Watching the local news yesterday evening, my ears pricked up when an item came on regarding a primary school in the East Midlands that has decided to pay Year 6 pupils £1 for every SATs revision session they attend prior to taking the tests. It was a Grumpy Old Man moment for me (I seem to have these rather more for some reason lately), as this headline seemed to be wrong on so many levels.
My first thought was one of horror at the state of our education system, where league tables have become so skewed that schools and Headteachers are under so much pressure they will resort to trying to entice children to attend revision sessions. We value what we can measure, but everything of value cannot be measured. Results and standards are important, but they are only one measure of the value of a good education, especially for children at the tender age of 11.
At The Elms, as indeed a third of independent prep and junior schools have done, we have moved away from meaningless and unreliable tests. We have many ways of assessing pupils, both summative and diagnostic. Tests to inform where weaknesses lie so that we may adapt teaching to help a child move forward. The SATs boycott last year, with a national review underway this year and the threat of another boycott means that any national comparisons are completely flawed. Yet, some independent schools retain SATs, which does allow them to make all sorts of claims and appear in spurious league tables and newspaper surveys.
One of the biggest benefits we discovered as a school by abandoning SATS was the time and space it provided in our Year 6 curriculum for independent learning opportunities: opportunities for children to be allowed to follow areas of study that really interested them and apply library and ICT skills; opportunities to learn new skills outside the standard curriculum (e.g. cycling courses); opportunities to prepare for a smooth transition into Year 7, experience discovery days at Trent College.
Apart from my concern that this school in the news was placing so much emphasis on testing Year 6 pupils, my other major concern is the message we are giving to children by paying them to revise.
Most schools have reward systems. We at The Elms have a whole host of reward systems that recognise achievement and endeavour. Children earn team stars for good behaviour, sports colours for achievement on the sports fields, book worm awards for reading, music badges for playing instruments and so on. Is this so different from what the school in the news was doing by paying its pupils? I believe it is. To me, one of the joys of leading The Elms is the strong work ethos that all pupils retain, all the way through to year 6. There is genuine pride expressed by the children who wear badges on their blazers. This pride exists whether the pupil is a girl or boy, sporty or bookish. To me, the fact that children show so much appreciation for these rewards, shows that they understand something crucial to their future success, namely that effort brings success, and success brings its own rewards.
I can’t help thinking that the message given to pupils rewarded with payment to work for a test is entirely the wrong message. To me it suggests that seven years of primary education has failed to instil little work ethos into these children, and the saddest lesson of all is that the joy that comes from learning for learning’s sake is overlooked.