Monday 9 May 2016

SATs are not the 'basics'.

One of the words we'll hear over and over again this week is the word 'basics': 'children need to know the basics' and 'this government is making sure that children know the basics'.

Many journalists and commentators will recycle this, either because they don't know that what's being asked of teachers and children is much more than 'basics' or because they don't understand that 'education' is not the same as 'testing'. A test does not equal 'what we want education to be and do'. Yes, it shapes how education pans out but these tests are narrowing down education into right/wrong answers, and learning by rote some things that are often at best half-true.

So, to take 'writing' or 'language' as one example.

Children see many kinds of writing. It is an untruth to keep telling children that there is only one kind of writing - that is, writing sentences in a particular way. Children see and read: ads, online material, headlines, fiction, non-fiction, notices, poetry, song lyrics. These are different systems of writing and require different systems of description. To take one example: the full stop - in standard non-fiction in books, you can say that there is a restricted use of full stops that corresponds to what children are told. In all the other examples on my little list there, the full stop 'rule' does not always apply. People alter when, why and how they use full stops. Children see these examples every day.

Now, let's imagine a SATs-free lesson on full stops. Might we not show many examples of writing in different situations and talk about when, why and how people use or don't use full stops in modern everyday English. In fact, a walk round a school looking at notices and in books, would show just that! Would scientists think it's ok to teach that you only find squirrels in Europe and when a child said, 'Well, actually they live in other parts of the world too', the scientist would say, 'But we'll learn about that when we're older,'?

It is only because there is a requirement by government that teachers need to be tested, that tests were devised that provided right/wrong answers, that we've been swallowed up by this narrowing of language down to such over-simplified and untrue categories and 'rules'.

Ironically, the 'basics' being learned here is that when education chiefs talk about 'basics', they may well mean 'untruths'.