danger of being put off forever.

Sandra We protect our children in all sorts of ways. If anything, we are overprotective in society today. But then we allow the government to inflict this on them.

Maxine We should call it annual torture for children week. If you treated your child like that – mentally abused them for a week – they’d have social services round.

Sandra The government and the politicians have got no idea what it’s like for Joe Public. They send their kids to the opted out schools or the private schools.

The posh schools don’t have to do the SATs. So the SATs are meant to be so good but the schools that have the smallest class sizes and that cost tens of thousands of pounds to send your kids to don’t have them.

My son at secondary school was really good at art, but he wasn’t at English. It just didn’t click – it will do in time. But he was told, ‘You can’t get a job doing art.’ So the one thing he was really good at was just shoved down.

Wendy Teachers’ roles should be teaching the children lessons, not pushing them through the tests. This idea from the teachers’ union of a boycott of SATs is the best thing I think they’ve ever come up with.

‘Campaign now’ – head

John Hayes is headteacher of Fairlands Primary and an NUT member

‘THE NATIONAL union is moving, we hope, to a ballot for a boycott. But we have seen before how a euphoric atmosphere over an issue has been allowed to die down. So we have got a national meeting that Hertfordshire NUT is hosting in central London at the end of next month.

‘We hope that will attract representatives from across the NUT and wider. We want to get as many teachers, parents and school governors involved in this campaign as possible. That way, when we move to a ballot the work is already done.

‘The NAHT headteachers’ conference shows the thing is starting to turn. They are talking about following the NUT line. If we can get them on board, that would be fantastic. Very many people now see through the government’s obsession with target setting.

‘It used to be tied to individual target setting for children and how you move children forward. Now it is about targets for all schools and national target setting, which is not for the same purpose at all and has no educational value. New Labour fears that if we get rid of the SATs, we get rid of the market in education.

‘The whole thing then turns into a system that can become properly comprehensive, which they don’t want. It would enable children to develop properly, regardless of social background, but they are not interested in that.

‘Instead, they want competition because it fits with business, it looks like business and that’s what they understand.’

Stop the SATs

Saturday 28 June, 11.30am – 3.30pm, South Camden Community School, Charrington Street, London WC1 (King’s Cross/Euston station) E-mail Jon Berry, secretary Hertfordshire NUT, for more details: [email protected]

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