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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 May, 2003, 11:03 GMT 12:03 UK
School tests: Do changes go far enough?
Testing of seven-year-olds in schools is to be eased, amid concerns that children are becoming too stressed.

Assessment will be spread throughout the school year instead, Education Secretary Charles Clarke has announced, and national targets for 11-year-olds will be scrapped - with schools allowed to set their own targets.

Teachers had threatened to boycott the national tests and the NUT says that by preserving the tests for older children, the government is lacking courage.

Is this a climbdown from the government? Do the changes go far enough? Should 11 and 14-year-olds continue to be tested?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


Your reaction

This does nothing other than to remove the enjoyment from learning
Aiden, Newcastle, England
I find the idea of a 7 year old taking a formal examination ridiculous. As a teacher I find that this does nothing other than to remove the enjoyment from learning. More importantly it adds pressure to the pupils, and focuses the attention of the school and teachers away from creating an effective, well balanced, enriching learning environment to one of a narrow curriculum where some subjects are sacrificed at the expense of preparing pupils to pass their exams.
Aiden, Newcastle, England

I thought tests were there to assess how a child was performing academically. If these tests are stopped how will teachers know which child needs more help than another?
Roger, UK

Yesterday (as a visiting advisory teacher) I helped to supervise a SAT and was sad to discover a 7 year old girl trying to cheat (she had a sheet of helpful words and phrases on her lap under the table). The level of anxiety which these tests impose on 7 year olds is quite simply unacceptable.
Anon, London UK

Maybe if the school holidays were reduced to a sensible duration in keeping with the real world there would be more time for both teachers and pupils to spend on education.
Chris, UK

If a child can't concentrate in a noisy room, would you say they can't handle pressure?
Joanne, UK
Comments here that say "I never saw any traumatised children" or "they've got to learn to cope with stress" are ridiculous. First - there are many children, such as myself, who went through a living hell when tests like this came round. It wasn't my inability to cope with stress that caused the problem, it was the fundamental premise that I should be able to respond in some robotic input/output manner to a set of sterile questions on a piece of paper in a totally silent room. If a child can't concentrate in a noisy room, would you say they can't handle pressure? No. So why do it the other way round? The silence suffocated me. Life is not about learning dead facts and regurgitating them. To not be able to do this as a child was down to it being completely at odds with my character, personality and learning style. We all learn differently - so it doesn't make sense to test us the same. Appraise children differently and appraise them when it serves a purpose other than feeding government figures.
Joanne, UK

Just taking a few tests doesn't sound much to those not involved in education. What many don't realise is that because of the pressure by parents and governors, head teachers are so desperate for their school to look good in the league tables that children are being taught to the tests and taking practice tests so often that they are not getting a broad education. Many children who do really well in the tests actually have very poor general knowledge and their last year at primary school is hell. Most older people remember their last year as one of privileges and, dare I say it, fun.
Susan Wright, England

Some of the children being tested are only 6 years olds
Graham, England
We must not loose sight of the fact that some of the children being tested are only 6 years olds. They should be given a broad range of learning experiences and building their self esteem. The current testing system puts pressure on schools, teachers and children and are conducive to this. I believe today's announcement is a welcome shift.
Graham, England

I am a school teacher at an infant school teaching a class of Year 2 children. I watch the morning news before I leave for work each day. There are children in my class who have completed a majority of the SAT tasks (introduced to the children as special Year 2 jobs) who do not even realise they have done the SATs and keep asking when they are going to start. We have had a few parents that have said their children are stressed, but I would suggest that these children are the ones that have been reminded as they go out the door to try their hardest to do well. Your daily news is not helping this at all. Parents get more and more anxious and pass this on to their children. I do not agree with SAT testing for 6 and 7 year olds, but leave us to do our job in providing a stress free atmosphere for the children to complete these compulsory tasks.
Jane, England

I agree with Heather (below) regarding SATs being established to provide statistics for the Government. What makes it more ludicrous is that the SATs for 7 year olds have actually changed year on year, so that the statistics that are produced are not in fact a true indication of progress, as like is not being compared to like. It just seems that we go round in circles, it feels like being led on the end of a rope! I don't mind doing anything which I perceive as being of value to the children I teach, but so much of what I am obliged to do at the moment seems only to fulfil a frantic desire for me to prove that I am competent to do my job... not to mention being able to jump through yet another set of hoops. I often feel like packing teaching in, but I do really enjoy the rewards of seeing the kids in my class learn and grow, despite all the "new" initiatives.
Liz Marshall, UK England

