Forget Sats – find a true measure of education

pupils sitting an exam

 ‘The way we evaluate schools, as well as the way we teach and assess pupils, have to be rethought,’ writes Mary Bousted. Photograph: David Jones/PA

Amanda Spielman may be warning the wrong people about exam anxiety, certainly as far as younger kids are concerned (Ofsted chief says teachers can cause ‘subliminal’ exam anxiety, May 14). My 10-year-old is not worried because I have told him Sats are irrelevant to his life. His secondary school will determine how best he will fit in, based on its own testing, when he gets there in September. I did ask him to do his best in sympathy with the people who are sweating it out this week: his excellent teachers, whose lives – and the rating of the school – depend on how he does at rote nonsense.

Meanwhile, the true quality of his education is illustrated by the year 6 leavers’ scrapbook year after year, which always tells the same story: the stellar moments each child remembers are extracurricular experiences such as acting in plays, spending a week together on Exmoor or learning about Mary Anning in Lyme Regis. We parents can also play our part – as a lawyer, I have supervised the trial of three teachers for “murdering” the headteacher, with the local police arriving to oversee the investigation. (They were all acquitted by exemplary 10-year-old jurors, I am glad to say.)

We should deliver a token of our respect and thanks to the anxious teachers when the Sats end on Thursday. Meanwhile, when will the government accept that teachers should be allowed to inspire, rather than having to cram tedious material down the throats of their enthusiastic goslings? Perhaps begin by allowing them a free day a week to seek out the child’s passion.
Clive Stafford Smith
Symondsbury, Dorset

 Fiona Millar warns us of the risks of abolishing Sats and says we should not go back to the pre-testing days of the early 1990s (Education, 14 May). But no one in the debate reignited by Jeremy Corbyn and Layla Moran is advocating a system without assessment. The right kind of assessment matters, because we need to support pupils’ learning more effectively. It matters because we need to identify problems in schools and put them right. There is no dispute about this.

What Corbyn and Moran – like the OECD and many national governments – have pointed out is that the system we have neither supports learners nor provides useful information about schools. That’s why it needs to change. Nor is anyone suggesting that changes to assessment alone will be enough to mend the damage done to our primary schools. The way we evaluate schools has to be rethought, as does the way we teach and assess pupils. To this end, we need to think boldly and comprehensively. Millar’s approach, which points to the size of the problems as a reason to doubt the capability of reformers to address them, falls short of what is required.
Dr Mary Bousted
Joint general secretary, National Education Union

 Most present and past teachers, like myself, could confirm the sense of the research finding in your report (Teacher assessment could take place of many tests, study says, 13 May). Most have been arguing for years about the negative effects of excessive testing and league tables.

Teachers work closely with students to help them make progress in their learning, while nurturing their wellbeing. It is their job – in my case, a vocation and what I spent four years training to do. I hope politicians will heed this research.
Ann Moore
Stocksfield, Northumberland

 Not long after I read your report on research suggesting that replacing exams with teacher assessments “would arguably benefit the wellbeing of students … and help to bring joy back to the classroom”, my son told me that after his first GCSE paper on Monday some of his fellow students found it so difficult that they were in tears. It wasn’t so long ago that he said he wasn’t being taught to learn, more to pass exams. Add the drop in students doing foreign languages because the papers are too hard – people should look at maths too – and it’s easy to conclude that our education system is deeply flawed.

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