It’s that day. The Sunday before the SATs. SATs Sunday.
It’s an odd feeling for a Year 6 teacher. We know that we do not need these 4 days of watching our much loved children be put under strict time pressure to perform to prove both their own knowledge (and let’s be honest- our own professional abilities). As dedicated educators, we know that we have challenged their thinking, taught them as many skills as we can, made them more aware of what they can do every single day than the tests will ever show, and yet, here we are, faced with the cold harsh reality that, like it not, tomorrow we begin another round of the SATs.
I find myself sitting on the fence when it comes to the subject of tests.
In my previous life as a solicitor, sitting on the fence was what you had to do. You’d fight your corner, spot the weakness in the other sides argument, negotiate your way through the issues but at all times, from the fence. Never supposedly emotional or attached to those you were working for; never fully (some would say) committed to the actual argument- just to winning it and getting your own way – doing your job. As a teacher, it’s the opposite. We are emotional about those we ‘work for’ i.e. the children and, for most of us, it is more than just a job. We share a passion for making a difference, sparking and encouraging aspirations. The fence as it were is a hard place to balance in teaching but when it comes to tests, I find myself attempting to. It is important to measure the impact of the education being delivered; it is important to ensure that the best quality education is being delivered; it is important to know without doubt that the children are actually learning. Is it though necessary to do it in this way?
Do I believe that the SATs are a true measure of what a Year 6 child is capable of? No. Do I believe that that they should feel any of the pressure that the SATS bring? No. Do I believe that they are a future indication of how successful that child will be as an adult? Absolutely not. They are however for the time being a fact of life. Like it or not our children are going into a world where the next 10 years are all about tests and exams and qualifications. They are faced with many hurdles which demand hard work, determination, passion and a hunger to succeed. We know this. Most of us have jumped the hurdles successfully. I myself tripped over a couple and didn’t quite make them as well as I wanted but I always understood that in order to have the opportunities I wanted, I had to put in something of myself. I had to work hard to get what I wanted and I have always known that my own sense of achievement is maximised when it has not come easily.
At what point then is it right to start this life lesson in children? Do we wait until they are approaching their GCSEs and then say, ‘Oh by the way, here are a few tests and your future depends on them so we know you have never had to cope with this pressure before but make sure you ace them…’ Is there an argument to say that by introducing this new life experience to our year 6’s, we put them on the first step towards understanding that the educational journey is one of ups and downs. That sometimes in life you have to go through things you don’t like, go through experiences that are hard, face them, do your best and come out the other side knowing that there are worst things in life that could go wrong.
At Primary Rocks, there was talk (as part of the debate) of bringing in SATs style tests for every year in Primary, making them the ‘norm’ and part of every year experience. I can understand why this would be suggested but for me that is not what the first steps of education are about. For me they are about striking a balance between delivering high quality education which includes the beginning of learning life skills being taught with instilling an overriding passion for learning and an ambition to be the best you can be. It’s about finding the key to the door of opportunities and experiences and knowing that through hard work, perseverance, determination and always above all resilience, being able to work towards achieving what you want overcoming the hurdles as they face you. Tests exist in life and we cannot kid ourselves otherwise but they must, I think, be balanced with a sense of perspective.
I feel the sense of what is coming. I feel the burden of these hurdles and I know that this year, above any others they are slightly more precarious as a result of the changes they sit within. I know as well as all the others who have any kind of involvement with this system the hard work and effort that has been put in to equip the children to deal with them and cope with them and face what is coming but that burden is mine to bear. Not the children who have to sit them. I know many adults who would not be able to achieve the national average score (whatever that is going to be) tomorrow if they had to do the SATs. I have spoken repeatedly to the children about tests being a fact of life and something which we do not shy away from. All I can ask is that, as with every other aspects of their educational journey they do their best. The burden is ours to shoulder, not theirs. One day soon in the future it will be theirs and this will be soon enough.
For me the SATS are a learning experience for teachers and children, I do not treat them as the elephant in the room but instead acknowledge and deal with them head on. When we openly speak of our fear, we take away its power. When we bravely face our fear head on, we take away its enormity. When we feel the fear and do it anyway, we achieve and when we achieve what we want in life, we find one of the many strands of happiness that are there for us. I know which children will feel panic. I know which children will feel fear in the morning. I have been there myself. It is not one of life’s more enjoyable experiences, but from it we grow stronger and we learn more about ourselves. We find resilience and strength in the most unexpected places and from this we learn that we are stronger than we think.
I wanted to send this thought out to all the Year 6 teachers today who are feeling that burden of which I talk. You are not alone. You have done your best in the circumstances you have been given. You are able to shoulder the burden without it being felt by the children and you will. It is not their stress and worry to carry. Nurture those who look wide eyed and anxious. Reassurance is powerful. It gives light at the end of a test tunnel. Know in your hearts that sometimes in life we can only do our best. You have. They will.
This year’s SATs rollercoaster will be an experience we will all remember well but it will not stop it being there again next year. Perspective. Confidence. Calm. I intend tomorrow to have breakfast with my Year 6’s and make sure they know that this is just another day where hard work is necessary and part of their learning journey but in equal measure to their well being, happiness and laughter. The next few days ahead are an experience which is part of life. From it we grow. I look down from the fence knowing that they exist, a hurdle to be jumped. Our ability in this profession to overcome hurdles, no matter what their height is second to none. We lead by example and we teach our children to follow in our footsteps. We hold the future in our hands. Let’s make sure this week they know how special they are and that no matter what, they know that tests are important but only one aspect of their lives and journeys. Everything in life is a journey – let’s get on the roller coaster and enjoy the ride!