The Plastic Hippo

May 4, 2010

It`s SATs time kids

Filed under: Education,Politics — theplastichippo @ 12:14 am

Ed Balls is comedy gold. Born with a name that is beyond parody, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families has mad eyes that blink a lot and a mouth that produces utter drivel. His weirdness probably attracted bullying when he attended a private boys school in Nottingham and, as so often is the case, the victim of bullying grew up to be a bully.

The general and local elections on Thursday are a minor distraction to teachers in England`s 17,000 primary schools who, with increasing exasperation, are preparing 600,000 10 and 11 year-olds for the Statutory Assessment Tests in English and Maths that begin on May 10. But this year it`s different. Teachers and Head Teachers have decided to stand up to the bully and boycott the tests.

All teachers and probably most parents agree that testing children is a valuable way of monitoring levels of literacy and numeracy in children and a way of measuring academic development. However, the imposition of SATs testing does neither and instead of merely being an administrative chore, SATs actively disrupts and damages the educational rights of every child.

Every parent and every teacher understands that each child is an individual and develops at a different rate. If they were around today, Ms Schicklgruber would proudly tell you that baby Adolf was walking at six months but Mrs Einstein would sadly relate that Albert didn`t speak a word until he was four-years-old and only then to complain about the soup being too hot. The SATs system assumes that every child is an identical statistic to be number crunched to justify claims that standards and achievement have improved under the current government.

Every child and every school that teaches them is expected to attain the same level of improvement regardless of circumstance. This seems to be a new definition of equality as Marcus, driven to school with his nanny in a Range Rover driven by mummy is judged without prejudice against Kylie who eats pizza in front of the telly in a house devoid of books. Kazsmer, recently arrived and without a word of English is expected to achieve the same arbitrary standard as Dylan, the veteran of 10 Glastonbury’s.

The pressure on schools to reach enforced artificial targets has resulted in the test being taught to stressed children by stressed teachers rather than a full, well-rounded curriculum. Without the required number of kids hitting level 4, the school is branded as “failing” and the government then sends in the Ofsted storm troopers.

But the most insidious result of SATs is that they produce meaningless school league tables which, according to the National Association of Head Teachers, “only serve to humiliate and demean children, their teachers and their communities”. The union has come up with better alternatives. Teacher assessment – you know, those people who are trained to teach and actually know the children – should take the place of SATs as at least this would be an accurate indication of progress or a lack of it. They also suggest that if the DfCSF really want a national picture to crow about, then an anonymous sample of a cross-section of schools would give them the result that they want. This makes sense as it would save a lot of money, give the department figures that it can spin and more importantly stop putting pressure on kids on the cusp of childhood and adolescence.

Mr Balls disagrees. He has scrapped Key Stage 3 SATs for 14-year-olds but doggedly clings to useless tests for 11-year-olds. He has threatened teaching unions with legal action if they go ahead with the boycott and has told school governing bodies to suspend Head Teachers and dock their pay if the tests are not carried out. An economist by trade, Balls only ever enters a classroom to be photographed or filmed for publicity purposes. He seems happiest in early years and is keen to join in with the finger painting and stickle bricks.

He and his wife, fellow cabinet minister Yvette Cooper, have three children and as they work hard in their constituencies to be re-elected, they can easily afford child care when they are out on the stump as they have claimed for a second home to allow their children to go to school in London when the family home is in Yorkshire. His kids are alright, ours are not.

Whatever the outcome of the election on Thursday, be it good or bad for children, or Ed Balls, we can only hope that this stupid, meaningless and wasteful system that gives children, schools and families so much grief is finally consigned to the dustbin of political ambition.

If you want to frighten your kids into doing their homework, show them a picture of Ed Balls. If you want to make them laugh, just say his name.



  1. The problem with Teacher assessment is that it is exactly that – a teacher’s assessment. I know my children are all taught by dedicated and well-paid individulas but I wouldn’t trust any of their assessments because I know how little the teachers actually know my kids. I’ve been to parents’ evenings and been told my son (top set for maths) has trouble with times tables because the teacher got him confused with another child.
    Furthermore, I know that teachers think they know best and they hate to have their ‘expert’ judgement questioned by outsiders.

    Unfortunately for the educational establishment, as a parent I like to look at a league table and I like to be able to go to the school and say ‘Look, you’ve slipped in the tables. What are you doing about it?’.
    I also like the way I can compare one school with another knowing that they have been measured on a comparable scale.

    I’m afraid you and the unions must be deluded if you think any teacher is going to give a low grade/poor assessment to a child s/he has taught because that is tantamount to that teacher saying ‘I’m no good at my job, look at my pupils’ assessments, they’re all crap’.
    Clearly teachers are going to talk up their students’ achievements because that reflects favourably on the teachers.

    Self-regulation simply does not work; it didn’t work for the bankers or MPs, why on earth would we think it might work for teachers?

    Comment by martin — May 4, 2010 @ 1:56 pm | Reply

    • Martin,
      You have a fair point and you made it well. However, I will continue to trust the judgement of Head Teachers rather than the ambition of a political sleaze-ball. League tables are a nonsense because you cannot compare a primary school where 80% of children have English as a second language with another school that is full of kids with pushy, well-off parents.

      At the first sign of imposed special measures, the bright kids are taken out in droves resulting in poorer SATs scores and then a sink school. Children and parents deserve a decent local school regardless of their ability to shop around or their upward mobility.

      Self-regulation has not worked for bankers or MPs because those career choices are motivated by greed and power. I have yet to meet a teacher that says a child is achieving when the child is not.

      Thank you for your welcomed comment and your support of the blog.

      Comment by theplastichippo — May 4, 2010 @ 7:10 pm | Reply

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