Why boycotting SATS for 11-year-olds is not a good idea

4 April 2010

The Standard Assessment Tests for 11-year-olds, while not perfect, are necessary. There are three reasons why teachers shouldn’t boycott these tests. Firstly, the tests as they stand do help drive up standards in reading, writing and arithmetic. Extra lessons are put on for those children who are not up to scratch and pupils who are able feel obliged to go the extra mile and learn a bit more. Secondly, it’s important to make primary schools accountable. If all parents get is a Teacher-Assessment score then they could feel cheated that no objective, nation-wide test has checked out how their child is faring compared with the rest of the country. The same goes for the school. The tests give important information for secondary school teachers like me and help predict how children will do at GCSE. If the only exams that children do before they are sixteen are GCSEs, then they are in for a shock: Years 11-13 are crammed full of exams. Thirdly, boycotting the SATs is against the law: legislation passed in Parliament demands that all children in English state primary schools should take them. What kind of example are headteachers sending their pupils by breaking the law? Aren’t headteachers forever telling students to follow all of the rules, not just some of them?

While I feel that the number of exams at Key Stage 4 and 5 should be slimmed down, getting rid of them entirely at the lower end is self-defeating. The exams do need to be improved, but that doesn’t mean they should junked altogether. I appeared on the Steve Nolan show on Radio 5 Live, Radio 5 Live Breakfast, Today Programme Radio 4, ITV news talking about this matter over the past few weeks: the other teachers and parents on the show were against the SATS, but their arguments were weak. One parent complained that children were having to go to Saturday schools and so forth. My answer was, well, if children’s reading and writing is sub-standard, then they may well need that extra help. I worry that teachers boycotting the SATS will play into the hands of the Tories who are waiting in the wings to privatise England’s schools. The boycott will make teachers look like they are not comfortable with being accountable and unwilling to push up standards.

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