Following my last column that considered the merits of primary school homework, I have been surprised at the amount of concern expressed to me about preparation for the forthcoming Standard Assessment Tests (SATS).
SATS are compulsory National tests taken in Year 6, the final junior school year, that are intended to assess a pupil’s level of knowledge and skill in maths and English.
I have spoken to teachers, including heads, on this matter and they have been unanimous in declaring that it is teacher assessments, made throughout the school life of a pupil, that are the most accurate guide to their abilities. These are shared with the secondary school that the student then moves to and further assessment is made on arrival in Year 7 for setting purposes.
So, if they are not critical to the progress of a pupil into secondary school, why are SATS results considered so important?
It is because they are also published and used as a crude measurement of the quality of the school in league tables.
That is why the parents I have heard from are experiencing increased homework, practice tests and children being bored by heavy emphasis on these subjects during the school week. The alternative is to risk being labelled “underperforming”.
League tables have been beloved of successive governments. Politicians believe this is popular policy as it gives an easy basis to select which schools are “best”.
However, because little objective analysis is provided, of the demographic of the intake for example, when these are published in the papers on their release, they act as a spurious basis for “parental choice”.
If there really was a “choice” then people could send their children wherever they wish regardless of capacity, all we can actually do is select preferences.
We could support all of our local schools and ensure they are all adequately resourced to realise the potential of the maximum number of children. Selecting a school would not be perceived as such an issue then.
Instead, according to policy of the last 25 years, parents apparently prefer to compete against one another for school places on the basis of simplified evidence. If this means some schools, and their pupils, have less resources as a consequence, so be it.
So if you’ve ever used these measures yourself to decide which school to set as a preference for your child, or decided to drive across town rather than attend a school within walking distance because it has a higher league table ranking, or attended church specifically to gain entry to a school with a high SATS pass rate, you shouldn’t be surprised when the school drills your child to protect its status.
Because, apparently, this is what you want.