Last night I was wondering out loud on Twitter whether all children still receive their entitlement to a “balanced and broadly based” curriculum. The question came into my mind because I had been trying to get some information about the Year 7 SATs resits that the government is introducing from December 2017. I was thinking about what can happen in Year 6 at the moment, where a narrow focus on ‘passing SATs’ can become the be-all and end-all of the final year of primary. And I was wondering how this might filter into Year 7, with the introduction of the new tests. After my tweet, I was sent stories of schools where PE has been dropped from the Year 6 curriculum, and others that have days on which children do double Maths and double English, instead of anything resembling a normal school day. And I got to worrying a lot about how the first year of secondary school will look for the children who take the tests in May and who do not reach the “expected standard”. At the moment, this page offers minimal clues about the DfE’s plans:
“We will introduce compulsory resit tests in December 2017 in English reading and maths for year 7 pupils who do not reach the required standard at the end of key stage 2. Sample tests will be available in December 2016 to help schools prepare. Schools may use these sample tests with their pupils if they wish.”
SATs resits in Year 7 are an absolutely terrible idea, for a veritable host of reasons. The first and most obvious one being that it is crazy to expect secondary schools to be able to get a child to reach the ‘expected standard’ in three months (after a long summer holiday) when his or her primary school did not get him or her to that point in seven years. The resit idea seems to rest on the assumption that the child did not ‘pass’ because of a flaw in the primary school, rather than because of some kind of need or learning difficulty in the actual child. The children who will have to resit these tests have already spent their last year of primary mired in failure. What on earth will it do to their confidence to be entered again barely 3 months into their secondary careers? The second reason that this idea is stupid is because of transition: we already know that children drop back in their learning in Year 7. Why on earth would we decide to compound the problems of transition by adding the stress of a test they must ‘pass’ after less than 100 days at a new school? But the biggest reason why this idea is so worrying is because of what will (almost inevitably) happen to the curriculum for these children. I can already imagine the interventions, and the narrow set of subjects, and the after school classes. What kind of way is this to inspire children as they begin a new chapter in their lives?
Between the village where I live and the main road into Bristol is a section of road called “The Narrows”. I don’t think that this is the official, ordnance survey map name for this bit of road. It is just a nickname that it has been given in local parlance. As you might have guessed, this section of road is where it literally ‘narrows’, down to a single lane. High, muddy banks close in on either side. Trees loom over the road, cutting out the light. There are regular mud falls from the banks, and bits of stone break loose onto the road. Those of us who live locally understand that, as you approach The Narrows, you need to slow down and check for oncoming traffic. You can’t quite see to the end of the narrow section, so it is all too easy to zoom into The Narrows and then get trapped as a vehicle comes towards you, and another follows behind. There are stories of gridlock in The Narrows, epic tales of people trapped for hours, that have made their way into local folklore. It is incredibly easy to get sucked into The Narrows, and trapped, and it can be horribly hard to break out. This, then, is how I imagine these poor children, made to resit their SATs endlessly, until they finally reach the ‘expected standard’. Trapped in a dark and claustrophobic place called The Narrows. Engaged in an increasingly desperate attempt to break on through to the other side, where the kind of curriculum they are entitled to lies just out of reach.