My son is eleven. This time last year his talk was full of characters in the books he read, putting on plays with his siblings, going for bike rides and baking brownies. Our school runs would be full of questions and philosophy spurred by what he had learnt in school that day. His curiosity was boundless, as was the energy with which he hungrily consumed new information about the world.
Today our school run ended with a subdued hug. When I asked how his day was, his reply was just one word. "Stressful". No enthusiasm, no hunger for learning, no regaling me with tales of the kings and queens and emperors of times past. No talk of different countries, religious festivals or the latest animals he had studied. My baby boy's world is now full of stress. The stress takes up so much space he has no room for anything else. He is eleven. I didn't even know what the word "stress" meant when I was that age. Today, the only question that he has asked me is "What's a noun? I'm not good at grammar. I'm worried about it."
You see my boy will be joining thousands of other stressed children around the UK, in just over a week's time, in KS2 SATs exams. I have tried to protect him from as much pressure as I can. I refused to send him to the Easter holiday SATs classes he was asked to attend and I have done no 'cramming' with him at home. Some of his friends have been to school run Saturday classes, as well as the holiday club and some are seeing private tutors.
I repeatedly tell him that he is not his SATS score. He is my wonderful, funny, insightful, kind son. A boy who can build working mechanical lego models from only the plans in his head, a great cook and gardener, a wonderful comedian with an infectious giggle and trusted best friend to Barry the cat. None of these things are included in his SATs score, but that is who he really is.
I tell him that I don't care what his score is, that it has no effect on him, or me, whatsoever. We have talks about the failings of Michael Gove and Nicky Morgan and their colleagues. We talk about what success really means (something that can never be measured by numbers). I try everything in my power to help him to know that I love him unconditionally and my pride in him is unrelated to test scores and reports. I tell him that SATs mean nothing to him, even though he has been told again and again that they are important. I tell him that SATs results only matter to the school, not to him.
I know a lot more about child psychology than most parents, yet despite this I see my baby boy wilting. I see any joy he had of learning being sucked out of him, like one of the Dementors in the books he used to talk about. I see a boy, about to start secondary school, giving up on education at a time when he should be the most motivated. My boy who spoke of nature, wizards, Pugs and cartoon characters now tells me "my life sucks". Once when we were driving past his school he said "There it is, the place that makes my life hell."
My boy speaks of grammatical rules that I have never heard of, despite earning a living as an author. His head is so full of anxiety and worry over remembering it all that he has no space left to be a child.
This is what SATs do to children. This is how they ruin not only the life of the child, but the whole family too as they struggle to support the child and their stress related moods. SATs have taken a year away from my son's life at a time when he should be carefree and happy.
This is what SATs do to children. They don't gain anything from them, but they lose so very much.
For more on the problems with modern day schooling, check out my Gentle Parenting Book.