There are various ways to try and get your children to achieve the best possible results in their SATs tests, so that your school does well in league tables and avoids a data-related-forced-academisation-takeover disaster. You could trust that your teaching will be enough to see the children through, and carry on exactly as you would if there were no SATs tests at all. (This is the DfE’s fantasy about how schools should behave in the face of tests.) To do this, you need to be brave, to enjoy high-risk strategies, or (perhaps more likely) to work at a school that has an outstanding Ofsted rating and a high attaining intake. Alternatively, you could spend lots of time teaching to and with the tests, going through endless papers with your children. You could focus your efforts on children who struggle, running interventions and after school sessions. You could set up special training events during the holidays, specifically designed to make the children ‘SATs ready’. You could narrow the curriculum, until it is Maths/English, Maths/English, Maths/English, with the occasional dollop of PE thrown in when the children get antsy. Or you could, I guess, do something nefarious when it comes to the actual tests, and hope that you don’t get caught.
When we look at the inexorable upwards trend in SATs results since they first began, we ought to ask ourselves some pretty serious questions. When secondary teachers say they don’t trust SATs data, and that the results don’t seem to match the capabilities of the children, we need to wonder why that is. When we see primary schools advertising their ‘best ever SATs results!’ year after year after year, we should ask what is really going on. Has teaching got better and better and better over this time period? Have children become higher and higher and higher attainers? Have teachers got ever more skilled at teaching to the test, and ensuring that their children can jump through the testing hoops? Or has something happened to the curriculum in primary, since the tests became so goddamn serious, to make space for an added focus on the subjects that get tested? (If I was a betting person, I would spread my money around, but put most of it on the last one.)
In the days before SATs became the be-all and end-all of primary education, children spent a lot of time in primary schools developing their innate creativity. (I know that children still spend time being creative in primary schools now, but I also know how pressured teachers feel about fitting it in, and how many wish they could do more.) It feels like heresy to say this in the current climate, but primary used to be a time for exploration and play, a time to feel curious and excited about learning. It was a time to dip in ponds and to trail your sleeves through paint. It was a time to tie yoghurt pots together to make mobiles, and to spend hours listening to your teacher read you stories. It was a time to lie on your back looking up at the clouds and pondering what you might one day become. These days it feels like it is all testing and memory and knowledge and grammar and testing and a bit more testing in case the children haven’t had enough. Increasingly, the only children who will get access to creative opportunities are those from advantaged backgrounds, those educated outside the state system, or those in schools where the SATs stakes are not too high. And eventually this will become no country for young creatives, unless your background affords you the chance.