SATs no longer a four letter word

(or, How Social Pedagogy calmed the storm)

Dr Amanda Orchard & Mrs Libby Thornhill are both Foster Carers with Staffordshire County Council, with 4 long-term siblings in placement, ranging in age from 10-14. They are Chair & Vice-Chair of the Authority’s Carers Education Group and members of the Virtual School’s Governing Body.

It’s that time, once again, when the house is in turmoil – tears, sleepless nights and temper tantrums – and that’s just the adults!

The Year 6 SAT’s are upon us, and our young lady is struggling with not only the perceived expectations of her school, but also with her own, self-imposed, hopes, which are countered by poor self-esteem and anticipated lower than peer group results.

I should probably explain that, in our house, it is not unusual for us to experience periods of, what we term, “emotional explosion” with regard to education, whether that be homework, revision or simply staying in the classroom. With hard work, small group intervention and much care and support at school, things have improved dramatically in the last year…until SAT’s were mentioned. It can be difficult for any educator to understand the dramatic impact, emotionally and physically, that this addition to the pressure of coping at school can have on one child (“An exploding pressure cooker,” one TA told me, “that continues day after day after day.”)

Initially, like all parents, we thought to support and guide. In timeless tradition, we purchased the standard revision books and sample papers, prepared a desk area with, of course, new pencils, ruler and calculator (well, what it looks like is important, right?). More tears, tantrums and stationary at the bottom of the stairs!

Proper reflection (one of the most powerful and efficient tools of social pedagogy) identified this approach simply did not fit her needs – an ‘examination’ desk, cleared of all things familiar, isolated and stacked high with expectation was, in truth, the worst scenario we could have presented. Time to try harder.

Using the ethos of social pedagogy, that the relationship is central to everything, it was clear that working together, in a fun and social manner, sharing the emotions, needed to be at the centre. Our new activities included:

  • English/Maths questions on ‘Post it’s’ in a coffee jar – pulled out at random, less rigid, mixed subject and a ‘game’ together;
  • Heart Stickers – I write on these, more as an emotional reward, stuck on the mirror every day saying thank you for trying, how proud I am of her,
  • Deck of cards – who’s faster at x tables
  • Rallying (yes, really!) – a 3 lap experience (expertly driven). I admitted I was afraid, but together we could share our fear and be ok. Compared to the high drama of this, we agreed SAT’s would be a dream.
  • Marbles ‘fun’ jar – 1 for every bit of revision (no more than 15 minutes at a time), with choice of rewards when full (eg trip to the park, cycling etc). No ‘presents’ for achieving, as that’s just more pressure. Doing your best – that’s enough.

Now, SAT’s are synonymous with having fun and being together, and all’s quiet (ish!) on the home front. During the coming weeks we hope to share some of these strategies and approaches with others, both carers and educators alike, so that next time (whatever the ‘tests’ are) we can all ensure that we start from the right place – looking at the needs of the individual child, rather than the regular ‘one size fits all’ – and using reflective practice to manage our own participation and engagement with those needs.

Our next challenge? Waiting for the results…. Oh, and does anyone need any revision books or practice papers?

Amanda Orchard & Libby Thornhill


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