My son's life will be shaped by people who care – teachers, teaching assistants and parents – not SATs or his autism
I have a son who's 11 and has been doing his SATs this week. He's a bright little boy and he also has autism. He's got a sense of logic that would 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 meant getting a free breakfast at school, so that was a transactional win.
The SATs were looming for months, years, but I deliberately kept our family approach to them so light-touch that a Butterscotch Angel Delight could survive the conversations on the topic at our dinner table. You might assume that's because anything approaching pressure would send my boy into a tailspin, and that is partly it.
But there are a number of other things going on in my machiavellian school business manager mind and they 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 40-minute test should ever have been let loose on society. Anyone with an 11-year-old will know that their performance, outlook on life, ability and concentration can fluctuate wildly depending on the colour of their socks, who they're sitting next to, what's in their lunchbox and how much they want to go to the toilet. 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 going to be comparable to that statistically "normal" child who exists only in RAISEOnline and the imaginations of parliamentary analytical deadheads. Nor do I want him to be. He's never going to be "normal"; he's unique, extraordinary and fabulous. Ordinary would be a massive step down for him. I don't want my boy tested and judged by the nameless buttheads 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 while they exist, SATs are the currency of primary assessment and we have no option but to trade in them. I've been the chair of governors in a primary school. I know how hard it is to show progress at key stage 2 (KS2). I know how hard my son's school has worked to get him to a place where he's even able to sit still for long enough to take SATs and write his own answers. 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 teaching assistant (TA) to keep her job after my son leaves in July. Maybe if he does really, really well, her ability to show impact on his educational outcomes might help her out. 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 have to admit that I've considered that if he doesn't do so well at KS2, his progress to GCSE could be good for my school in five years. He'll probably out-do that mythical "normal" kid because he'll pick GCSE subjects that he loves, so he'll be obsessively passionate about them. 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. So if he limps over the KS2 finishing line, that won't be the end of the world – it just gets him a better starting block in the KS4 race.
Given the choices open to me as a parent and an educational professional, I'll do whatever's best for my boy, without question. But when you find yourself in a place where your worlds collide, it can be hard to maintain your objectivity. As a working mum in this particular job – with access to funding information, Ofsted criteria and assessment data – I sometimes feel like I know too much. But at other times – when I'm trying to make sense of the latest number-driven government initiative – it feels like I don't know anything at all.
But I know this: no child has ever had a better, happier or more successful life because of KS2 SATs. Lives are changed by people; parents, teachers and other committed adults who take time to get to know the children in front of them, who read the signs and the behaviours of those children, not the statistics on the labels we have to tie to them.
This is an edited version of a blog originally posted here.