Mental Health Awareness Week: Rant 1 – SATs

Next week is Mental Health Awareness Week. 8th to 14th May 2017. Ironically, this is the same week that 10 and 11 Year olds in England sit their SATs. I feel compelled to get on my soap box about two things related to Mental Health to help people become more aware of it; how SATs affect children and how sewing helps my own mental health.

SATs and children

Currently in England 7 and 11 year olds (or 6 and 10 if you’re born in the summer) sit their SATs (it’s officially got a different name, but we all call them SATs). This year SATs include a reading and comprehension test, a spelling test, a grammar test, an arithmetic test and two mathematical reasoning tests.

I don’t have any beef with tests, they have their place. My current class are being tested on a curriculum that started 2 years ago – but the test is based on them doing it for 4 years. Their grammar test is based on 4 years of a grammar curriculum, which they only really started this year. This isn’t verbs and adjectives grammar, this is identify the prepositional phrase and replace it with the past progressive form grammar. I don’t have any beef with children learning grammar. But give them longer than a year to learn it – and make it age appropriate. Secondary school colleagues are rolling their eyes, “we won’t even want them to know that until Year 9”.

What affect is all this having on the children? Well. Some aren’t bothered, some are nervous, some are crying, regularly and aren’t able to sleep. That’s not ok.

Can you imagine what a Year 6 school day looks like? Well, if SATs were a harmless measure of where the children are so we can gauge their level of understanding – a wide variety of educational opportunities of course. However, these children and their SATs results represent how well the entire school is doing. It means nothing that some have learning difficulties, have just moved to the UK or their parents have just split up. The school must have at certain percentage of children reaching the pass rate – which has to increase each year. Then all the schools are put into a league table and Leafy Suburb with Tutored Children Primary School towers at the top so we can all see what failures the rest of us are. I’ve got no beef with raising standards and aiming high, but we have to measure properly – and stop comparing apples with watermelons.

If the percentage happens to drop, Ofsted will come a-knocking. If the results are awful, the DfE will swoop in with threats of being taken over by an academy – because a new name and a fresh set of jumpers fixes all educational problems.

How do these SATs targets affect the children? Well, they’ve been cramming grammar and arithmetic etc. all year in tedious amounts. Anything not on the SATs papers is relegated to a half hour window one afternoon. Any child not “reaching targets” gets the joy of extra cramming. Homework = cramming knowledge. It’s not an education. There’s no creativity (as I ranted here earlier) and there’s no joy. It’s bloody boring and it’s just as boring for parents who are having to console their weeping children at home, whilst googling if several is a determiner.

Sorry, I am really having to reign in my rant here – let me focus again – what happens to children’s mental health in this situation? Many children will think they are shit. If they have been dis-applied because their dyslexia stops them learning at that level, they feel shit because they are different from their friends. If they got 30 out of 50 they feel shit because the other table of children got 40 out of 50. If they go to Mrs Bloggs’ after school booster group they feel shit because, well more school after school; that’s shit. In some cases, teachers pay is affected by the percentage of passes their children get in SATs – add a stressed teacher who can’t believe you forgot your full stop again, so you’ve lost that point and taken the class down to 79% – that’s really shit.

I don’t need to explain how feeling that you are worthless, thick and a let down at 11 years old could affect your mental well being.

So… If you’ve made it to the end of my rant – well done! Feel free to correct my grammar – I wasn’t taught it at school and still made it to university. If you think my message has struck a chord, please share it. If you have any power or influence – please make the big bosses LISTEN and THINK about how we can make this better.

In my next blog, I will write about me and how sewing helps my own mental well being …

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