I have recently had a growing concern about my daughter who has started year 5 this year. I wasn’t too sure, at first, what that concern was exactly until I started reading a few articles about school tests and the pressure on our children to perform well in those tests. The articles, coupled with my daughter complaining about school being boring and having practice tests every week, got me very worried.
I remember meeting my daughter’s new teacher before the summer holidays and she did say they’d be preparing the children for SATs and I did think at the time, “aren’t’ the SATs done in year 6?” But I decided to not say anything. We should trust the school, shouldn’t we? I mean, they know what they’re doing? Right? I’m not so sure anymore.
I ask myself, what do I want my children to gain from school? Is it not to have a love for learning? To learn things that will enrich their lives? I’m not so sure that’s what’s happening anymore. It is almost half term. That is one sixth of the school year complete, what has my daughter enjoyed about school so far? Not much it seems.
A recent OFSTED report warns that schools are offering a very narrow education because too much time is being spent preparing for tests. This doesn’t seem to just be a problem in primary schools but also in secondary school, where they are spending three years preparing for GCSEs. This focus on league tables and exams is to the detriment of a broader education. Chief OFSTED Inspector, Amanda Speilman says that OFSTED may be to blame stating that the schools are losing sight of the pupils and focusing on the performance of the school.
At the end of the last academic year, we discussed with my daughter the idea of doing the 11+ exam. There was a lot of toing and froing and we decided not to because of the SATs. Then we started to question the value of the SATs exams. Should the SATs really be the deciding factor as to whether or not my daughter does her 11+? At the end of the day, how do the SATs benefit her anyway? The 11+ will make a difference in what school she ends up going to, so isn’t that of more value? A lot of people may argue that SATs are purely for league tables, stressing out our children and demoralising teachers. A recent study claimed that repeated testing of young children is seriously undermining education and hours spent drilling pupils increases anxiety and stress.
As a parent, this is extremely worrying. I want my daughters to look back at school and remember how much fun they had and that it was a good experience, not to remember stressing and worrying about tests and exams. But my hands are tied, aren’t they? It’s the government that dictates what the schools must do so we can’t blame the school or the teachers for that matter. Schools have to prove that their pupils are achieving and the only way they can do that is to provide OFSTED with performance data.
As parents, we too have to take some of the blame. We want to know that our children have the best teachers and the only way teachers can do that is to provide us with test scores. The Sutton Trust states, “Gains in pupil scores are the best available metric to measure teacher performance.” It’s really a catch twenty-two. But surely the scales are heavier on the testing side.
I don’t want to see my daughter spend the next two years of her primary school life worrying and stressing, after all, isn’t that what adulthood is for? My youngest daughter will be sitting her SATs this year too and she too is feeling the pressure. It’s just not fair! I am too worried that the constant testing in school will destroy the curiosity my children have for learning.
Before you ask, yes, my daughter has decided to do the 11+ exams because she wants to give it a go. The decision has purely been hers and she is fully aware of the consequences. She has stopped stressing about the SATS for now but when she gets to year 6, it will all start again. I think my bigger concern isn’t the SATs itself but the fact that the education my children are receiving is very narrow and they are not getting a taste of all the things they should be experiencing that will prepare them for life. Rather, it is all about preparing them to perform well in tests that will not benefit them in any way.
I have spoken to my daughter several times about intelligence and that it’s not all about being able to answer test questions. But how much does the school do to prepare pupils for all aspects of life? Being a teacher myself, I understand how difficult it is. We have to tick the boxes and meet deadlines. We have to make sure we are doing everything OFSTED asks of us as well as having the perfect lesson every time. The paperwork is non-stop and we often feel like we are drowning in it.
Too often, my husband and I have spoken about teaching being a 24 hour job and if you count up the hours we put in, we get less than the minimum wage! I’m really not exaggerating either. So, in defence of all the teachers out there, we are doing our best but there is very little leeway when it comes to doing other things that do not culminate in some sort of assessment.
So what’s the solution? Supporting our teachers in whatever way we can will help the teacher grow in confidence and knowing you’re on their side really does help. As a parent, allow your children to enjoy being children. Let them explore and have experiences outside of school that perhaps they are not getting in school. Make sure you let the school know how you feel and provide feedback as much as possible so that the school can pass your concerns on to OFSTED. Lastly, tell your children not to worry. Keep reminding them that they are doing their best and test results are not the most important thing. School life is about experiences, not how well they score.
If you are having similar experiences and are worried, please do comment below. I would love to hear from parents who have done something to make a difference.
I will leave you with a quote from Albert Einstein, “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”
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