It’s Sats week. All across the country, children are being judged. Whatever the rights or wrongs of national testing, it’s here and it’s happening. The one thing you can say for certain is that there’s going to be pressure.
First, there’s pressure for children. Don’t call them “students” when they’re tiny; it’s insulting and wrong. They are the biggest victims in all this. There’s pressure on children to get the expected results. They will have sat test after test after test since Christmas, or even before. Their brains will be a slushy, over-crammed blur of maths word problems, reading comprehension questions and grammar terminology. And then it all comes down to this: one test, where you might or might not know the answers to the questions, and if you don’t, you just get to sit there in silence, feeling stupid.
There’s pressure on parents, too. Nowadays most parents are clued up about where their children should be in their levels – though all that is changing (and see this post here for a great summary of exactly how it’s changing). Is your child as bright as next door’s child? Should you get private tuition? Should you give them revision tests at home? Should you not care, because none of it matters when they get to secondary school really?
Then there’s pressure on teachers. Get the right results. For every child. If it’s not every single child, no pay rise for you. No excuses. We don’t care if little Johnny’s dad got hit by a car on Wednesday before the Sats – why didn’t he go for a Level 6 grammar paper? Why didn’t you do any better? If he made six sublevels of progress, why didn’t he make more? Why didn’t everyone do better? Why? Someone else could have done better. Data is everything. You miss, you fail.
It all comes down to this, a week of pressure for everyone. It’s hard to keep smiling, though you must. The best thing to do would be for schools and teachers to say to children, try your best and be as brilliant as you can possibly be, but it’s not the end of the world if you can’t do a question, because there are a million and one other ways in which we know you’re growing and improving and doing amazing things as tiny people. But the reality is, if we did that, and we didn’t get the numbers, we’d be doomed. The numbers matter, unfortunately. Maybe they should matter. Maybe the overall performance in standardised tests really is the one and only way in which you should measure how schools and teachers and parents and children – not “students” – are doing.
This is where we are. A week of pressure. A week of pain. A week of judgements. Is there a better way of doing it? I don’t know. All I do know, from my limited experience, is what it feels like to be there in Sats week. A week of stress, pressure, pain and struggle. For all of us.