Centralized testing is promoted by those who do not trust teachers
Richard Harbeck, Canada
It has always been my belief that we so called modern societies spend far too many of our educational resources on testing rather than helping our young people have rich and creative learning experiences. Centralized testing is promoted by those who do not trust us as teachers to do the job we have signed contracts to do. This kind of politically driven centralized testing only measures knowledge that rarely can be assured to be there tomorrow. Save your money let us teachers do the job of challenging our student to prove they have learned. Put the onus on those who supervise us to undertake the responsibility to ensure high levels of learning are constantly proven.
Richard Harbeck, Canada

If tests were abolished, teachers would resume a more vocational and professional approach. The more enjoyable work and professional freedom would aid retention of really good teachers. Trust of teachers is essential for real and sustainable improvement.
Geoff, England

If children are stressed taking their SAT tests then it is not the tests that need to be changed but rather children need to be taught how to cope with such pressure. Life is competitive and the sooner children are taught how to cope the better. Continually wrapping them up in cotton wool and trying protect them actually does more harm in the long run.
David Lewis, Milton Keynes UK

I am relieved the tests are being stopped. I was becoming increasingly concerned for my daughter who was due to take them next year. My concern being that this should have been her preparatory year to taking the stats test sand yet since the start of the this academic year [Sept 2002] to past Christmas her class was without a fulltime teacher. To the extent on one week they had 5 different teachers. This would have made the tests a poor indication to the children's abilities
Lou, UK

I am appalled to see my 7 year old in tears like this
Susan, England
My seven year old daughter (Year 3) took practice SATS last week. By the end of the week, she was crying, feeling sick and had to stay off school. She is now fine. She is a high achiever, but I feel sure that her 'illness' was solely due to SATS stress. Her teacher is perfectly capable of assessing my daughter's ability. The tests have added nothing but stress. I am appalled to see my 7 year old in tears like this.
Susan, England

I was a teacher and me and my colleagues were aware that the Year 2 SATS were rigged by the headmaster so that they would deliver the good results to the LEA. This goes on all the time, the statistics mean nothing, and it causes the children nothing but boredom and anxiety. I say they should never have been inflicted on little 7-year-old children in the first place, but the Government won't like to admit they were wrong.
Anne, Nottingham, UK

My 7 year old daughter took SATs, and has one paper still to do. When I asked her how she found them, she said she enjoyed the tests and was pleased because she finished them.. My concern as a parent is that I know little about them. Although I have no concerns about her ability, I wonder will she have read and understood the questions. Are they helped with this at 7? It seems a very young age. I have heard other mums more concerned about the effect of SATs than me. Their children are dyslexic or have other problems. The kids already feel they perform less than friends eg on lower banded reading books etc.... do we need to do this to children so young?
Caroline Moran, UK

Without proper measurement, how on earth can we identify the 'added-value' of education between the different stages. Just when we thought we were getting clear objective data to make comparisons, revisions are being made which will result in more subjective measures and a consequent loss of accountability.
Paul Rothwell, England

Children become a statistic rather than an individual
Joanne Pikulski, England
SATs should be completely abolished. As teacher assessments are accurate in most cases they are a sufficient means of assessing children's ability. SATs put an enormous amount of pressure on teachers and children and at 7 and 11 years old, the focus on academic ability takes away from the enjoyment of teaching and learning. Children become a statistic rather than an individual with strengths, maybe in non-academic areas. I am starting my first year as a primary teacher in September and would like to think that I would not allow SATs to dominate my teaching but the pressure on children's performance in just one week will make that very hard.
Joanne Pikulski, England

I'm currently sitting my Finals at university, and spent much of this morning's exam. thinking how utterly ridiculous it is that three years' learning and understanding of Shakespeare is meant to be shown in a three hour paper. Testing is a wholly inadequate method of assessing knowledge or understanding. Children are getting much better at sitting tests - not being better taught or 'more educated'. The distinction is an important one. Tests should never have become the be-all and end-all of all systems of education.
Simon, UK

My 7 year old son has just taken his SATS without any stress at all because we have practised throughout the year. As a parent, I am aware of the standards that are expected and work toward a goal. I can also monitor the school's teaching standards. I think SATS are a good idea and should stay!
G Amponsah, UK

We never seem to give any system any time to really prove its worth
Pete, UK
I don't care whether its seen as a climb down or not, but I am worried that it is yet another change. We never seem to give any system any time to really prove its worth or otherwise. If it does not show instant results its revised or scrapped. No doubt next year the teachers will be moaning again that they have yet more change to cope with.
Pete, UK

SATS should be abolished altogether as they don't tell teachers anything that they don't already know about a child's ability. The only reason for continual testing is to provide data that the government can audit and set more and more ludicrous targets from 'on high'. No wonder teachers are leaving the profession in droves - trust in their abilities are competent professionals has been replaced by pressure to meet superficial, test-based targets.
Heather Williams, UK

