SATs. Gulp. It’s that time of the year where Year 6 students are going through their regular routine of testing for English and Maths. They do it over four days now, which I don’t remember from my own childhood - but to be fair, I don’t remember much at all from my own youth. I can’t blame the drugs for that; I didn’t touch anything stronger than echinacea when I was younger.
I digress. SATs have made a come-back this year after two years of not being run - Covid has many, many things to answer for - and my son, being the tender age of 11, was one of the children up and down the country who has sat them.
Bryan (my son) doesn’t particularly like the run-up to exams; he finds the preparation quite stressful, and convinces himself that he is going to fail and that he’s going to let everyone down. When he’s there, in his classroom and with the exam paper in front of him, he seems to be able to put his fears aside for the most part and focus - thank heavens.
I don’t remember what I was like at 11, but I don’t ever recall too much stress and anxiety about exams - I do wonder, looking back, if I was too relaxed sometimes. But I managed to get through my exams without messing up my future, so that’s a bonus.
Bryan and I have spent some time talking about exams; I don’t believe in hiding away from these difficult discussions, and talking about things is so much better than bottling things up. When I saw the nerves in Bryan’s body language, I knew he needed that little bit extra support; his school was being very kind with his year group, and I spent time with Bryan just thinking about how he could deal with the questions, concentrating on his handwriting, and just giving him the confidence that I would be proud of him no matter what.
I really gave it some thought over the weekend before his SATs, and I was confident he was feeling like he had done his best, but I needed to make sure his emotions were as calm andas settled as possible. So I wrote him a little note on the Monday morning and left it outside his room;
I had searched the internet for ideas, so I can’t pretend all the ideas were mine, but the intent was certainly from me. Bryan seemed to appreciate it; he was thankful in his own, quiet way (I got a hug - I’m not going to argue with that), and he seemed confident that I was going to support him no matter what - and that he wasn’t going to fail because he couldn’t answer any of the questions.
I don’t quite know how I feel about SATs - about exams in general. I’ve always been generally in favour of them, but I also recognise that some people don’t react well to exams; the pressure, the countdown, the writing, and so on. NVQs and apprenticeships are brilliant -and equal - alternatives to exams (GCSEs and so on) and I’ve seen that T-Levels are coming in to assess the skills of people studying vocational skills. Good - there needs to be more of this, as one size doesn’t fit all.
Becoming a father, and therefore seeing the world through a different set of eyes, has helped me see that exams really aren’t for everyone. The pandemic has also helped me question the orthodoxy; we had two years without exams, and assessments being done through coursework and so on. I can’t help but wonder if we need exams for these big moments in the lives of children; are there other ways of testing the competence of children without putting them under quite so much pressure and stress?
I have no idea, but I really wish we could have that conversation.