I’m so saddened, as both a teacher and a parent of primary age children, that our education system has become a place where children are taught to pass end of year tests. Last term I spent a morning in a year 6 classroom who were practising for their SATS tests. It was a Thursday, and they’d already spent a good proportion of the week sitting practise papers. As I welcomed the class in for registration and explained that they would be taking a Maths paper and a SPAG (Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar) test that morning, a groan resonated round the classroom. These children were already fed-up of tests and we were only at the beginning of March! But what shocked me the most was the content in the SPAG test. It seems the government think it important for teachers to churn out lessons which teach 10 and 11 year olds what subordinating conjunctions and relative pronouns are. Oh, and also to understand writing in the past progressive, or to use the subjunctive form. I’m well educated, with a Biology degree and a Teaching degree, but I’m not ashamed to state that I wasn’t so sure of the answers to a couple of questions that Thursday morning. In fact I’m pretty certain that many of my friends would struggle to gain 100% on these tests.
What are we doing to these poor children?!!! I simply cannot understand how a test which is designed to catch children out, can do anything other than demotivate and damage their self esteem. As I marked the papers that lunch time, I came across many scrawled notes next to the abstract terms of subjunctive form or determiner that simply stated “I do not understand this” or “What is this?” Are we happy to let our children believe that because they don’t know how to convert a sentence to the past progressive, they have somehow failed at school?!! And please, let me make it very clear, I do believe we need to teach the basic principles of grammar, help children improve their spellings and teach children to use correct punctuation. But I do not believe there is anything to be gained from teaching advance grammatical terms to children in primary school. Instead, we should be teaching our children to enjoy language, write creatively and take risks with using adventurous vocabulary without fear of “getting it wrong” or not being able to spell the word.
Just two weeks ago, I spent another morning in Year 6 whilst practise SATS papers were being undertaken, this time working with a child who is allowed to have the questions in his maths paper, read to him by an adult. I watched as his face, so keen and eager at the start of the test, literally drooped over the course of the hour as the questions became too difficult for him to attempt. Do we really want to create a generation of children that think society only appreciates a certain type of intelligence? That to be good enough in life, you must have passed your SATS tests?! And let’s not even consider the amount of anxiety and stress that child must of felt as I read each question to him, for him only to answer, “Can we move on to the next question?” (More about the mental health crisis of our children can be read here.)
So on the morning of the start of SATS week, I ask that any of you with children at primary school, take the time to sit with them and tell them they are the most special, unique little beings on this planet. Share with them all the qualities that they posses that are not tested in their SATS papers. Tell them that however hard they find the tests, they must feel proud that they have tried their best. And finally, at long last, the weather looks set to be picking up this week (YAY!)…..so make sure they get plenty of chance to play outside this week after school so that we can #letourkidsbekids.