Your future is mapped out
If there were ever to be a government with a commitment to social mobility and equality of opportunity, the first thing it should do should be to eliminate, at a stroke, the SATS assessment system in primary schools. SATS scores are derived from an arbitrary educational snapshot of children at a particular moment in their final year at primary school. These scores are then used by some schools to undergird an education system that is almost as determinist as the old 11+ system that virtually disappeared with the abolition of the overwhelming majority of the grammar schools.
When they begin their secondary education, students will be colour-coded, let’s say yellow, green, blue and purple. It is a misnomer, but the colour-coding is described as “assessment without levels.” It is obvious to every student thus coded that the colours are simply a way of allocating them to a particular category, on the basis of which they will be given differing tasks during lessons and be expected to produce differing outcomes.
Perhaps the system would have its uses in establishing students in a new school, in facilitating the transition from primary to secondary education, in allowing students to find a sense of security before being challenged, but should it linger throughout their years at secondary school? As mad as it seems, the SATS scores of eleven year olds become the predictors of their expected GCSE grades at the age of sixteen. It is quite mechanistic: students coded yellow are expected to score grades of 1-3 in a GCSE exam; those who are green, grades 4-5; those who are blue, grades 6-7; and those who are purple, grades 8-9. So, parents of an eleven year old, still barely out of primary school, might be told that their child is at blue level and might therefore expect to gain grades of 6-7 in examinations that is still more than four years away.
Of course, it is an illogical system, but schools persist with it because the government uses those SATS scores as a benchmark for measuring the effectiveness, or otherwise, of schools. Each year, the Department for Education will publish Progress 8 scores. The scores are calculated by looking at SATS scores for students and then looking at GCSE grades and then calculating what progress a student has made.
It seems a crude and clumsy way of approaching education; isn’t education about much more than paper grades? More to the point, the levels become self-fulfilling as different tasks and different expected outcomes mould students into particular shapes. The answer is to abolish SATS and to allow students to find their own levels in schools that challenge everyone to aspire to that purple colour.
The issue isn’t the testing. It’s that the response to that testing isn’t to devote greater resources to the ‘under colours’.
In Ireland when free second level was made available in the 60s all it meant was the families who were paying moved to 1:1 class and were tracked to university while those in 1:2 and 1:3 were shunted to other endeavours. The divisions were entirely made with class in mind and with the free aspect of access the few scholarships vanished. So it wasn’t until the advent of free university education in the 90s that the slim access social movement returned.
The inflexibility of the system concerns me – that post-16 fortunes should be predicted on the basis of tests at the age of 11 just seems absurd. There would be those who would contend that the tests are good predictors, but they are more likely self-fulfilling prophecies – treat a student as a lower green for five years and they turn out lower green