Iain Erskine Fulbridge Primary Headteacher on SATS.

Iain Erskine Headteacher of Fulbridge Primary School Peterborough points out the shortcomings of the SATS assessment system on the day that many headteachers from two national unions have called a boycott of this year’s tests. Broadcast at 07:40 on Monday 10th May 2010 in the Paul Stainton Breakfast Show on BBC Radio Peterborough.

STAINTON: Iain Erskine is the Headmaster from Fulbridge Primary School in Peterborough. Morning Iain.
ERSKINE: Good morning.
STAINTON: What are you doing then? Are you Satting or not Satting?
ERSKINE: Well I’m a bit of a chicken. I am doing the SATs, yes. If somebody had said to me last September before the whole sort of journey towards SATs began, I’d have said definitely, no I won’t do them. But at the last minute I found it very hard to make the decision not to go ahead with them.
STAINTON: Because the thing is these kids prepare for them. don’t they, and they put a lot of work in ahead of time.
ERSKINE: Yes. I mean I totally agree a lot of our children would say the same as the Park Lane children there, but when we surveyed them the other week, when it came to a head, they wanted to go ahead with them for the reasons you said really. They’ve done a lot of work, there’s a lot of time and effort by the staff as well as the children, and I liken it a little bit to preparing for a sporting event, whether it’s the World Cup or whatever, and at the last minute saying, no we’re not going to do it. You’ve done all the preparation, but then you don’t. The only difference of course is that I do totally agree that SATs are flawed, they’re not a good measure, there’s no end of things wrong with them, and they do need to go. And the shame of it is that a lot of heads I know feel the same as I do. A lot of schools do, and we’d prefer not to do them. So it’s a little misleading. There’ll be a lot of schools doing them who really don’t want to do them.
STAINTON: It’s amazing that the people that suffer from this are the kids really aren’t they, whichever way you look at it, they’re doing the work for it, some schools not doing the SATs, you know, and like you say maybe the SATs are not the right way to go, so the kids are doing loads of work for tests that don’t really mean anything. You’d think that head teachers and the Government and teaching unions could get together and sort this mess out really.
ERSKINE: There have been some signs within the Labour government and the Liberal Democrats in particular that they would move away from SATs I think. It’s taking a lot of persuasion. I think all educationalists, well that’s unfair to say all, but the vast majority of educationalists are against SATs, because they are unfair to children. They do put them through a lot of stress. Some schools, not all, will reduce the curriculum. They won’t do so much P.E. and the arts in Year 6. So that you get the comments like from the children from Park Lane that it’s hard work, it’s a lot of stress, it’s unfair, it’s not exciting. And that can happen. We try and avoid doing that at our school. But I know it happens. Because there’s so much emphasis put on the SATs results. A school is judged basically on their SATs results, and the tests are flawed, particularly the writing. The writing, when children do the writing test, and I think they’ve got that tomorrow, when they get marked, one marker will mark them one way, another another, because there’s so much interpretation.
STAINTON: So a waste of time then?
ERSKINE: Oh I think so. Absolute waste of time. And a totally unfair judgement. Most OFSTED reports, I think 98% of OFSTED reports, your final judgement is the same as the judgement they give for your standard, basically your SATs tests. A totally flawed system. If they stopped, then a lot of people would be out of work at local authority and government level, there’d be a lot of people twiddling their fingers because they won’t know what to do.
STAINTON: Well we need to make some cuts anyway, don’t we?
ERSKINE: Well yes, I think we do. So they would be a good thing to get rid of. And I actually think standards would go up in reading, writing and maths, because then you would teach much more .. a much more meaningful curriculum. It wouldn’t be geared to very narrow tests, which really don’t make children think. All they’ve got to do is learn the facts, and regurgitate them on a piece of paper. that’s all you’ve got to do for SATs really. There’s very little understanding and you’re not a true mathematician if you’re good at SATs.
STAINTON: Iain, thank you for explaining that very clearly for us. Iain Erskine head master from Fulbridge Primary School. They will be going ahead with their SATs today rather begrudgingly. Fifty five primary schools in Peterborough. Three have chosen to boycott the SATs, they’re West Town, Gladstone and Wittering Primary School. We spoke to Robert Laurie who’s the head teacher at Wittering. When asked why he’s made this decision he said “Wittering had consistently good SATs results, however thirty six children out of forty two said they didn’t want to do the SATs”. What is the point in them? A complete waste of time, according to Iain Erskine from Fulbridge Primary School.