I think that children should be tested throughout their school. How are they going to learn to cope when they get to high school and have to write their GCSEs? Maybe some small tests would be good for primary school children. There are too many children going through school who can't even read properly. Children should not have too easy a life - or will you be there when they have to cope as adults?
Lesley, UK

I have three kids all in primary education, the eldest just finishing the key stage 2 SATS. I fully support the use of SATS as a means of picking up on the strengths and weaknesses of my children. Let us not return to the 70s were my education was ruined by liberal floppy teachers.
Richard George, England

No future employer will ever ask 'What did you get in your year 6 SATS?'
J B, England
If Mr Clarke had school age children he would also want these tests abolished. All my three children have had enormous pressure placed on them, particularly my middle child who is dyslexic, because teachers concentrate hard on making sure the children perform well in the SATS to the detriment of all else. My eldest son's head teacher even went so far as to make extra after school lessons compulsory for those children who they considered would not perform well, and would therefore adversely affect the school league tables. My friend's son actually became ill because of the stress. I thought originally that SATS were introduced to judge the standard teachers were teaching to, not the abilities of the children. SATS make no allowance for less able children. I have told all my children not to worry about their SATS results, as no future employer will ever ask 'What did you get in your year 6 SATS?'
J B, England

We are producing a generation of kids that will be good at passing exams and that's it. They do not get a broad education as we did when we were young. PE, Games, and other outside activity such as sports and one week trips are almost non-existent. I know for a fact that at exam time, pupils are being coached and prepared to sit the exam. Parents also put too much emphasis on the test. You only have to look at the amount of books available to help prepare kids for the SAT.
Anonymous

People are uncomfortable with standardized tests because they rank people by some criteria that may not be to their advantage. The unpleasant fact is that the best minds must be found early and directed toward medicine and science. Lesser minds, including my own, should not get in the way. Sorry!
Michael, USA

Testing should continue but league tables should be abolished. By emphasising the schools position in a league table teachers will always feel pressure to get results. Testing should be about helping children as individuals and not about producing an often meaningless comparison between schools.
Doug, UK

The school system fails children if they aren't given testing throughout their school career
Jessica Connor, UK
The school system fails children if they aren't given testing throughout their school career. In an environment where educational achievement is measured by GCSE and A-level grades which are still based largely on exams, and an increasing number of jobs recruited on the basis of assessment centres, students need to be encouraged to see tests not as a terrifying experience, but as an opportunity to demonstrate what they know. If seven- and eleven-year olds are crying themselves to sleep at night over SATs it is all the more important for these children to be helped to a more realistic attitude to testing.
Jessica Connor, UK

I agree with Mr Clarke. Children are under too much pressure nowadays. Isn't it enough that children have to face the pressure of 10 different GCSE subjects at age 15? There are far too many exams in a lifetime. I am a final year undergraduate and I just realised that most of my summers since age 14 have been filled with tests and exams. Isn't it better to delay that pressure as long as possible? There is enough pressure on a child at school already whilst they are growing up in just maintaining friendships and discovering who they are.
Kathryn, Wales

My son is eleven, and is getting 99 out of 100 on his practice SATS, but is still getting stressed out. Not only that, but all the other subjects, history, geography, music, sport are being dumped to make room for the three main subjects. We are moving education back to Victorian times.
John Rouse, England

Isn't it a bit pointless testing children when the teaching standards are so low?
Robina, UK
Isn't it a bit pointless testing children when the teaching standards are so low? Some, the minority in my experience, teachers are wonderful and have a clue about what they are doing. But when I meet teachers who can't spell, who are incapable of drafting a simple letter to parents without making basic mistakes in grammar and punctuation, I have to wonder exactly what my children are being taught. When an English teacher tells me that she is NOT ALLOWED to highlight spelling and grammatical errors in class/homework, unless that is what the work is specifically on, I have to wonder what state the country will be in when the current crop of 12 year olds finish school. We are raising a generation of functional illiterates, and we should be more worried about the dictates from on high that prevent the teachers actually doing their job properly, than about a few tests that are a waste of space and only devised so that the Education Minister can appear to actually be doing something. You notice how whenever there is a change of minister, we get a complete change in the education system? How about politicos stop worrying about making a name for themselves and let the professionals get on with the job they have been employed to do.
Robina, UK

I detest people like Robina, UK brandishing the majority of teachers as below standards. How dare she? Has she actually been into a variety of schools and inspected these teachers? Under what criteria did she grade them? I doubt she ever did. I'll give a little reminder to her and anyone else who thinks teaching is easy. Last night (I have a class of thirty) I had, numeracy, literacy and science books to mark. To open a book, find the work (9 year olds don't always know the importance of being consistent), read the work, correct every spelling and grammatical error and mark the objective and write a comment will take about 10 - 20 minutes per book (depending on the ability of the child and how much they've written). That is about 1350 minutes or 22.5 hours!!! Oh and by the way, I actually do enjoy teaching because I haven't got silly rules to do my job that Robina obviously thinks we should have.
Y4 (Formally Y2) teacher, East Riding of Yorkshire

