English teacher proudly fails Year 6 SATs

Ex-teacher turned writer argues that children should swap modal verbs for free thinking - and manages to teach us something about Dickens at the same time

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Has a set of primary school exams ever been so talked about? Year 6 SATs are back in the news again today after a former English teacher’s post caused a huge stir on social media.

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Abi Elphinstone, who has dyslexia and now works as a writer, claimed to take the 2016 SATs test and took to Facebook to proudly share her scores – 25% in Maths and only 40% in the subject she taught, English.

“I used to be an English teacher & I visit schools every week now. I talk to the kids about resilience, determination and grit, not just in regards to exams but in regards to life, too,” she explained in a lengthy post.

“Kids need to know the basic parts of speech – nouns, verbs, adjectives etc – to talk about a text analytically at GCSE. But time spent ramming modal verbs & subordinating conjunctions down their throats in Year 6 is time wasted.

“We run the risk of re-creating Dickens’ Gradgrindian education system. A system that champions modal verbs over creativity and imaginative flair is not a system I will get behind,” she concluded. (In case you were wondering, Gradgindian refers to Dickens’ School Board Superintendent from Hard Times, Mr Gradgrind, and is now used to describe someone or something that is only concerned with hard facts and numbers.)

Those for Abi…

For some, Abi’s opinion on the importance and relevance of the SATs was a very popular one. One user even showed her panic-stricken 11-year-old daughter the post to reassure her.

“I came home today really upset because I found my maths papers so hard,” revealed the 11 year old. “I cried at school because I felt that I hadn’t done well enough. When I got home my mum showed me your post and it made me much happier and confident about my future!”

Another added: “Well said Abi. We need to encourage children to enjoy writing and not to get hung up on adverbials etc!”

A fellow teacher wrote on Facebook: “I don’t think Abi was pointing out the futility of trying hard, merely the futility of trying hard in something that is ultimately without purpose. I showed the kids this after their final exam and they loved it. Then we had a party and played rounders. They were smiling and happy and it made everything worthwhile. Their happiness is my number one priority.”

Those against…

However, some social media users lamented the fact that children should be encouraged to work hard and study for the exams, regardless of whether or not the results themselves were important. Which, to be honest, isn’t the point that Abi was making. 

“School is compulsory so I’d rather help my child prepare for his SATs. Results not so important to them but in the bigger picture it’s mentally preparing him for the many pressures life will throw at him and it will teach him to work hard,” said one user.

“I agree these SATs mean absolutely nothing but to encourage kids to not be bothered about them is just wrong! You’re basically giving them the go ahead to not try their best and not to care if they pass or fail.”

And one mum had a more balanced take on Abi’s controversial post…

“My daughters came home today age 7 and age 10. They both sat and did tests today. They are both smiling, both happy, both confident, both unfazed and looking forward to their next test tomorrow, then party fun on Friday ☺ SATs are only as stressful as teachers/parents make them.”

And this mirrors the sentiments of the wonderful SATs homework set by one UK teacher just before the exams – which made many parents cry. The homework? Go on a bike/scooter ride, watch your favourite TV programme, run until you just can’t anymore and eat Haribo or ice-cream, was this teacher’s instructions.

SATs have become a very divisive issue – even leading to some parents organising a kids’ strike at the beginning of May.

On the one hand, it’s important that children are taught how to work hard and achieve in life. On the other, children stressing over exam results to the detriment of their health and self-esteem is certainly not beneficial.

We also wonder if Abi did any revision before taking the 2016 SATs – because even we’d be hard pressed to subordinate any conjunctions without a bit of practice first ?

What do you think about Abi’s approach? Let us know on Facebook and Twitter!

Image: Abi Elphinstone/Facebook

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