Thursday, 19 May 2016

The wrong people in the spotlight ... again

I feel a little sorry for the teacher who wrote the letter to his year 6 pupils just before SATs; he has taken something of a bashing after it went viral.  I have to say that my first thoughts were “Good on you colleague” and “Why didn’t I think of that?”.

I have to say that I have no problem with what he said for two reasons: firstly, I too have said exactly those things to year 6 children on the numerous occasions in the 18 years I have now had the misfortune of being involved in some way with SATs.  I recall teaching a whole year 6 cohort a move called the “chill”, where they slid down in their chairs and placed their hands behind their heads having completed the final question.  It worked a treat.

Secondly, and more importantly, this teacher reminded us all that the focus of SATs should solely be on the children who have to take them, not on the adults. Our focus for that week should be on ensuring that these amazing children are ready, comfortable and confident to do nothing but their best, and to get to the end of the week with a feeling of “I did it!”.   But, what has actually happened during and since the tests?  Have the children taken centre stage, or have the adults once again barged, with sharpened elbows, into the spotlight?

Once again, the media glare fell not on the children, but on the teeth-gnashing adults whose expectations had been dashed. Monday evening’s press bulletins were awash with teachers and heads (we really do not do ourselves any favours as a profession sometimes) bemoaning how tough the reading paper was, and how children had not completed it.

Forgive me if I’ve missed something here, but weren’t we told about two years ago that the 2016 tests would be far more difficult? All of these teachers and heads who appeared on the news appear to have missed that, or were not prepared for the fact.  Although many of you may cry foul play, not a single member of our profession can cry that we were not warned.

I did not see it myself – and I am glad that I did not – but apparently images of children in tears were displayed, distraught over their experience of the reading paper.  Now who should feel the more guilty for that: the press for showing it, or the schools for allowing it?

Allow me to share with you a different image of the news: my children said things like:
“Yeah, it was tough, but I think I did well.”
“I didn’t get to the end, but I don’t mind.”
“Was there a bit about do-dos?”
My own son, who is also in year 6, told me that evening that he had “finished with about 30 seconds to go, but it was fine.”.  Top man, have an extra yogurt (that was genuinely his choice).

If the children were not adequately prepared or emotionally ready for these tests, where does fault truly lie?

But that is not my main point here.  My main point is but a simple one, and one that I will, I sadly fear, have to return to repeatedly whenever this subject raises its head: since when did SATs become about the adults? 

In fact, the whole examination gauntlet now seems to be adult dominated, from those who keep their children away from key stage 1 tests (are you having a laugh?!?) right up to the old peers and queens they wheel out at the end of every August to tell teenagers delighted over their exam results that “it was far tougher in my day”.  I feel for those teenagers every single year.

Let us all, please, take a moment in all of this to do our real job: not bemoaning the state and biting our collective nails that we might have missed out on the raw score required (and trust me, I say this has one who has spent the year looking up from the most hideous bottom of the most awful barrel labelled “BAD results”) but celebrating the work and effort of these remarkable children who are repeatedly caught up in this adult web of standards and one-upmanship, and still do themselves proud.

One final thing, to all the children who will never read this.  There’s one thing adults often forget to mention at this point in the proceedings, which is this: tests are supposed to be difficult.  If they were not, then they would not be doing their job, and they would be called doddles, not tests.  At the end of them, you should feel exhausted, you should feel like you might have got one wrong, but you should feel an enormous sense of something extremely well done.  And that’s the key to it all – well done.

Once the final subordinating clause has been underlined, and the final line drawn between two mathematical terms you will almost never need to know or use in the real virtual world you are going to build, that really is all.

PS Well done kids, I thought you were superb.