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SATS'More than a score'

By Connie Meades

I’d like a ‘More Than A Score’ placard. I’d like to wave it in front of my children’s primary school headteacher and governors every time they have a meeting. And if that doesn’t work, I’d like to wave it front of the year 6s every morning just to remind them that their educational achievements amount to so much more than the set of Sats scores that the government – and consequently many primary schools – currently lead them to believe they are.

‘More Than A Score’ is a campaign group that wants an overhaul of standardised assessment in primary schools and they’re asking headteachers to sign the pledge to demonstrate their ‘commitment to support children’s overall education ahead of Sats’ and to resist ‘pressurised’ testing in primary schools.

Any parent who has lived through year 6, as I did last year, would be mad not to support this campaign. Day after day, week after week, of nothing but maths and English (the worst, most boring and often irrelevant kind of both – who ever suffered from not knowing what a fronted adverbial is?), with subjects such as science and art being ‘saved for a treat for after the exams,’ as one of our school’s teachers once put it (by which time the kids and teachers are too burnt out for any more learning anyway). I’ve got it all coming again next year with my youngest and I’m already starting to feel the hard knot rising from the pit of my stomach. I have no doubt my son will – as my daughter did – become disengaged from learning and come to loathe school. Other parents and teachers report that the tests have resulted in children left in tears and having panic attacks. All for an assessment system that is completely flawed and views children as nothing more than data.

But don’t just take my word for it. Sats are well reported as having damaging consequences for both children and schools, with one major study from 2017 showing that these national curriculum tests, undertaken by thousands of primary school children across the country every year, produce ‘unreliable data’, causing some pupils to be incorrectly labelled as low ability, while others go on to secondary school with ‘unrealistically’ high grades. In some cases, teachers reported seeing less able children withdrawn from learning interventions, so as not to negatively affect school results. The concerns followed caution from the House of Commons Education Committee that the ‘high stakes system’ of standard assessment tests does not improve teaching and learning in primary schools.

The great thing about signing the ‘More Than A Score’ pledge card, which is being handed out at the NEU teaching union’s conference in Liverpool, is that it schools don’t have to worry that signing it will be seen as a radical act of anarchy. It’s merely a way of saying, ‘We are better than this, we will try to rise above this’.

Perhaps most helpfully, the pledge card has suggestions of how heads can show their commitment, including delivering a ‘rich, broad, creative curriculum’; taking a ‘project-based learning approach to Sats, to avoid excessive test practice and/or teaching to the test’; avoiding putting ‘undue pressure’ on children to achieve particular Sats scores; not running mandatory Sats holiday clubs, booster classes or other sessions that ‘lead children to believe the tests are an important part of their learning or their future’; and assessing pupils in the round with Sats forming only a small part of the overall picture.

‘This is a practical way for heads and governors to demonstrate their views on primary assessment,’ says Sara Tomlinson, spokesperson for More Than A Score. ‘While they remain legally obliged to run Sats, they can also show how they will continue to put children’s education and well-being ahead of a narrow set of tests.’

Bring it on, I say. We know that growing numbers of headteachers are already calling for an overhaul to the government’s regime and are fed up of being ignored. The More Than A Score pledge gives them a chance to stand up for their schools, staff and pupils. If your school’s headteacher signs it, give them a pat on the back from me.

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