exams“Do you know as much as a 7-year old?” was one of this morning’s headlines. Two (very stressful) sample SATs tests later, I’m pleased to report that I do (70% for English and 82.5% for maths). On the other hand, I’m not a 7-year old, certainly couldn’t have understood, let alone, answered most of those questions when I was 11 – certainly not at 7 – and, for the English, depended on more than a little  guesswork.

Does this mean that the SATs are a bad thing or are inappropriately complicated? Is an apparent obsession with grammar discouraging children from reading or stifling their creativity?

Although there was no formal testing at primary age when I was at school, we obviously did work that was marked by our teachers and which was used to assess our progress on a day to day basis. In junior school (8+) we had formal annual exams in a range of subjects (English, Maths, History, Geography etc.) and in the two senior years had daily spelling tests and weekly maths tests (mental arithmetic and the slightly sinister sounding “problems”).

The only public test  (and here’s the difference) was the eleven-plus. The eleven-plus was the test that could change your life and: no amount of SATs testing is going to do that.

One of the comments on the SATs article asked whether Shakespeare could have passed the English test. It turned out to be one of those throw away remarks that makes you re-evaluate your initial reaction.

Shakespeare was, in a very literal sense, a grammar school boy – his education would have involved hours of Latin and possibly Greek grammar and the painstaking translation of classical texts into and out of English. Did that stifle his creativity or did it give him the tools to become one of the greatest writers who ever lived?

PS : Talking of Shakespeare, my review of the recent production of King Lear at Oxford Playhouse is now available online … read review