Q: What is wrong with this picture? (Apart from the crimes of fashion)
A: It’s a class full of 10 and 11-year-olds smiling in a school photo (OK, maybe not all of them, but you get the idea). It’s a rare sight these days, but back in the late Seventies we’d never heard the term ‘SATs’ and if we were tested on anything, we were mostly unaware and were probably clueless as to the outcome.
What does SATs mean to you? Stopped At The Supermarket? Sorry About The Stain? Yeah, we’re not sure either, but what we do know is, we enjoyed a childhood free from academic pressure and we didn’t come out of it too badly. One of us the child of European immigrants, the other the daughter of ‘cockney sparrahs’ who were raised in Notting Hill in the days when the area was known for its slums and violent gangs (waaaaay before it became the bankers’ paradise it is today).
Grammar wasn’t generally taught other than ‘a noun is a naming word; a verb is a doing word’ (or ‘werb‘ as one of our teachers, a mature Sri-Lankan lady, pronounced it – that’s why we remember it so well!). We couldn’t have told you what a ‘fronted adverbial’ is (still can’t), but we knew the correct way to use an apostrophe (most of the time…no prizes for spotting a mistake on these pages, bright sparks.)
Fast-forward to the 21st Century and we’re all stressed out about levels or grades or whatever fancy new dreamed-up word they’re calling it these days. Actually, in our house, it isn’t SATs that’s causing the most angst – we just tell Son B to do his best and try not to worry about it. It’s more Son A’s secondary school homework assessments that are the bane of our lives – so structured and so frequent and so connected to streaming, they’re a constant source of meltdowns. And what for? Last weekend The Times included a feature called How To Unlock Your Child’s Genius Without Being A Pushy Parent, in which it referenced ‘futurist and author’ Peter Ellyard: according to him, it’s estimated that 50 years ago children left school knowing about 75 per cent of the information they would use in their working lives; today it’s about 2 per cent. So what exactly is all this testing about?
Surely it’s not good for them. And it’s not just our children who suffer…
Spare a thought for their teachers, who are in turn trying to keep up with constant educational changes and feeling under pressure to meet their own targets, as well as staying up well past their bedtime to mark papers. On top of this, many are being encouraged to act as social workers at school, while enduring verbal – sometimes physical – abuse in the classroom. Remember, these people are our friends, neighbours, sisters, brothers. They’re all someone’s daughter, they’re all someone’s son.
Oops, sorry, seem to have effortlessly segued into John Farnham’s Eighties hit The Voice there. Perhaps we should leave the last words to him. (It’s our guess he knew what was coming in our education system – the clues are there. Hit it John…)
We have the chance to turn the pages over
We can write what we want to write
… before we get much older
We’re all someone’s daughter
We’re all someone’s son
How long can we look at each other
Down the barrel of a gun?
You’re the voice, try and understand it
Make the noise and make it clear, oh, woah
We’re not gonna sit in silence
We’re not gonna live with fear, oh, woah
This time, we know we all can stand together
With the power to be powerful
Believing we can make it better
Ooh, we’re all someone’s daughter
We’re all someone’s son
Don’t believe us? Check out the video – we reckon these parents are arguing over how to tackle their kid’s homework (“I don’t UNDERSTAND it,” the woman is clearly yelling, while her husband rants, “And what makes you think I do?!” It turns nasty, so the child is swiftly removed (by Social Services?) and the line-up that later appears in the background – well, these are the school dinner ladies, admin staff and the caretaker, surely?