Year after year exam results increase, no matter who takes them. Secondary school pupils, college students, university students… and primary school children are no different.
Whether these results are down to children/young adults actually getting smarter, the tests getting easier, the test not keeping up with smarter children, the modular nature of exams, the continual resitting of exams, or whatever other prejudice you like, there is something particular about the primary school SATs which makes them worthy of extra special derision.
Year after year the teachers say they’ll boycott the tests. It actually happened this year, but many headteachers wimped out at the last minute. The reason why they say is because they’re distorting the curriculum, making everyone focus on the all important league tables, and have turned primary schools into a pressure cooker towards the crunch points of Years 2 and 6. All valid arguments.
But they are undermined a little by what usually happens when children do indeed take the SATs.
Where I’m from, from experience, from memory, and from appropriate well placed sources, the SAT system is widely abused. Teachers regularly “monitor” the exams when they’re in progress, and point out to children where they have made mistakes. I remember it clear as day myself, aged 10, writing an answer to a maths question while the teacher was watching over my shoulder and saying, “Check that”.
The SAT system has no integrity. Secondary schools routinely re-test Year 7 pupils on entry because they have absolutely no confidence in the results from the SATs from the primary school, and they need a much more consistent benchmark to compare progress against in their own school. Teachers regularly quip that children arrive apparently with Level 5s in English, Maths and Science, when they are almost certainly at Level 4 in one or more of them. If secondary schools do not do this, they can actually face accusations that children have regressed in their schools, because of their inflated entry SAT score.
A crazy system, no?
I don’t actually blame primary school teachers for doing what they do. The pressure comes from the top, from government, through the headteachers, to secure better and better scores, year after year, or face being shut down.
There is no reason to keep the SAT system. We are told that parents “like” them. Well, who wouldn’t, when you’re told that Little Johnny is a shining model pupil getting outstanding scores in everything. Yeah, him and everyone else. It achieves nothing but feed you a lie because it’s exactly what you want to hear.
SATs are a crude, ineffective, inefficient, and, worse, deeply untrustworthy system. They distort school and teacher priorities, and they create a totally meaningless sense of competition in a sector that simply has no need for it.
Sadly, they aren’t going anywhere. Unless it’s all an evil plot by teachers to undermine them by ensuring that, eventually, all children get 100%. Now that would be good…