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Chris McGovern: Mum! Why did you rob me of a career when I was only 7 years old?


New and more rigorous SATs for Year 2 pupils start this week and some parents are in revolt.  A protest group, “Let kids be kids”, has initiated a day of action. Its online petition calls on parents to keep their 7-year-olds at home in protest at the perceived difficulty of the tests and the stress associated with them:

“We want an end to SATs…We want our kids to be kids again.

We‘re encouraging parents to show Parent Power by keeping their children off school IN SUPPORT of a SATs boycott on Tuesday 3rd May.”

Who could be against allowing children to have a childhood, for “kids to be kids again”? Breaking addiction to smart phones and to social media sites, however, might be a better way forward. Deploying infants as child soldiers on the educational battlefield is a sure way of upsetting their sanity and wellbeing.

Who will take responsibility in ten years’ time when today’s 7-year-old is about to leave school without having mastered basic literacy and numeracy? “Mum, why did you keep me off school 10 years ago when they tested for literacy and numeracy? If I had failed, then, they would, at least, have been able to do something about it. Now, it is too late and I will never get a job.”

The sad truth is that, currently, around 20 per cent of pupils are leaving primary school without an adequate standard of literacy or numeracy. They fall further behind at secondary school and, according to employers, are unemployable by the time they leave school. The sooner we know which children have problems the sooner we can take action to help.

In a recent report by the OECD British school-leavers are shown to be doing very badly, indeed. We are ranked bottom in literacy and second from bottom in numeracy. Indeed, we are the only country in the developed world in which grandparents outperform their grandchildren in these basic skills.

This is a disgrace and a betrayal of the younger generation. Britain has become an educational ‘basket case’. By the age of 15 our youngsters are up to three years behind 15 year-olds in parts of the Asia-Pacific, such as Shanghai, Singapore and South Korea.

Yes, we need to let kids be kids but we need to ensure that they have a future, too. SATs are an educational health check. For short-term pain they provide long-term gain.

The foundation stone for success at school and in employment is literacy and numeracy. The new, tougher SATs are about ensuring that we can help children master these basic skills by identifying strengths and weaknesses at an early stage. Around seven years of age is the right time for the first tests. Earlier, children are too young to be reliably assessed but older is too late.

Of course, SATs can be improved. The over-emphasis on the technical side of grammar for Key Stage 2, in particular, is unnecessary. The promise of a better time ahead, however, in a SATs-free educational world, is false. It is a Pied Piper promise. Most children, especially children from deprived backgrounds, benefit from an educational health check before entering junior school.

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Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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