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National Curriculum Tests

Schools up and down the land will be preparing for National Curriculum tests this coming week.

I've often wondered what the point is of SATs, even more so now I know the inadequacies of the system. 

SATs results are published annually and form an integral part of school league tables. It is to each school's advantage to perform as well as possible in the SATs, as "school shopper" parents view these tables when deciding where to educate their children. A higher performing school will be more attractive to parents. More children coming through the door means a greater budget for the school. In short, good SAT results make schools money.

In principle I agree with the idea that children across the land should sit the same tests in the same subjects. In an ideal world the data collected would show a correlation between childrens' achievement and the quality/breadth of learning they receive in their school. It does not, however, take into account the very specific circumstances each individual school faces.

In practice SATs are fundamentally flawed because so much rides on schools getting the best possible results. This causes a significant proportion of schools to play the SATs system for maximum benefit. For example, if there is a child who struggles with reading it is possible to get them extra time in the tests. Even if they don't struggle that much, some schools will attempt to secure that advantage. Some schools ensure the children's regular subject teacher, who has an obvious interest in them performing well, is present during the test to "lend a hand" as necessary. Schools are putting teachers in the unenviable position where their consciences are tested to the limit. If you're a maths teacher and you notice that your star pupil has made silly mistakes, do you really want those to be counted?

Last year I saw an experienced colleague lend a child a pencil, which they placed on the page with the point indicating towards a correct multiple choice answer. Another favourite is for the teacher to emphasise the answer when reading questions aloud. I would suggest that such antics are widespread, given the high stakes nature of the tests for the schools concerned.

The most alarming thing I have learnt is that schools are allowed to conduct warm-up exercises immediately before the tests begin. That itself isn't cause for concern, because all schools are in the same boat. However, what is cause for concern is that the test papers have already been opened and checked prior to this warm up taking place. 

Some schools, Mickley Grange included, have spotted the potential advantages of this system. When the teacher proofreads the test papers they make a note, mental or written, of the sorts of skills the questions examine. The warm up, spookily enough, then focuses on those same skills so they are fresh in the childrens' minds.

SATs are an absolute waste of time, because of the way the results can be skewed towards a particular outcome. All they do is stress out teachers and children alike. The quicker they're abolished the better.