Magazine article The Spectator

Status Anxiety: Toby Young

Magazine article The Spectator

Status Anxiety: Toby Young

Article excerpt

Tuesday's protest against Key Stage 1 Sats was moronic on so many levels that it's hard to know where to start. For one thing, it wasn't a 'kids' strike'. Did a national committee of six- and seven-year-olds get together and decide on a day of action? Even in Brighton, the centre of the boycott, that seems a bit far-fetched. The grown-up organisers of the protest clearly believed that was a cute way of packaging it for media consumption, but the thought of such young children engaging in political activism is actually a bit sinister. It's like something out of a dystopian satire -- a cross between Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four .

Then there's the sheer selfishness of the whole thing. Thousands of parents get to indulge in a day of virtue-signalling while schools are left to pick up the pieces. Are the organisers aware that if unauthorised absences at a school exceed a certain threshold, that school is ineligible for an Ofsted 'Outstanding' grade? Not only that, it could be plunged into special measures if its pass rate in the KS1 Sats falls below the floor standard. Schools live or die by their Ofsted rankings, particularly in middle-class cities like Brighton, so this protest could end up doing serious damage.

The organisers claim that child-ren find taking an exam at this age 'stressful' and worry about being branded 'failures', but that wasn't true of my four kids. If only! Then they might have done some revision. This time last year, I asked seven-year-old Charlie how he thought he'd done and he looked baffled. He didn't know he'd done an exam, and when I explained that he had, he exhibited no curiosity about the results.

That's anecdotal, of course, but I've seen no evidence linking the KS1 Sats to elevated stress levels. And if they really do cause psychological harm, why protest now and not when they were first rolled out 25 years ago? The main difference this year is that the results are being externally moderated rather than relying on teacher assessment -- which is a good idea, since numerous research studies show that teachers assess children from low-income families as being on average less bright than those from richer families. Not because teachers are snobs, but because they're prone to unconscious bias, like most people. …

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