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Page last updated at 11:40 GMT, Monday, 12 May 2008 12:40 UK

Back to School

By Vivian White
BBC Panorama

Vivian White
Vivian White returned to school to assess the success of SATs tests
"Did you enjoy your visit to our school?" - the question was asked of me by a small child, with great courtesy, as I stood outside the Phoenix Primary School after a day's filming.

"I did," I said; "and did you enjoy our visit to your school?"

And the child agreed that he had enjoyed the transaction too, and then a friend turned up, and they both went off to play.

How do you judge a school which you visit as a perfect stranger?


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One way is just by seeing how you are treated by the children: how do they behave to people whom they haven't met - especially when we are carrying all sorts of kit and getting thoroughly in the way.

Do they get into a lather of excitement and shout out and make faces as soon as we approach?

Or are we treated, in the nicest possible way, as if we aren't there, whilst we are filming - because the children are busy, with the task in hand?

Great confidence

Well we were treated by the children in all three primary schools that we visited, the Phoenix, in Liverpool, Bryn Deva, in Connah's Quay, in North Wales, and Mersea Island School, in Essex, with great confidence and courtesy.

Preview of Panorama: Tested to Destruction, BBC One 8.30pm Monday 12 May 2008.

But we spent longest time in the Phoenix - so they had the biggest helping of us to put up with - and to that extent we had the most reason to be grateful to them.

Thank you, lots of children in the Phoenix, for helping us when we got lost, and answering to us when we asked you questions, and for making us feel generally welcome, and treating us without fuss, in a very educated way.

Thank you, lots of parents too. We saw quite a few because once a week they have a "praise" assembly, to celebrate children who've done all sorts of difficult things: like being punctual, trying harder, doing better.

And it's not just the children who attend: so do all the teachers and parents are welcome too.

And they made us welcome in their turn. There were rows of them.

A classroom
SATs tests are being taken by children across England this week
Whole families - including at least one small baby, who seemed quite at home.

Primary schools often feel quite familial - but the Phoenix, in a modern two-storey building, opened in 2002, looked from the outside especially like a big family house, and helped by its architecture, felt friendly and family-like inside.

It's in an area, Fairfield, close to the city centre, with terraced houses, old industrial sites now deserted, and evidence of strenuous attempts at regeneration, all cheek by jowl.

Testing times

Of course we were there for a serious purpose: to ask about SATs - standard assessment tests, especially those which Year Six, Mr Bunting's class - you'll see him in the film, are taking along with children all over England, in the week beginning May 12th, when the programme goes out.

Preview of Panorama: Tested to Destruction, BBC One 8.30pm Monday 12 May 2008.

And we had critical questions to ask.

Because SATs are part of the official architecture of public accountability, SATs results are published, and ranked by the media into league tables, and OFSTED, the schools inspectorate in England now takes increasing note of this data as part of their assessment.

All this we knew and discussed with teachers in the school, on camera.

In their recent report OFSTED praised the school's "rich and stimulating curriculum" and said parents rated the school highly.

But we were just a bit taken aback to learn that OFSTED's criticism of the school's SATs results at Key Stage 2 (11 year olds) was included in a letter that the inspectors addressed to pupils themselves.

You could argue of course that that was treating the children in a very grown-up way.

But thank you to all the children, especially, and your teachers, and parents. Yes, we did enjoy our visit. It was very interesting indeed.

Panorama: Tested to Destruction will be on BBC One at 8.30pm on Monday 12 May 2008.

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Panorama: Tested to Destruction

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