CROYDON COMMENTARY: The irony meter went off the scale this week, when during Mental Health Awareness Week, thousands of primary-aged children were sitting their SATs. KIRSTIE SMITH, right, argues that our youngsters don’t need such stress just for government data exercises
We are now talking about mental health more than ever before. Having a Mental Health Awareness Week, as we are this week, obviously has assisted with that.
Just this week I had a conversation with a colleague where we openly talked about mental health, our experiences and the different ways doctors and society respond to mental health illness.
Louis Theroux’s television programme, Mothers On The Edge (it’s available on the BBC iPlayer, and is due to be repeated on May 31), showed patients in the mother and baby unit of the Bethlem Royal Hospital on Monks Orchard Road. At first glance, the young mums shown did not seem ill. They were well-presented, holding appropriate conversations and, on the face of it, fully functioning members of society. Except they had been admitted for a reason, and their stories were heart-breaking.
What of our children growing up in a world where there are seemingly more mental health illnesses than ever before?
As pointed out on Twitter by Kathryn Wallace of the blog I Know I Need To Stop Talking, this year Mental Health Awareness Week is also SATs week for Years 2 and 6 in primary schools.
Up and down the country, children aged as young as six, and 10- and 11-year-olds have been sitting the compulsory standard attainment tests. They will be tested on their knowledge of English and maths, although this year there will be no science tests. Some schools will be sampled to test for science next year. Who needs consistency?
What are these tests actually for? Data – to see how schools perform against each other. The results are used to compare schools and rank them.
There is little benefit for the children, or even the parents.
Regular spelling and maths tests within classes would show how children are performing, whether they are at expected levels, require a bit of help, or are ready to be stretched. This would be information that the class teacher, and the school, should have and be able to respond to.
That’s not the case with SATs. Schools take SATs very seriously. Many schools pile on the pressure months in advance, spending time “preparing” children for these exams, with usual timetables going out of the window and subjects such as PE and music taking the hit. In some cases, practice test papers are sent home over the Easter holidays.
More sensible schools take children’s mental health very seriously instead, and children at these schools don’t even know they are sitting the tests. Either way, should we really be testing our children for data purposes?
What of the children who don’t shine academically? Of those who excel elsewhere, outside of maths and English? They learn what it’s like to “fail” as early as six years old. They don’t need this pressure.
At six, seven, 10 and 11, children should not know what stress and pressure are. These tests do not provide information on a child’s worth. They don’t measure kindness, spirit, musical or sporting ability, they don’t measure how a child reacts to things that happen in their life, just if they performed well this week.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against testing. Healthy competition is just that, and testing gives teachers and parents an idea of a child’s strengths and weaknesses. But just like an Ofsted report on a school, SATs are only a snapshot of a couple of days.
Data collection in schools doesn’t just start at six years old. In Reception, parents of four- and five-year-olds are offered height and weight checks under the National Child Measurement Programme, with some parents being told that their child is obese at this age. This might not be because they don’t eat a healthy diet, but rather that they don’t fit the box that the government has determined that children of this age should.
These checks are offered again when children are in Year 6 so that data can be collected and compared to give an idea of the “national picture”.
In September 2017, the government decided that SATs for six- and seven-year-olds will become optional in 2023, so schools can choose whether to take part. Instead, children in Reception – that’s four- and five-year-olds – will have Baseline Assessments from 2020.
Within the first six weeks of starting school, these little children, still settling in, getting used to a new environment, new people and tired from a full day, will be tested on what they know.
The pilot framework from the government states, “This [single raw] score will not be made available to schools. Raw scores will be recorded in the national pupil database and used to create a cohort level progress measure for schools at the end of Key Stage 2.” So nothing to do with the individual children but rather so schools can get a pat on the back for “adding value”.
This week a survey by Mumsnet was published which said that two-thirds of parents felt that the pressure of school exams – GCSEs and A levels undertaken by teens – was creating mental health issues for their children.
With mental health illnesses on the increase in children, teens and adults, do we really need to be putting our primary school children under stress and pressure at such young ages?
My job as a parent is to protect my children and part of that is protecting their mental health. Let kids be kids and abolish this ridiculous data collection.
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