KS1 SATs: A parent’s perspective

Last night was the final parent’s evening before my son moves from Infant to Junior school. This is a big change for us all; we will be turning right instead of left when we get throught the school gate in the morning, and there will be NO AFTERNOON BREAK!!!

Possibly there will be other differences, but it’s the afternoon break my son is focusing on for now.

As a secondary teacher, I have a passing idea of what ‘working towards’, ‘working at’, and ‘working in greater depth’ might mean in relative terms, but nothing more. I have a peripheral awareness of the somewhat traumatic events around the changes to KS1 and KS2 assessment. Beyond that, I’m not so different to other primary school parents (perhaps a bit more forgiving – good grief some parents expect miracles of perfection for £5k/year) so I thought I would jot down my experience of the end-of-key-stage reporting from the other side of the school gates.

I have to say, the school have been absolutely brilliant about how they have handled the SATS. There was one meeting on a Tuesday afternoon that neither my wife nor I could get to (amazingly, we are sometimes both working – I have very few criticisms of my son’s school but a bit more awareness that we are not always available to either attend meetings, or build castles/sew Robin Hood outfits/bake cakes/construct papier mache dinosaurs would be one). In the absence of a helpful video recording or something, I tentatively probed to see if there was any sense of pressure coming on the children; my son had no inkling at all. The closest he could come to understanding what I was asking, was the weekly spelling test. The other parents said the same thing. Now, given this is an Infant School, I think that shows exceptional professionalism and possibly low cunning on the part of his teachers. Not only did they avoid putting any pressure on the kids but they seem to have actually managed to do all the assessments without the children even noticing. That is really impressive.

At the parents’ evening we got the results. So, as a parent, what matters to me? Well, the teacher in me is slightly appalled by the parent in me but, hey, suspendisse discimus – I largely don’t care about the detail of what he can and can’t do; I do care how he compares to other children in Y2. That is almost completely the opposite of what I want as a teacher from any assessment process. As a teacher, it doesn’t matter to me where someone is in the pecking order because you can only start from where you’re at. As a teacher I want specific detail that helps me to find the gaps and fix them.

But, as a parent, I’m middle-class enough to think that academic success matters, and have read enough to know that this is actually true, so I want to know my son is doing well enough to be in the top part of the heap. I don’t care whether or not he is right at the top (the local GP’s son seems to have that spot sown up anyway). It was exactly the same when the children were grouped by achievement for maths and guided reading – I know how much better it is likely to be in the long term to be in the top groups, rather than the middle ones, even if working hard to catch up with lots of movement between groups. I just wanted to know he was doing well, rather than struggling – that there wasn’t a chance that some drawbridge would be raised and he would be left to swim the moat.

So, from that perspective “working at greater depth at the expected standard” is just fine (yesss – get in!), however arbitrary the assessment process. I’m sure as a teacher I would be tearing my hair out, and I really have very little idea of what this standard is, but it tells me he is doing pretty well, and that’s actually all I need to know. I do hope his Y2 and Y3 teachers do a good job of communicating the specifics as part of the school transition but he is only moving to a classroom 50m across the playground.

As a further bonus, we found out at parents’ evening that, although his maths was always going to be ‘at greater depth’ his reading and writing were not as secure. As a consequence he has been in a small group doing some carefully targeted extra work, particularly on writing. In other words, his progress has been of greater value to the school than the progress of other children and so he has had more than his fair share of attention. As a parent, that’s great; from my professional prospective it doesn’t seem very fair. Also, those are points in the bag now for the Infant School, but it’s going to be tougher to add the expected value for the Junior School (as Education Datalab has pointed out, although that analysis shows additional subtlety). I just hope that in Y6, the teachers are as good at keeping the pressure off the children and he doesn’t get flogged to make some unreasonable amount progress.

To finish, I have to say his teachers have been absolutely brilliant across all three years, and I am incredibly grateful for the way they have guided him, and his classmates, through the amazing complexity of learning to read, write, and the basics of maths. I am painfully aware of the obtuseness of the English language in a way I never was before (just trying to help him untangle tough, though, through, thought, and thorough, at the moment – good grief!). I am more aware than ever of how critical an extensive vocabulary and cultural literacy has been for my son at school, and what some children miss out on in this respect. I’ve been astonished to see the way successful, professional adults – some holding down jobs paying more than twice as much as mine – can be pushed around by their own children, and I’ve discovered that I like KS1 kids a lot!

I hope Junior School is going to be just as good.

And you should read Tom Sherrigton’s blog on assessment standards and the bell curve – same idea, I think, but a different perspective.


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