Saturday, 8 May 2010

SATs boycott

One of the biggest issues in our school over the last few weeks (and probably most others as well) has been whether or not to boycott the Year Six SATs. Rightly or wrongly, after much debate our school has decided to enter the pupils for the SATs. Now, I don't want to offend anyone who passionately believes that SATs should be boycotted, but I just wanted to record my thoughts.

Personally I felt that we should take part in the SATs this year. Now this is not at all because I agree with the idea of testing in the current format, I just felt that it was too late in the year for the school and the children to not take part. I realise that this is mainly our fault in not preparing suitable assessment alternatives. Had we had the foresight to plan ahead at the start of the year, we could have arranged something to happen in its place.

I am a member of a union, mainly as advice throughout my career has encouraged me to, but I am really not in favour of 'being told what to do' by a collective of teachers. Just because three-quarters of less than 50% of the teachers who voted decided they wanted to boycott, there is an expectation that everyone should follow suit. I appreciate that being in a 'union' implies that we should all do the same thing, but I dislike the idea that my own decisions do not count.

Of the many main arguments against SATs, I am sympathetic to all, but not all of them apply to our school.
  • Teaching to the test - this may be true to a degree, in that we use SATs questions as a plenary activity, or set a few questions as a homework based on what has been taught during the week. But in our school we aim to develop the children's skills for the future, not for the tests.
  • Narrowing the curriculum - our SATs revision this year has consisted of a week and a half of revision in Maths (revising the topics that the children requested) and in English we developed two units based on our visit to Liverpool in March, and our PSHCE study of alcohol where we explored several styles of writing (which the children have enjoyed). We have attempted two past reading comprehension papers and one spelling paper and no others. Therefore, we have spent around three weeks 'revising'. Throughout the year the children have taken part in three days of first aid training, a book day, an Africa day, an Eco day, been on two visit and attended a five day residential in France. There has never been more than one Maths and one English lesson each day. Now I really don't believe that our curriculum has been narrowed as a result of the SATs.
  • Pressure on the children - our message to the children throughout the year has been consistent - all we want is for the children to do their best. Levels are nice to achieve, but in the end we don't really care as long as the children are satisfied that they have done their best. We try to avoid the using the word 'tests' and prefer 'opportunities' as they are an opportunity to show what the children have achieved. Admittedly, some of the children are nervous, but we do our best to play the SATs down. The weeks before and during the SATs have been spent preparing for our 'Grow A Pound Week' which takes place the week after SATs. The atmosphere during the papers is relaxed and we try to be as encouraging as possible.
  • Pressure on schools - now all of the above has to be put into context. I am fortunate to work in a school where children traditionally perform very well in the SATs. We have been lucky enough to do fairly well in the school league tables. Parents are supportive and we are in a town suburb, with families (on average) with few socio-economic difficulties. I don't think we feel as much pressure on us to perform as with some schools in the country (in fact, probably within our own town.) I realise that the boycott is about making a stand on behalf of such schools, but in the end we have to do what we and our parents believe is right for our own pupils.
The decision to enter the pupils for the 2010 SATs was based on discussions with staff, governors, pupils (38 for, 16 against) and the results of an open forum with parents. However, the feeling from everybody was that we should not participate in the 2011 SATs, and measures will be implemented next year to ensure that, if SATs are still in existence, we will not be taking part, but will be creating our own assessment methods.

Despite not taking part, I completely support the decisions of others' to boycott the SATs and I wish every pupil and school the greatest success in their assessments in Year Six.

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