Beware! This is a post written in haste and anger. Long ago, my best beloveds, there was an exam called the Eleven-Plus. This was administered in the last year of primary school and determined whether a child’s secondary education would be in a Grammar or Secondary Modern School. There were (I believe) four papers: English, Maths, Mental Maths and General Intelligence.
Back then, the oldest classes practiced past papers throughout the year, ready for the Big Exam. In many homes, past papers became additional homework. Pupils Passed or Failed the exam but as the number of grammar school places available varied and as the Eleven Plus passes were weighted in favour of boys, the exam was a kind of game. Despite that, the exam overshadowed a whole twelve months of a child’s life and more. That was history.
This is now. In the second week of May, all over England, children in Year Six will be completing their SATs papers: their Standard Attainment Targets. The schools, once again, have to play the game but this time it is so a) the school isn’t given a poor rating by Ofsted and b) is therefore not forced into the academy system.
Many Year Six classes have been doing mock Sat’s for quite a while. This is seen as far better that than leaving pupils unprepared for an exam situation, especially when your school prestige depends upon it, and Ofsted will be watching. Then, during SAT’s week itself, the whole school quietens in reverence. I know because I’ve visited schools where SAT’s have been going on and where even the year Five children were sitting mock SAT’s. My bookings were always with Key Stage One classes and the classrooms were usually in an annexe.
My heart sinks right now, really it does. Do we need to subject young children to all this pressure? Especially as tests seem to be added so often: add a test on entering Early Years; ass a proposed test once children are in Secondary School, in case something was not quite right with the Key Stage Two results. . . So easily it all becomes teaching to the next test.
I visit schools as a writer and have been a teacher in the past but so often, now, I meet children able to quote linguistic terms but unable to tell me when they last wrote a story or what was the last writing they enjoyed doing. I think children write about three stories in the whole of their primary years, although they do write in many other forms too: diaries, accounts, recounts, letters, reports and more.
Part of the reason is that creative writing doesn’t fit easily with tick-boxes. The SPAG tests – Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar - are structured for easy marking, which will mean marking by computer soon, if not now. (Somebody must be making a profit somewhere, I suspect. Probably in America.) Interestingly, the English writing test is still assessed by the teachers. Thank heavens for that.
Yet – and my greatest gripe - is that even that mercy doesn’t stop children who used to love English no longer caring about a once-favourite subject.
What a triumph for those politicians who so smugly set up and encourage the current SATS regime!
All of which is a long way round to say that, before the 11th May, I’ll be sending off a Good Luck card to an eleven year-old - partly in sympathy, partly as encouragement and partly as kind of protest.
Just how did we end up here?