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'The New Normal' for 11-Year-Old SATs Pupils and Parents Are Fighting Back

03/05/2016 12:25

Parents across the country will keep their kids off school for #KidsStrike3rdMay to protest SATs.

Millions of our 11 year-old primary pupils will be observed in classrooms or take to exam halls as they are tested in literacy and numeracy this month.

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'#tellnickyno: Star Wars icon makes an unlikely appearance in parent protest'

The SATs were a product of a dramatic overhaul of education, namely Margaret Thatcher's Education Reform Act in 1988 which saw the national Curriculum introduced and the slow yet steady erosion of parent-power. Fast forward 18 years, and education has certainly been reformed. Yet it has certainly not been for the better. Successive governments' - both red and blue alike - have heralded 'the new normal' of our children having to reach a certain standard for their age, rather than what is considered 'average' for their age group.

The initial driving force behind testing primary-aged children has insidiously skewed in favour of courting favourable OFSTED reviews every academic year and competing in catchment areas across the country. Most worryingly of all is the toll it takes on our children's mental health whilst most of their European counterparts have barely begun their education, a far cry from our regimented system.

I'm not a parent. I'm a concerned sister who has an 11-year-old autistic brother who above anything wishes the SATs did not exist. I also have a seven-year-old brother who has it all to come unless something drastically changes. At the best of times he does not enjoy school through no fault of his own or the fault of his excellent teachers. At worst, his needs as a learner are not being met, this generation are certainly not a generation of life-long learners due to policy changes. You can argue history has repeated itself as my brother is assessed in a similar fashion as to what was prescribed 10 years ago, when I was 11.

However, the academic criteria and assessment is only getting harder and unattainable for both teacher and pupil. According to parent James who has been a teacher for 15 years also has concerns that his class and his son, feel set up to fail.

"We are going to be constantly telling these children that they are working below standard. How awful is that? I've have already had children crying when we have done practice papers because they think they're too hard. They're feeling the pressure and we haven't even reached the actual assessments yet." - James Lewis, Parent and Teacher, Leicester.

The Department of Education (DoE) have consistently not listened to the concerns of parents and teaching alike, exacerbating the alienation parents feel about their child's progress and quality of education. Recently, Minister for Education, Nicky Morgan at the National Association of Head Teachers Conference (NAHT) said of the level of literate British 15 year old pupils being 'far' behind the likes of Korea and Singapore "will more rigorous tests at key stage 2 actually address this gap?' you might ask. My answer is yes." In response to heckles from exasperated teachers like James.

Parent, Natasha Harpley who has taken part in #KidsStrike3rdMay wholeheartedly disagrees with this approach and had this to say about the narrowness of her child's learning.

"I am taking my children out [of school] in protest of the SATS. This year they have sharply moved the goalposts, and the nit-picky standards are unnecessary. Making tests harder does not raise standards, it only increases stress for the pupils undertaking them and the staff having to teach it." Natasha Harpley, Parent, Norwich.

The issue of education as James told me, does not necessarily have to be ideologically driven. Yet successive governments since the late eighties have decided to rubber-stamp their ideology on state-run schools to the detriment of pupils. Over-assessment and shifting focus from the arts which is deemed less important to development is the prescribed antidote for our lagging performance internationally.

I would argue the DoE has been locked in their Ivory Tower far too long and is no longer listening to those on the front-line. James and Natasha are not alone in thinking their voices as parents and teachers is simply white noise to the government. Thousands of parents made the decision to remove their children from school on the 3rd of May as it appears another education minister has not listened.

What can be done by Nicky Morgan? First and fore most listen to teachers, listen to parents. We must also recognise what has been sacrificed on the altar of target-setting: creativity, physical education and overall the well-being of pupils. Arts and sporting activities must be back on the academic agenda, rather than second preference.

However, unless action is taken and we overhaul the system so that it is actually fit for purpose, this means scrapping SATs. My brother and his peers can enjoy learning for learning's sake and teachers can begin teaching again. Power is beginning to go back to parents and that is exciting. It is a vital step for letting kids be well- rounded, confident and happy.

It's a sign of the desperation of Parents that the only way they can claim power is to take their children out of school. Taking students away from learning should be a last resort and yet for many it has become the only option. Without proper accountability it always will be.

I'm with them.

Follow the hashtag #KidsStrike3rdMay and on twitter to join the movement: @KidsBeKids3May

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