Kids on Strike

It sounds like a dream. It sounds like something my ten year old self would have lost his mind over. A strike from school, all of us deciding to not go in, and our parents actually backing us up. It never would have happened.

But it has.

It’s all in protest against the SATs which are exams kids have to take at different key stages. I know the SATs well. In 1996 my class was the first to take them in our primary.

Parents argue that the exams are additional, unnecessary stress and that it stops kids from developing a love of education, putting them on the treadmill of exams. I agree totally, but I have mixed feelings about whether all of those reasons justify scrapping it.

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Fight the power!

Our SATs arrived with little fanfare and our teacher, Mrs. G, played down the importance, she explained how it would work and how the tests would help them divide us up for comprehensive. Until now we were divided by age (I was the second half of the year) but in comp there were going to be about 200 kids and we’d be divided on ability. The SATs, along with our school reports would decide which class we were in.

This was kind of important and fairer than letting our teachers alone decide. Mrs. G was sound, but had it been left up to another of my primary teachers Mrs. B I’d have been in the bottom set. Hell, she’d probably have lobbied for me to go to borstal.

So the exams made sense. And as from the next year on we’d have exams every year, it was good practice. I mean, they could have dodged it but in secondary there were end of year exams so the shock of the first exam would just have been temporarily delayed.

One thing that did come into effect was stress. I remember despite the best efforts of Mrs. G it did get out that they were kind of important. It also didn’t help that some parents were a bit pushier and competitive than others and this bled through to the kids.

Thankfully, I avoided a lot of this stress by being pretty confident that I wasn’t thick and because of my natural laziness. My Dad in the coming years would despair of my “that’ll do” attitude where I did just enough to pass and move on with average grades.

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He told me after my A Levels that I was just as smart as my sisters, but that they applied themselves better. They would work hard, pushing themselves and strive for greatness and reaped the rewards- straight As for the lot of them. I however, was more than happy with the B and C grades I collected and not that bothered by the E I got for Religious Studies at A Level (I’d missed a lot of lectures and was actually happy that I’d got more than a fail).

This attitude may have kept me on a track of mediocrity but at least I was happy and relaxed. I have two clear memories of the SATs, and one is related to stress.

S, a girl who lived on my street and who was not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer, worked herself into a right state over the stress. She was oddly quiet on the bus stop, she wasn’t sleeping and several times she just burst into tears. It seemed unfair to heap that much stress onto a girl who had almost been broken by the Take That split.

Here my Dad actually showed a delicate, tactful touch that is utterly out if character for him. The day of the first exam saw the invention of “the magic sweets”. My Dad handed out Cadbury Eclairs and insisted that they were lucky. Perhaps his standing as a doctor, or our childish love of sweets was responsible, but it calmed everyone at the bus stop. S, would, however, be reduced to tears after every exam.

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Magic sweets

My Dad also then found himself having to buy Eclairs every academic year to see my sisters and I through our education.

S did alright but was shuffled into a lower set. My best friend Dai and I were split up, both taking places in the middle of the pack classes, and we found ourselves latching on to whichever familiar face was in our class.

I think the SATs served a purpose, at least at 11, younger than that is just a waste of time, but did stress out some of my classmates and could have been done in a less formal manner. But on the other hand, it meant I was ready for my first end of year exams in comprehensive.

At least they were better than the 11 Plus exams my parents endured, which pretty much decided your life’s path at eleven. That seems grossly unfair.

Should kids do exams? Probably not, but you have to work out how well everyone is doing so they can be divided up in secondary school, and exams are the best way we have so far, even with their flaws.

I can see why parents aren’t happy, and I think the setting up of education as an old fashioned game where you just go level to level is a mistake, but will the strike help? And do the kids really care, or are they just happy for another day off? They just had a three day weekend! Now they’re stretching it to four? Kids today.

No matter. In the long run the SATs had no lasting effect on me, they cemented my suspicion that I was in the top half academically and that I could handle exams. And they meant that I require a sweet before any test I take, but that’s it really.

The only memory I have of the exams themselves was a science question about milk bottles. It was a series of bottles, each filled to a different level. The question was something like “If Johnny blows across the top of bottle it makes a noise. The noise is different depending on how full the bottle is. Mark which bottle would make the deepest noise.”

I remember looking at that question for at least a minute. Our science education was pretty basic, in fact I think we did two sessions when Mrs. G realised there was an exam coming. None of them had been about milk bottles.

I tried to work it out and then thought, to hell with it, and guessed. It’s twenty years later and I still have no clue how the fullness of the bottle effects the sound produced. But, shockingly, it hasn’t really come up since. Although maybe it has stopped me from being a bluegrass star.

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Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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