The past few weeks have been very hectic in the Crooke household. Two teachers, both at their wits end with marking and revision sessions, one child in Year 11, about to do exams, one child in Year 10, up to his eyeballs in coursework and one child in Year 6, about to do SATs, and more stressed than the rest of us put together!
The balance of stress is somewhat out of proportion. My daughter, aged 11 has spent every day revising. She has had extra sessions for English in the Easter holidays, Maths boosters on Saturdays, and has worked most evenings until her eyes are red and sore and she is crying because the teacher has told her “If you do badly in your SATs, you will not get into good sets in your high school, then you won’t do well in your GCSEs, you won’t get into university and you won’t get a good job”. But will the ‘hot housing’ or ‘roasting’(!) work to help her?
As a teacher, I understand why the staff at her school are putting so much pressure on the children. As a mother however, I find the whole system of SATs an unnecessary burden. I don’t think I felt that level of stress until I entered teaching!
I questioned my 86 year old Grandmother about her experience of the 11 plus. I assumed that as Gove wants to go back to a system of education, akin to when Gran was at school, that she might have felt the same level of pressure as my daughter. Her answer surprised me. She said that she had no idea that she was going to sit the exam until she was sitting it, and that it wasn’t a “big deal”.
Why then, does the current system keep piling on the pressure?
As a high school teacher I know of the importance of SATs scores. My success or failure as a teacher is assessed by the amount of progress students make from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 4, irrespective of how much of that time students are actually taught by me. A child who joined the school late and is placed in my class at the end of Year 10 is still expected to make above the national level of progress in my subject.
So, what about the students? I’ve watched my daughter turn down play dates in favour of more maths questions. I’ve seen her new roller blades neatly in their box in the hallway because she hasn’t got time to go out and play on the warmest day of the year. I’ve had to take her to the doctors because her cough just won’t go away and she isn’t sleeping because she feels so stressed.
There has to be a better way.
Gove’s love of testing and linear courses with final exams makes no sense to me. Yes qualifications are important. They are needed to gain employment. Everybody accepts this. But are exams the best way? Once you have gained employment you are not generally set a test in order to obtain a promotion. All the skills and experience you have gained in your present role are evaluated as a whole. So why remove coursework elements from qualifications? Coursework is a way of demonstrating skills, experience and progress. Students who don’t perform well in exams aren’t failures.
I’m not suggesting that Key Stage 2 assessment should be based solely on teacher assessment. The removal of Key Stage 3 SATs has demonstrated how unreliable teacher assessment can be.
Why not have a series of small externally marked tests and teacher assessed projects throughout the year, which build to create a portfolio? The portfolio could be sent to high schools to demonstrate clearly, the level students have achieved and could be a basis for conversation during the transition period between Year 6 in Primary and Year 7 in Secondary school. Just a thought.