My son's local primary did a great job at preparing him for the SATS: but do these exams need a re-think?

Francis Gilbert's picture
There's an air of relief in our house because the Key Stage 2 Sats are over. My son's local primary school in Tower Hamlets did a great job at preparing him for them: they didn't "over-do" the preparation but did make him take them seriously. He was a bit worried about them but not overly so.

I've always thought that the SATs are, on balance, a good thing because they do mean that every child in the country learns the basics in primary school: key literacy and numeracy skills. I am aware that the SATs are flawed -- a bit of blunt instrument -- but the levelling process for me is fairly accurate: you're above average if you're a Level 5, average at Level 4, and below average at Level 3. Standards have risen immensely since they were introduced, with 49% of pupils getting a level 4 in 1995, whereas last year 84% attained a Level 4 or above. I know standards have gone up recently because the classes I'm teaching at Key Stage 3 are able to cope with more difficult texts than those I taught ten years ago; I've read Terence Rattigan's The Winslow Boy with my Year 8s this year -- something inconceivable ten years ago.

This said, there are problems. The vast majority of primary school teachers think SATs should be replaced by Teacher Assessment and the Alexander Review recommended the scrapping of SATs. Michael Rosen has just delivered a devastating critique of this year's SATs English Paper here.

I spoke to my son's teacher about this year and she said the paper was very incoherent and really prejudiced towards certain children from affluent backgrounds.

However, I think there's a value in keeping some kind of sensible numeracy and literacy tests for these reasons:

a) there's a uniform test which measures every child in the country with the same test

b) it teaches children how to cope with the pressure of exams in a manageable fashion

c) it ensures everyone covers the same topics

d) it gives parents and teachers a good yardstick, in combination with teacher assessment, to see how well their child is doing

e) it gives the secondary school important data about how a child is doing

I know a lot of people disagree with me but I do remember the bad old days of drift in the 1970s-80s when I was at primary school.

My son's experience of his state primary school has been immeasurably better than the one I had in the late 70s and early 80s when the only end of school test was the awful 11+, which I failed, leaving me feeling a failure. I am aware that my son -- like many other children -- could be put off if he does badly but I feel doing badly in the SATs is the opposite of failing the 11+ because your place at secondary school is not predicated upon it; you aren't rejected by any 'elite' institution if you do badly, far from it, you're "embraced" because your secondary school sees that you need to improve in certain areas.

Teaching is better, expectations are higher, and there is a more sensible regime of testing.

I, for one, am delighted with the education he's had at his primary school.
Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

Be notified by email of each new post.


Sarah Dobbs's picture
Tue, 17/05/2011 - 13:39

Francis, I am so pleased that Michael Rosen has commented on this years reading paper. I had the unenviable task of sitting through the test with a child who is dyslexic. In her mocks she did really, really, well and felt quite positive. But after the real thing she, and the other children with SEN allowed to take the test with another adult in the room, felt totally crushed.
I was heartbroken for her, and it was torture to sit next to her for that 45 minutes only being able to offer a very little amount of help. Her non-verbals were showing acute anxiety and stress, and by the end of it I felt a fury at what the system was doing to these kids.
This paper was a disgrace.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Tue, 17/05/2011 - 15:07

I haven't seen the paper myself, but I've shown my son your comment and he said: "It must have been really hard if you were dyslexic because there was a lot of complicated language and it kept switching the type of question." We need more accountability about who actually writes these papers. I vote that Michael Rosen should write next year's paper!! He was speaking good sense.

Sarah Dobbs's picture
Tue, 17/05/2011 - 15:52

I would go much further Francis.
Can you imagine the joy of all the teachers in the land?

Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.