My SATs Results

I know it’s old news by now, but I wanted to talk a little about how the recent SATs questions are – there’s no other word for it – terrible.

Wait, there are plenty of other words. Unnecessary. Demoralising. Not fit for purpose. But ‘terrible’ works pretty well, too.

I did an online version of the KS2 English SAT. Here are my tweets about my results:

Most of the responses I got shared my bafflement and outrage, although I did get one rather snide tweet that read something along the lines of ‘You know, education is not just about making children happy’. Which, as a tutor, is something I know very well. I’ve dealt with my fair share of tears, sighs, and pushback against things that my students need to learn.

Children do need to learn things they find boring or difficult – no-one is disputing that. But they don’t need to learn, aged eleven, the kind of detail on grammar that is only necessary to know when you’re doing a linguistics degree or training to teach English as a second language. If you want an eleven-year-old to learn about engineering, you talk them through the basic principles, give them some history on the subject, and get them to build a bridge out of Meccano – you don’t hand them the plans of the Forth Rail Bridge and ask them to label each individual component.

I’m all for primary school children being taught grammar – it’s a big part of what I teach my own students. Children need to know how to write clearly and effectively, because it sure as hell helps to be able to do this when you’re an adult. But I have yet to hear a good argument on why an eleven-year-old needs to know what a subordinating conjunction is.

Here’s what I’d really love to see our primary school kids learn:
– How to use apostrophes
– How to use commas
– That it’s ‘could have/would have’, not ‘could of/would of’
– The difference between ‘their/they’re/there’, and ‘too/to/two’
– How to avoid writing fragment sentences or run-on sentences – unless you’re using them for effect
And, most importantly:
– How to love language – speaking it, writing it, reading it, listening to it, discovering how writers play around with words to make a story leap out of the page or a phrase stick in your mind, and getting the chance to muck around in the big beautiful sandbox of English language without having to make sure that their writing ticks some pre-selected boxes that make so many creative pieces sound exactly the same

Because, to my mind, that’s much more useful than being able to pick out a subordinating conjunction.


About Alice Nuttall

Alice Nuttall is a caffeine-guzzling knitter who divides her time between Oxford and the various worlds in her head. She is the author of a YA fantasy novel, Spider Circus, and three webcomics, Footloose, Cherry, and Black Market Magic, as well as several short stories.
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