I have a son who’s 11. He’s doing his SATS next week. He’s a bright little boy and he’s also autistic, which is his case means he’s got an astounding sense of logic which could give Mr Spock a run for his money, combined with a social detachment which leaves him unable to understand why he needs to (in his words) ‘do yet another stupid maths paper, which will be exactly the same as the billion practice papers we’ve already done, just so some butthead in London can spy on children’. But it’s not all bad in his world. Having SATS next week means he gets to have breakfast at school and there’s even rumours of free bananas, so for him, it’s a transactional win.
SATS has been looming for months, years, and yet I’ve deliberately kept our family approach so light touch that a Butterscotch Angel Delight could survive a journey though the SATS conversations that happen around our dinner table. You might rightly assume that’s because anything approaching pressure would send my autistic boychild in to a tailspin of anxiety and stimming, and that’s partly it. But there’s also a number of other things going on in my machiavellian School Business Manager mind to which I have to admit, and which are bending the line graphs of my parenting plotter all over the place:
- SATS are stupid, without question. No system which makes judgements about 11 year olds based on a national 40 minute test should ever have been let loose on society. Anyone with an 11 year will know that their performance, outlook on life, ability or concentration levels can fluctuate wildly depending on the colour of their socks, who they’re sitting next to, what’s in their lunchbox or how much they want to go to the toilet. As a human being, I couldn’t care less what a child’s SATS scores are. I care if they’re happy, loved, fed, warm and safe.
- I have an autistic child. He’s never ever going to be comparable to that statistically ‘normal’ child that exists only in Raise Online and the flaccid imaginations of parliamentary analytical deadheads. Nor do I don’t want him to be. He’s never going to be normal; he’s unique, he’s extraordinary, he’s fabulous. Ordinary would be a massive step down for him. I don’t want my boy tested and judged by that nameless butthead in London. I want him to discover his passions and chase them. I want him to fizz and buzz and fly, not sigh and worry and fall short. His SATS results won’t tell anyone anything about him. You have to meet him to earn that privilege.
- But whilst they exist, SATS are the currency of primary assessment with which we have no option but to trade. I’ve lived the life of Chair of Governors of a Primary school. I know how hard it is to show progress at KS2 in a coastal town with significant pockets of deprivation. I know how hard my son’s school have worked to get him to a place where he’s even able to sit still long enough to take a SATS test and write his own answers down himself. They have done an amazing job with him, and I want the school to get a blindingly good set of KS2 results this year. They deserve it. I also want his TA to keep her job after he leaves in July and not have to worry about national funding cuts. Maybe if he does really, really well, her ability to show impact on his educational outcomes might help her out too. She’s a fantastically gifted TA and my son adores her. So a part of me does want him to do fabulously well for them. And for her. And for him, too, of course.
- But. And it’s a significant but, he’s coming to the school where I work in September, and I also know that a bright, white SEND boy is data gold dust. I’ve got to admit I have considered that if he doesn’t do so well at KS2, his progress over time to GCSE could be fabulous for my school in 5 years. In SEND stats, at GCSE he’ll probably out-do that mythical ‘normal’ kid because he’ll pick GCSE subjects that he loves, not what he’s forced to do, so he’ll be obsessively passionate about them (and EBACC will hopefully be dead by then, stabbed mercilessly through its vital organs by a heroic personalised learning programme of gargantuan proportions). And of course, I’ll be in the office along the hall, watching his every move, quietly manipulating his passage through the school from behind the scenes to get him the best teachers and the best educational opportunities we’ve got. So, if he limps through the KS2 finishing gate, that won’t be the end of the world either, in the scheme of things. It just gets him a better starting block in the KS4 race later on.
Given the choices open to me as parent and educational professional , I’ll do whatever’s best for my boy, without question, but when you find yourself in a place where your 3 worlds collide – parent, education professional and volunteer, it’s sometimes hard to maintain your objectivity. As a working mum in my particular job, having access to funding information, Ofsted criteria and assessment data, sometimes, you can know too much, and yet other times, when you try and make sense of the next number-driven government initiative, it feels like you know nothing at all.
But I do know this, no child has ever had a better life or achieved happiness and success in life through sitting KS2 SATS papers. People change lives; parents, teachers and other committed adults who take time to know the child in front of them, who read the signs and the behaviours of the child themselves, not the statistics on the labels we have to tie to them. So my fabulous little boy and I will drive straight through SATs without stopping or even slowing down, with our fingers stuck firmly in our ears singing “la la la la, we’re not listening”.