Executive headteacher of the Wolds Federation

Steve Woodhouse, executive headteacher ofthe Wolds Federation.
Steve Woodhouse, executive headteacher ofthe Wolds Federation.

The SATs tests are finished for another year but the dissatisfaction with them continues. I have once again seen children visibly upset by the pressure they create.

Parents have contacted me, concerned about the mental health of their children. Surely, something has to change.

My negativity towards the tests grew this week when I read the ‘confessions of a teacher’ in The Guardian.

The article, written by an anonymous primary school teacher, describes how he or she cheats during the tests to help children achieve better scores. I include a section here for those of you who haven’t seen it:

‘Jordan beckons me from the other side of the room. “I’ve finished, Miss,” he says proudly, 20 minutes into the 40-minute test. I pick up his paper and flick through. Silly mistakes leap out at me.

And he’s missed a whole page of questions. I jab my finger at the page. “You haven’t done these.”

I give Connor, who still has his head on the desk, extra time. It doesn’t make any difference to him but allows me the opportunity to slip the rest an extra five minutes … or was it 10. No Sats “police” have turned up, which is a relief.’

Sadly, I’m not surprised by what I read. The relentless pressure on schools and teachers to meet the higher expectations is unprecedented.

A failure to do so can result in job losses, poor Ofsted gradings and forced academisation. Our schools are all measured using these snap-shot tests and children who miss the expected standard have a drastic effect on a school’s data. This teacher was desperate for his/her children to succeed, but have they really succeeded?

When the results come out in July, the school in question will undoubtedly do better than it would’ve done without the ‘intervention’ of the teacher. Their results will potentially be better than schools who have administered the tests fairly (including my three). This cannot be fair and questions the validity of the national league tables. I also sympathise with the secondary school who will receive the cheating school’s children in September, arriving with inflated results.

It’s clear to me that it simply comes down to the pressure the teacher is under; as the article goes on to explain:

‘By end of the test, I reckon I’ve helped just about all the borderline children. I’ve never told them an answer, but I might have done enough to get some to that “expected” level. After all, England expects. Certainly the higher-ups in our academy chain expect.

The Government has often said that externally marked tests are the only credible way to achieve a national standard.

As professionals we have argued that teachers are better placed to make assessments based on what they see each and every day. Unfortunately, this article has fuelled the Government’s argument and questioned whether or not teachers can be trusted.

I hope this is an isolated case but I have begun to wonder. I feel for the children in my schools, along with many others across the country, who have had their tests administered fairly.

They will now be compared with children who have had extra time, who have had mistakes pointed out to them and who have been given unfair support. I also feel for the teacher who has had to resort to this unprofessional conduct.

Above all, I feel for the children who sit these tests every year. They are becoming more and more difficult and have little bearing on their future education. At one of my schools, Beswick and Watton, we had a campfire at the end of the test week and used the practice SATS papers as the fuel.

Children toasted marshmallows on the fire as well as toasting the end of the tests!

If you are wondering what the content of the tests is like nowadays, I have left copies in Toddys Bar in Pocklington.

Why not pop in for a drink and have a look at what our ten and eleven year olds have to grapple with; I might be in there but I won’t be helping you with the answers.