I would like to see testing which evaluates whether students are achieving their potential - that's the real test of a good school. Tests which compare a student's achievement to aptitude would tell us more about a school's ability to bring out the best in students and less about the standard of living in the catchment area.
Jayne Robbins, USA

I am a teacher of a Year 6 SATS class and we all know that the SATS provide no useful information to us as teachers because the benchline for the tests and the nature of the tests are so variable as to allow no comparison for parents to judge whether a school is good or not.
Ben, UK

SATs are there to test the school and not the pupils. This makes them different to GCSEs and A-levels. When schools remember this any pressure is taken off the pupils. It isn't the SATs that produce pressure but un-qualified performance tables. However the current process puts a lot of pressure on school staff and the reductions in school funding haven't helped that as our school is having to reduce Teacher Assistant time to account for a drop in funds.
Steve, UK

I am amazed at the level of stress the children are put under
Caroline, England
As the mother of an 11 year old who has just taken his SATs I am amazed at the level of stress the children are put under. For months now they have been concentrating purely on work for these tests and the amount of homework in the last few weeks has quite frankly been dreadful. My son had become more and more withdrawn the closer the exams came as he was worried about letting the school down. We had to sit him down and explain he could only do his best and no more as he has found some lessons difficult. He hardly slept the week of the tests and by Friday was a shell of the normally bright vibrant and sometimes cheeky boy of ours. He spent the whole Saturday in bed watching TV he was so tired. Surely children shouldn't be subjected to this sort of pressure at such a young age. There's enough time for exam stress with GCSEs and A levels.
Caroline, England

SATs have given us, as parents and governors, much improved information about schools. We are just now starting to be able to analyse this information for useful lessons about what forms of teaching and support best help pupils to progress. It would be folly to stop the testing at 7. However, the Government "targets" are of no direct use to schools and are the main cause of stress - they should indeed be got rid of.
Simon Mollett, UK

There is no harm in testing seven, 11 and 14 year-olds on a national scale. I am 18 and have taken SATS at these ages myself. If SATS are abolished then there will be no way of making comparisons between schools or different years to see progression. Children are tested throughout education. SATS at the age of seven are good practice for the future. As far as making children stressed, the teachers and parents should not make such a big deal about it.
Clare, England

My son has just taken his SATS and told me the teachers were getting very tense about the results and were repeatedly telling the children how important they were. I told him just to do his best and not to worry. I told him they were not that important and he calmed down a lot. He was not stressed going into the exams. I think the teachers should grade the children at the end of the year. They know them best and can give an accurate assessment of their abilities.
Ursula Arnold, Wales

At what stage was it decided that children should carry responsibility for their school's funding?
Bob, UK
Some schools spend a proportion of a term revising heavily so their school gets good marks, good PR, more pupils, more funding. At what stage was it decided that children were capable of carrying the responsibility for their schools funding? How many years has it taken this government to realise children are stressed as a result of these tests?
Bob, UK

This is pure hype. The testing of seven-year-olds already includes some assessment by the teacher, and the schools, nominally at least, set their own targets. If the issue is going to be tackled, the government need to make real changes, not just fudge the issue.
Sven, UK

The government has got it wrong, and so has the NUT. The SATS for seven and 11-year-olds should stay, they help keep the standards of teaching up, their only problem is that they are TOO HYPED UP by teachers and the government.
Payam Torabi, London, UK

What is happening to our education system and society? I was at primary school in the early 1970s, and we were regularly tested (including the 12 plus exam for grammar schools), and children were never left traumatised by the experience.
John, UK

Why release this to the media in the middle of the testing period?
Matthew Cliff, UK
It is a good thing they are having a rethink over testing seven-year-olds, but why release this to the media in the middle of the testing period? How is this supposed to motivate teachers and pupils?
Matthew Cliff, UK

Personally I relished the tests but I do think that testing throughout the year can give a better idea of the ability.
Paul Weaver, UK

Competitive assessments such as testing generally suit boys over girls. As the education system already discriminates against boys (shown by their lower GCSE/A-level results), anything that further erodes their results should be discouraged.
Simon, UK

My daughter is taking her SATS test tomorrow and explained that preparing for them was very hard work and that playtimes had been significantly shortened or cancelled. I feel the government has not gone far enough with their changes and I would argue that they be abolished altogether for primary children.
Ali, London, UK




SEE ALSO:
Shake-up for primary school tests
20 May 03  |  Education



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