When education secretary Ed Balls announced the abolition of Key Stage 3 SATs examinations for 14 year olds this month virtually no one came to their defence.
One teacher quoted in the Times Educational Supplement| described "tears of happiness", while a headteacher told his English teachers to "let them enjoy Romeo and Juliet" rather than focusing obsessively on the set scenes.
The mounting evidence of the effect of SATs on education has become overwhelming. The House of Commons Select Committee on Education said tests "distorted" children's education. The General Teaching Council has pointed to the way tests used to assess children are also used to hold the education system to account, with the inevitable corruption of meaningful assessment as schools aim to hit externally imposed targets.
Unicef has reported on how unhappy English school children are, while a report by academics from Cambridge University has pointed to how SATs have added to "pervasive anxiety" in children's lives. Perhaps the most marked effect of SATs on children has been in primary schools. One mother told the Anti-SATs Alliance, "Consistent fear of failure has marred both of my children's experience of school. They both excel at things which are not covered by SATs."
However, Balls insisted that Key Stage 2 tests are here to stay, saying, "They are essential to giving parents, teachers and the public the information they need about the progress of every primary age child and every primary school." In other words, the need to hold schools and teachers "accountable" to narrow targets overrides the need to give students a rounded education.
Christine Blower, acting general secretary of the NUT, stated that "the whole testing system needs fundamental change. I call on Ed Balls to suspend all primary school tests and commission a comprehensive and independent review of testing and assessment, and to include fully all school communities in that review."
The abolition of SATs at Key Stage 3 is a fantastic victory. We need to go out into primary schools, and campaign with parents and teachers to get rid of them there once and for all. The prize is an education system that can develop children educationally, set teachers free to teach imaginatively, and that is genuinely accountable to parents and the wider community.
Jane is an English teacher and NUT activist in Hackney