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Debate: SATS

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Should SATS be abolished?

Background and context

Are SATS more important to the education system or to the young people that take them? The education of young people has never been more important and of course we all want our young people to excel in knowledge. There are of course ministers and those in control of what our young people learn, some say this is the 'hidden curriculum'. The Hidden Curriculum, or is it The Hidden Agenda? I am appalled at the conservatives approach to SATS. SATS allow a fair and even entry system into private and grammar school education regardless of class or ethnicity. The conservatives historically, have shown that they are against the fair and even education of all children. The conservatives have always promoted a higher standard of education for the fortunately well off, their hidden adenda or should I say their hidden curricullum clearly shows this! Mary Neary et al (2002) has identified two theoretical approaches on the 'hidden curriculum'. The approaches identified by Neary (2002) are, the functionalist and the neo - Marxist. The functionalist is concerned with the "consensual understanding of both society itself and of the schools role in relationship to it.

The neo - Marxist school of thought suggest that educational establishments propagate "the existing social relations of capitalist society by reproducing the consciousness necessary for such relations". A prime example of the latter can be read in Jean Anyon's (1980) essay Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work. Anyon writes about a case study conducted in America where five schools were inspected. The schools vary within a social hierarchy. Students that attended each school within this hierarchy were offered a curriculum that wouldprepare them for specific roles (or employment) in social life. What is most shocking about this piece of writing is not that each school had diverse teaching methods. It is the fact that the teachers, who were observed during the study, had very different qualitative teaching skills. In the school attended by working class students, teachers were unresponsive to students, gave the students negative, or no feedback at all. Students were not allowed to think for themselves, restricting the cognitive processes, which students need to develop. The parents of the students that attended this school were mostly in unskilled employment and are in a lower income bracket.


In the four types of schools that were observed, ranging from working class, middle class and upper middle class the teaching methods and the curriculum (hidden or otherwise) gradually got better. In the final school, (which was upper class) that Anyon wrote about, the standard of education students received was very good. The parents of these students were very wealthy and often in powerful social positions. Teachers nurtured students and helped them to develop analytical skills by giving valuable extrinsic feedback. A key focal point in Anyon's writing is the fact that "knowledge and skills leading to social power and regard are made available to the advantaged social groups but are withheld from the working classes to whom a more practical [or substandard {my emphasis}] curriculum is offered". Who would suspect that this 19th century 'colonialism' style of education would be prevalent in the latter part of the 20th century? Similarly, during the seventies, in the United Kingdom this mode of thought was made manifest in the 'Black Papers'. The right wing authors of these highly influential papers thought that education of pupils from the lower classes was in principle to serve the nation, to create subservient workers and treat or use them as "a commodity form". As for pupils who were from upper classes, the 'Black Papers' saw these as the future leaders of industry in both the public and private sector. These ideological views were legitimated (at the time) by the conservative party.

Dewey (1966) et al, points to progressive education as being one of the key components which will help put right the inequities that exist within education. These class distinctions, varying levels and standards of teaching within education occur on a global scale and seem to be a tautological phenomenon. In France, Pierre Bordieu (1996) has written extensively on the class distinctions of academia. His book, 'Homo Academicus' is an extensive survey of the social structure within higher education in France. Bordieu states that through systems of classification, teachers of equal standing are "promised academic careers very closely related proportionate to their social origins". Bordieu shows that statistically, working class intellectuals do not reach the same heights academically (or professionally) as do their peers from upper class social backgrounds, "we must be aware of establishing a mechanical causal relation between social origins and academic success". In the United Kingdom, the divide between social class and entry into higher education has increased. In the academic year 91/92, the difference between working class and upper class entrants into higher education was 49%. In 97/98, even though working class entry into higher education had doubled, upper class entry was 66% higher than for working class. Smith and Webster (1997) agree that this situation is steadily getting worse by the year. My view is that SATS are an assessment of childrens mental capabilities and by taking them, their future educators have a better understanding of what individual are capable of and can place them in appropriate classes accordingly. Also, extremely talented young people would not be missed. So, should we abolish the SATS tests?

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  • Standardised testing gives perverse incentives to teach "for the test" instead of "for life".
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