Devon head says SATs reading test has undermined the hard work of teachers and pupils

The head teacher of a Devon primary school wrote to us as follows:

Since the first lockdown in March 2020, leaders and governors in our school have prioritised the mental health and emotional wellbeing of children, staff and families, recognising the far-reaching consequences of the pandemic for all members of our school community. We have nurtured and held hands, both metaphorically and physically.

Our approach was exactly right for our school, and we have been lauded by our children’s families for being brave enough to bat back the government calls to ‘catch children up’. Given that this was a global pandemic, we were genuinely confused as to with whom the children were supposed to be catching up; as far as we could make out, children across the world were affected in similar ways.

We focused on our school values of forgiveness, love and friendship; community, respect, trust and resilience. We would do the same again in a heartbeat.

Unfortunately, the reading test faced by our Year 6 children in SATs week has completely undermined much of the hard work to which we have committed during the last few years: even children who are very able readers felt like failures because they couldn’t finish the test in the time given. While I would not argue that there shouldn’t be a level of challenge in the test, ambiguous questions and too much text just proved overwhelming for many of our children. This was utterly, utterly heart-breaking for leaders and teachers alike.

The pandemic gave government the perfect opportunity to change the way that 10 and 11-year-old children are assessed. We know no more about our children’s attainment and progress now than we did before they sat these outmoded tests. We are skilled professionals who do not need a snapshot view to know what the children are capable of. The only thing that these tests do is to give ministers a stick to beat schools with, and to inform their precious league tables. As I said to our children before the tests began, the results couldn’t matter less to me; what is important is that they tried their best, and that they embody the values that we all encourage and uphold.