Here at Sherbert we consider ourselves to be experts in kids and teens, their worlds and what makes them tick. Right now, can the same be said for our Department for Education? They have designed tests for kids… with adults in mind. These tests were devised to measure the standard of education in this country and not to test the children themselves. A fine idea in theory, however, in reality, up and down the country kids are feeling the pressure with many ending up in tears. One must ask – is this really the best way to promote a love of learning in our nation’s youngest minds – with benchmarks, targets and tears?

 

SATs – what’s it all about?

The month of May has arrived and with it has brought the much-dreaded SATs for KS1 and KS2 (kids aged 6 to 7 in year 2 and kids aged 10 to 11 in Year 6). These exams were devised to more rigorously test the recent education reform at primary level. The government argues that the SATs are to be a “test of teaching” and not of the pupils themselves. In reality, the pressures put on schools to perform to a high standard is directly placed on the shoulders of the children. The looming threat of “academisation” based on performance, forces schools to push children to their limits in attempts to avoid such an outcome. Furthermore, these tests have been developed at a level of difficulty that far exceeds our children’s current abilities – 90% of teachers at Key Stage 1 and 2 questioned in the NUT, reported that much of the material in the new spelling, punctuation and grammar tests (“Spag” tests) was too advanced/inappropriate for the age groups being tested. Since the SATs began, countless adults have reported difficulty in completing questions designed to test the minds of humans a fraction of their age. For example:

Tick the option that shows how the underlined words are used in the sentence:

My baby brother was born in the hospital where my father works

  1. as a preposition phrase
  2. as a relative clause
  3. as a main clause
  4. as a noun phrase

(http://www.sats2016.co.uk/think-youd-pass-your-sats-in-2016/ have a go, if you’re brave enough 🙂

 

In response to the introduction of the SATs, a social media campaign was launched by a group of Year 2 parents to “let kids be kids” and called for the government to abolish the SATs for KS1. They argue that their children are being robbed of their childhood and the playful freedom it should entail. These parents vowed to withhold their children from school on the dates of testing in protest, over 40,000 parents pledged to take part in the campaign.

 

School stress in 2016

Children in modern Britain face unprecedented pressures in academic achievement and losses of playful experiences. Those who support the SATs testing argue that ‘we all faced testing in our school years and did fine in later life’, pointing the finger of blame at helicopter parents who wish to wrap their little darlings in cotton wool and protect them from all the bad things in life. What these individuals potentially fail to consider are the drastically increased levels of benchmarking that have been introduced in recent years and the resulting decline in children’s play time. Whilst we may have faced our spelling tests with apprehension, our troubles were soon forgotten over a game of tag or jumping rope. Many schools today have cut into kids’ playtime to extended ‘learning’ time in the classroom. Is it any wonder that children in the UK are reported to be some of the unhappiest, unhealthiest and (paradoxically) least educated children in the developed world (UNICEF, 2007)?

 

Minding kids’ mental health

Reported levels of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues in children and young people are at an all-time high. In the UK rates of adolescent self-harm have seen a 70% increase in recent years, with reports of childhood depression and conduct disorder doubling by the end of the millennium. A substantial body of research suggests that these increases are, at least partially, attributable to increases in academic pressures and stresses. One must ask – why are we testing children at levels above and beyond their capabilities? Surely this is just adding undue stress to their already stressful lives. The detrimental effects poor performance can have on a child’s self-esteem is supported across research, only those with greatest resilience can walk away from such experiences unscathed. This week the “Twittisphere” has been inundated with teacher reports of children in tears following these exams. What gains do the government envisage from this testing to justify the emotional cost being paid by our kids?

 

What could we learn from neighbouring nations?

Looking to Finland, a country infamous for its nuanced education system, it is clear that mandatory standardized testing is not the way to inspire teachers to provide the highest standard of education. In Finland, children rarely sit exams or do homework until they are in their teens. There is only one mandatory standardised test, which young people sit when they are 16. And yet, they are some of the highest performing pupils in the world in science, reading and mathematics. Finnish education looks to foster children’s creativity, and problem solving skills. They appreciate the developmental benefits of play and how children learn through playing. In fact, children do not start formal education in Finland until they are 7-years-old. At the same time in the UK, we are asking children to sit KS1 SATs.

Our current education system overlooks the value of play and stifles children’s creativity with strict benchmarking criteria. The Department of Education has proposed that longer school days and more rigorous testing will raise UK academic standards to that of our higher ranking global counterparts – particularly those in East Asian nations. For many it is somewhat concerning that our government seem to aspire to replicate an educational system that has widely been acknowledged as a failure in recent years. Previously these systems had rigid testing standards and placed extreme academic pressure on kids, and though they produced high test scores – at what cost? Children emerged from education lacking skills in problem solving and idea generation. Countries like China and Singapore have undergone an educational reform in an attempt to promote opportunities for children to be creative and develop their social, emotional, and physical skills. For example, the Chinese Ministry of Education have issued “Ten Regulations to Lessen Academic Burden for Primary School Students”. This document calls for less time to be spent in school, less homework and less reliance on test scores as a means of evaluating schools. These reforms were inspired by the poor performance of children in later life. Their inability to practice creativity in childhood appeared to be having a negative impact on their problem solving and idea generation skills in adulthood – key skills in the modern job market. Reports from IBM and the UN have identified creativity as the number one leadership competency of the future and being key to economic resilience globally.

 

So, should we learn from these Eastern nations? Is it time for the government to halt their journey down this path of rigid, formalized education and testing before we are left with a similar ‘creativity crisis’ here in the UK? Shouldn’t we just “let kids be kids”, and allow them to flourish and develop in the parameters of play? In our work, we speak with children almost daily, seeking their opinions and guidance on a vast range of topics. The information we obtain is often extremely insightful and open minded. Isn’t it about fostering and nurturing these young minds in ways that are best for them to learn – and not about achieving political goals?

 

We cannot expect young, energetic boys to sit and learn for hours on end when they are not hard wired to do so – most boys just need the space to run around, play and learn by doing. With recent reports that in the UK women are 35% more likely to attend university than men (with the gap growing each year), it is apparent that our current education system is failing many boys. Until such time that we put kids and their abilities at the centre of their learning our system will continue to be flawed. This is an ongoing battle, for now we set our sights on the SATs. The greatest weapons in the ‘war on SATs’ are our teachers. Teachers who will show students that the true meaning of their worth does not lie in test scores, but instead in their diverse and brilliant range of abilities.

“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all” – Aristotle

 

pic blog

facebook twitter mail