Welcome to the Exam Factory

10YO has always loved school, but now that she’s in her final year of primary school, she’s starting to get very worried about whether she’s “making enough progress”. After witnessing her breaking down in tears about her homework several times, I thought it was time I had a conversation with her teachers. It went something like this:

Teacher: “I’m really pleased to say that she’s comfortably at level 5c in maths which is excellent and in fact in her last test she was at 5b, so we’re confident that we’ll be able to get her up to a Level 6 in time for the SATS”

Me: “Errr??”

For the benefit of anyone else who doesn’t speak State Education Jargon, I’ve become aware over the last few years that all children in state schools are assessed at the end of year 6 with exams called SATS. Results are intended to assess whether children are reaching the expected level of attainment in key subjects, and affect the school’s position in league tables.  It isn’t, as far as I can make out, going to have any impact on how they are streamed when they start high school, or any other future opportunities. It’s all about the the primary school being seen to meet national targets, and getting the best possible ranking in the league tables. And I’m increasingly concerned about the effect this is having on children.

I’m not harking back to some idealised vision of my own school days, back in the golden age before SATS and the National Curriculum.   From memory some of my teachers were fabulous and one or two were, frankly, killing time in a way that I don’t think any teacher could get away with these days.  I don’t have a problem with the concept of SATS, or the idea of a national curriculum being broken up into different areas of learning and levels of attainment, which can be used as a benchmark of children’s progress. But when your child talks endlessly about what level she’s at, and what level she needs to be, and what level she’d just die of embarrassment if she ever dropped back down to, you do start to wonder if this segmenting and assessing and analysing of the learning process has been taken a bit too far. Is it really fair to judge children like this? I’m not blaming teachers themselves for this; I suspect they’re probably subject to plenty of judging against fairly harsh criteria and moving goal posts. I’ve written more about the pressure teachers face from the Department of Education here.   But the system seems to be treating children as units in a calculation of inputs and outputs, rather than little human beings who might thrive during a project about dinosaurs which chimes with their interests, or fall behind when they’re unsettled by a new baby at home, or whatever.

I’d love to hear what any teachers out there think about this. Isn’t all this pointless stress in Year 6 just going to turn children off learning and make the job that much harder for the high school teachers who have to try and engage them when they’re rebellious teenagers? Surely there’s got to be a better approach than this?

4 thoughts on “Welcome to the Exam Factory

  1. Pingback: The Exam Factory: Part 2 | kirstwrites

  2. Welcome to the narrow curriculum and state education. From the stand point of one who works in a secondary school (11-16) as literacy support I can tell you that the teachers and students are driven by levels. It’s horrendous. The ability needed to acquire these levels is questionable – students are taught to the test. A-C grades mean money for the schools and a favourable place in the league table.
    There is no embedded learning going on – it really is an exam factory. Thankfully my offspring are done with schooling. If we were starting out now, I’d seriously consider home schooling.


    • I can’t help but agree with you, but I think teachers on the whole must be doing a far better job than they are given credit for. I’ve always been happy with the school so far and my daughter has loved school up until now and, as we’ve chosen a high school which doesn’t seem too much of an exam factory, I’m hopeful that she’ll be able to relax a bit once these awful SATS are out of the way. I just read your blog about your school theatre trip, it’s great to know that there are teachers out there with so much dedication despite the awful system they have to work with. Thanks for visiting my blog and for your comment.


      • You’re welcome – hope your daughter enjoys her next school. To be stressed out at age eleven is not good – she should be having fun! Good luck with it all.


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