Question: Which party leader recently sat a Key Stage 2 SATs test and passed with flying colours? Answer: The leader of the Green Party. Trick question, though, since it was not Caroline Lucas! The Greens, bless them, have two leaders. It is less hierarchical and more cuddly. Disappointing, though, that the party does not have three leaders or more since that would be even more ‘caring and sharing’.
Who could not support the Green desire for clean air, environmental protection and sewage-free seasides? It is the misguided parts of the Green Party manifesto that should worry us and that includes a commitment to enforcing the disastrous UK version of ‘mixed-ability’ teaching on all schools and, also, to the ban it will impose on testing.
It was to prove the Greens point on this matter that co-leader, Jonathan Bartley, put himself through a SATs test paper. And guess what? As he told The Times Educational Supplement, the whole experience left him feeling stressed out:
“What I was surprised by was the anxiety the whole process caused me…And yet the process of being examined, of having my efforts graded by someone else, of knowing I would have to share my results with you all today, made me stressed.”
Poor chap! One might have thought that a party leader would be made of sterner stuff! Not so, it seems, but the experience did, at least allow Jonathan to empathise with the children who are subjected to the process of SATs testing:
“If I feel like that, imagine how our kids feel… is it any wonder that rates of anorexia, self-harm and depression amongst primary and secondary school pupils is [sic] on the rise?
It doesn’t have to be like this. We can turn our education system into a springboard for life, rather than a diving board into stress and anxiety.
That’s why getting rid of SATs is a central part of our education policy.”
And it is not only Jonathan who is blaming SATs for what is often described as crisis of mental health in our classrooms. Last year a Let Our Kids Be Kids campaign was set up by a group of mostly articulate middle-class parents who objected to the tests. They rallied around 500 people to a gathering in Preston Park, Brighton, and were addressed by the children’s laureate Chris Riddell. This year one head teacher went so far as to ban SATs from her school, altogether, on the grounds that they are “a ridiculous, unnecessary strain.” A recent survey by the NUT found that 96 per cent of teachers feel that the tests cause pupils too much stress. So, is it game, set and match to Jonathan and his Green Party? Who, these days, apart from a few Tory ministers, is in favour of testing children?
Strangely, a new constituency of support for SATs has just emerged. It comes from a group of people who have been somewhat marginalised in the debate – the children, themselves. A survey by England’s largest academy trust for primary schools, REAch2, that runs 55 schools, has found that 80 per cent of pupils actually enjoyed or did not mind taking SATs.
It seems that the pressure to oppose the tests is coming more from teachers and some group of parents. REach2 pupils, at least, have understood that SATs are a necessary attainment ‘health check”. There is nothing more likely to cause mental health decline and stress, after all, than leaving school without having mastered basic literacy and numeracy and finding oneself unemployable.
The truth is that the children who benefit most from SATs are the ones who fail them. Once their failure is highlighted they can be helped. Pity the poor child from a deprived background who, if the Greens and the educational establishment got its way, would have to rely on an inflated and inaccurate teacher assessment to rescue them from illiteracy and innumeracy. Now, that would be stressful!