Education: Exam worries are a signal of strain imposed by culture of testing pupils

(C)jonchallicom
jon challlicom
www.jonchallicom.com ChildLine offers support to young people in Leeds as pupils wait for exam results
 
As teenagers in Leeds wait patiently for their exam results, ChildLine is offering support to those who are feeling anxious or worried.
 
ChildLine is encouraging young people in Leeds to contact the service by phone or online with any anxieties or worries about exam results, either before or after they receive their results. Last year, (2011/12) the ChildLine base in Leeds received 175 contacts from children and young people about exam pressure
mail@jonchallicom.com
+44 (0) 780 370 1947
(C)jonchallicom jon challlicom www.jonchallicom.com ChildLine offers support to young people in Leeds as pupils wait for exam results As teenagers in Leeds wait patiently for their exam results, ChildLine is offering support to those who are feeling anxious or worried. ChildLine is encouraging young people in Leeds to contact the service by phone or online with any anxieties or worries about exam results, either before or after they receive their results. Last year, (2011/12) the ChildLine base in Leeds received 175 contacts from children and young people about exam pressure mail@jonchallicom.com +44 (0) 780 370 1947

There’s a young lad I know who attends a Sheffield junior school and enjoyed a week at the east coast during the first half of the Easter holidays.

One day, while he was on the beach with his family, in between games of football and badminton, his parents told me how he started to look a little forlorn.

Some kids will have been dragged into school over the holidays for extra revision, while others have been attending after school sessions for weeks

They asked him what was the matter, and the answer came back. “SATs.”

They were surprised by the answer at first, but he repeated it over and over.

“SATs, SATs, SATs, SATs, SATs.”

There and then, on that unusually mild day in Bridlington, it became apparent to one family how the testing system in Year 6 has gone way too far.

When an 11-year-old boy is concerned about a week of exams rather than focussing his mind on paddling in the sea, bodyboarding, ice creams and digging in the sand, it is more than just a little disturbing - it’s fundamentally wrong.

He didn’t spend the whole week worrying about SATs, of course.

But the fact that it entered his head on a day when it should have been a million miles away should sound alarm bells to everyone involved in primary education.

He will not be the only ten or 11-year old to be fretting about the upcoming SATs test during the Easter holidays.

Some kids will have been dragged into school over the holidays for extra revision, while others have been attending after school revision sessions for weeks.

Some schools have pretty much abandoned other valuable aspects of the curriculum so that the focus on English and Maths can be total in the run up to the tests.

Tutors do nicely out of SATs as well, and some parents buy into the Year 6 tests so much that they pay for their kids to attend extra lessons.

Sometimes they’re on Saturdays, sometimes they’re after school.

Sometimes they’re one-to-one and sometimes there in a larger learning group.

Since the beginning of September, kids in Year 6 have brought home their own body weight in printed-out mock tests, past papers and practice exams.

They’ve been working on them at weekends, working on them in evenings.

There has been no escape from SATs for any of the Sheffield children currently in Year 6.

As well as preparing to leave their schools and join the older folk in secondary schools, they’ve been pushed and pushed and pushed to succeed in tests in a way that won’t happen again until they are 16.

In last week’s column I mentioned how a new wave of grammar schools could soon be thrust upon us, putting more and more children through a new style of 11+ exam.

One argument against grammar schools is that it is wrong to put so much pressure on youngsters and let them know that so much is riding on the result.

But what people without children in Year 6 tend to forget is that SATs are exactly that kind of exam.

Only they don’t just last an afternoon, they last the best part of a week and there are sometimes two exams a day.

At the recent NUT conference, a delegate from a junior school told how she had to comfort some of the Year 6 children last year because they were literally crying in the middle of their tests.

In two weeks the SATs will all be over, and not before time.

Let’s get the city’s children beyond these fruitless tests and so they can take part in the sports events, productions and art celebrations they should be enjoying before saying goodbye to their primary setting.

The government say they are reviewing the future of SATs and the NUT is considering a possible boycott next year.

But go beyond the politics, campaigning and lobbying and you’re left with one 11-year-old boy on a beach in Bridlington, more concerned about his maths papers than whether he wants waffle cone or a flake.

If he was the only child worrying about SATs over Easter, then he’s still one more than there actually should be.

But everybody involved in SATs knows the sad truth that he is actually one of many, in this city and across the country.