It is headline news that groups of parents across the UK are taking their children out of school today in protest at the new and improved SATS test being foisted upon six year olds. The tests take place next week. The strike has been deliberately scheduled for today so that parents can protest, but the children can still participate in the SATS tests next week.
The SATS test for six year olds have been around for a long time now. Well, a long time in terms of educational policy, which changes about as often as the wind blows. Oscar sat his SATs when he was six along with everyone else, and was in the first wave of guinea pigs to trial the year one spelling test.
Tallulah was one of the first to sit SPAG tests alongside year six SATS. Tilly was in the first year of SATS takers at year six, except we as a school opted out. It was a good move. One that hasn’t affected her educational career at all either (she is on track to get A grades across the board at A Level next year just in case you were wondering).
Do take note here that as soon as your child moves into year seven, they will be re-tested within the first few weeks and moved according to the policies of the individual school rather than the nationally accepted SATS results. They really are not worth the paper they are written on.
I was not impressed by constant testing then. I am not impressed now. It seems more than ever that continuous testing of children from the moment they set foot in school only builds a binary pass/fail culture, creates a curriculum in which tests become the entire focus of learning rather than learning as a holistic experience, and in which children who do not fit the perfect mould are doomed to failure by a system that is supposed to support them.
Children are more than this. People are more than this. To diminish people in this way on a daily basis seems to me to be treating them like battery farmed animals, but giving them the illusion that they are free.
I have friends who are striking. I admire them. More power to their elbow. Having recently fought the good fight with my local authority with regard to our doctor’s surgery I can tell you that grass roots campaigning does work, and the reason why we are told it doesn’t by every media outlet is exactly because it does. Small steps can take you a long way.
Regardless. Even if I felt it wouldn’t change education policy one jot, if Oscar were doing SATS this year, I would be striking today.
As someone who has always thought that SATS were a terrible idea and for whom direct action did not seem like a useful tool I had to look for other ways to protest when it came to my own children.
I taught all three of them that tests were a nonsense. They are a nonsense. I taught them to understand what tests are for, who tests are for and why tests are the least effective measure of the person they are and will grow to be.
I do not want my children to grow up docile, and accepting, and whatever the modern day equivalent of passive cannon fodder is. I want them to think, to be critical (in a positive way, and sometimes a negative one).
I want them to ask questions. I want them to retain that childhood need to say ‘why?’ because as adults we just don’t say it enough.
I want them to feel their own power in their own life, and I want them to understand that they own that power and they do not have to give it to anyone, unless they want to.
I want them to understand that there is a whole life outside of the system, outside of offices and schools. I want them to be unafraid of it, and unafraid of refusing to tick the boxes.
This does not mean I don’t expect them to try their best and work hard and be respectful, own their stuff and turn up. I do, and that’s one of the reasons they go to school (although I have home schooled, and I would do it again if I felt the need). The main thing I want school to teach them is how to navigate societal constructs successfully on their own terms and how to be happy regardless.
I want them to understand that they need to listen to what is inside of them and understand that that is the true measure of who they are.
I want to talk to them about what is happening to them and why it is happening and discuss it with them in ways they can understand. I want to be able to answer their questions about it, not leave everything to a teacher or a politician or a bureaucrat.
I want to be able to say to them: ‘I don’t know that, let’s find out.’ Because it’s important that children don’t get ‘told’ all the time by grown ups who ‘know everything’, because that’s another bullshit construct that helps children to feel weak and stupid and unworthy.
They also need to be able to learn to admit when they don’t know things, and be unafraid of finding out new things. Tests are mostly binary. They do not allow for exploration and wonder, and wisdom.
I want to be able to change my mind through the things I learn with them. I want to be able to take on board the things they say and the things we find out. I want to be able to model that for them, because this is how you learn and how they will learn.
I want them to learn that you get it wrong sometimes. You don’t know things sometimes. You have to be flexible sometimes. You have to apologise sometimes, and be the bigger person. Sometimes you have to walk away. I want them to learn that all of these things are good, as long as you learn from them. All of these things are what success looks like. A school won’t teach them that. A test certainly won’t.
I want them to learn that if they have to sit a test, how to do it with the sure and certain knowledge that it is a game and that they understand how to play that game, and how to participate, but to know the true worth of what they learn from the results of that game.
I want them to learn that they might not be able to recognise a fronted adverbial, but it doesn’t take away from their ability to sing like an angel, bake cakes, be brilliant at drama, or a whiz at technology or just to be a good, kind person. I want them to understand that what they are is enough. They are better than good enough and if they want to better themselves, it should be for themselves.
I want them to be entirely themselves and understand how valuable that is and how that can never be tested for, because they are unique and perfect and that can’t be measured on a graph.
I want them to be whatever they want to be: a fireman, a male ballet dancer, a bin man, a busker, a neurosurgeon, Whatever. I want them to be sure and safe in the knowledge that their life has been a success.
I want them to understand that there is no grading system on the love I have for them and the freedom I want for them.
There doesn’t need to be a test for that.
Today someone on Twitter fell out with me about this. I suspect that we agree on pretty much everything I have said above. I suspect that we are divided on how to go about that. I think it’s sad that we couldn’t talk about it meaningfully. I think it’s sad that every time I attempted to ask a genuine question I was met with rebuttals.
I was told that people who strike today are teaching their children to run away from things they don’t like. I would suggest that if you take the time to educate your children about even a fraction of what I have talked about above, then it can hardly be called running away.
Teaching your children that you do not have to do as you are told when you have thought long and hard about what you are told and it doesn’t make sense, and for some of you, what you are told is downright harmful, is pretty much one of the most valuable lessons a child can learn. They aren’t going to learn it next week in a SATS paper. They might learn it today from their parents.
I was told that that it is better for disadvantaged, struggling children to be protected from the knowledge of SATS. That what they don’t know won’t hurt them.
It’s a nice idea except I worked in a school for five years and children, even in early years know already how teachers grade success and failure, whether they call it the ‘rabbit table’ or ‘the blue group’ or ‘sitting on the cloud’.
It’s a nice idea except how to do you sell that to children who are the younger sibling of multiple older siblings who have already gone through the testing and they’ve already filled them in?
It’s a nice idea if you have the ability to keep your child in a bubble for the rest of their educational life, which gets more stressed, more demanding, more testing year on year.
I asked what would happen to these children in year six when SATS are even more pressured, and nobody hides anything?
By then, at the rate we are going, if nobody protests against this continuous testing and it grows like Nicky Morgan wants it to, disadvantaged children will have had four more years of failing to endure before they even get to year six SATS and they’re punishing tests now.
In return I was accused of being an irresponsible parent.
I did not ask how responsible it is to hide the truth from your children and fail to prepare them for the rest of their school career. I did not ask how worrying about SATS and disapproving of them, but sitting back and doing nothing to try and change them is responsible. I didn’t ask how modelling passivity in the face of a future you don’t like, but you have already decided you can’t change is responsible.
I did not ask how refusing to continue to dialogue with someone because you are so convinced you are right and that by having a different opinion to you, the other person you are talking to is both wrong and rude, is responsible.
I might have, except I was blocked.
For all of you striking today, I wish you the best of luck. You have my full support and I am 100% behind the fact that you are being the change you want to see, and passing that on to your children. You’re already winning against the likes of Ms. Morgan. Be proud of what excellent educators you are being today.