Sarah Todd: SATs show that a bit of competition adds up at school

Picture: PA Wire
Picture: PA Wire
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“DON’T forget to check your change,” our 11 year-old warns. Giving the lady behind the supermarket checkout an apologetic smile, we walk back to the car. Before we’ve got the carrier bags in the boot he’s pontificating again. “Would you like me to work out your miles per gallon?” he offers.

Now, hang on. He is no genius. We’re not making him out to be Prime Minister material or anything. He’s just a Year 6 village primary school kid who will – along with thousands of others – be doing his Standard Assessment Tests (SATs) this week.

Normally, the newspapers are full of namby-pamby experts saying what rubbish these tests for children on the verge of entering secondary school are. Thankfully, the election has put paid to the amount of column inches the anti-testing brigade has got.

But even though this year’s batch has missed much of the annual hype, there has been no shortage of debate at the school gates. Even on Friday, as it became clear that a sledgehammer had been taken to our country’s political foundations, all the talk among a certain type of ambitious parent was of this week’s tests.

As usual, yours truly appears to be in the minority. Most parents don’t seem to like the tests. They complain that they put too much pressure on their little darlings.

Our son has loved doing extra work, especially all the practicing for the “mental maths” question paper. He has gone from fumbling around on his fingers to blurting out the answer before you’ve even finished the question. Education isn’t my thing. I left school at 16. But even an ignoramus like me can see that this particular pupil has thrived on the lessons getting a bit tougher. He had to do 10 minutes practice for 10 days in the Easter holidays and the difference in how sharp he became was amazing.

Competition is good. There’s nothing like it. Nicky Morgan, who has been reappointed as Education Secretary, shouldn’t shy away from it. She should bring back conkers, snowballs, British Bulldog (did you know that this traditional tearing from one side of the playground to the other is banned in most schools?) and old-fashioned sports days with winners and losers.

We’re probably more used to competition than most because our children have ponies (think Penelope and Kipper in Thelwell rather than Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro at the Olympics, while the younger one is more Milkybar Kid than AP McCoy). As an aside, our lot have had it knocked into them to always say “well done” to whoever wins. By Jove, you can count on one hand the ones who return the compliment. Competition is as much about learning to lose as it is about winning. Dusting yourself down and getting back on the metaphorical horse. Something that plenty of former MPs – and, yes, those three party leaders – are having to do.

The poisoned chalice, sorry portfolio, of education should be used to encourage more male teachers. We’re forever hearing about women-only shortlists for those throwing their hat into the political ring, but it’s about time teaching moved in this direction. A move away from what seems to be the norm of staff rooms being unhealthily all-female is long overdue. A lot of lads don’t have a male role model at home and the positive impact of having a “Sir”, or even a “Mr”, at the chalk-face can’t be under-estimated.

Should being a teacher be a job for life? Results-related salaries would surely make any staff pulling a light harrow get their red markers out a bit more.

The farce of school selection needs tackling. Has anybody stopped to think what impact ridiculously long journeys are having on children? Mothers and fathers should be incentivised to stay as local as possible. There are now thousands of children who go off to school every morning in a town or village they have absolutely no connection with. As a knock-on there is no affinity with the community; no going along to the Christmas service at the church or embarrassment at speeding past houses. After all, where’s the shame in breaking the speed limit where nobody knows who you are?

Must go, the SAT candidate has ordered a full cooked “brain food” breakfast. Thinking aloud, what better support could the new Government show to our beleaguered dairy farmers than bringing back free school milk? Now, what percentage of a full pint is in those little bottles?

Sarah Todd is a former editor of Yorkshire Life magazine. She is a farmer’s daughter, mother and journalist specialising in country life.