I love this picture that has been floating round social media. This little girl’s reaction to David Cameron seems to sum up so succinctly many people’s reaction to his party’s idea that children in year 7 should retake the SATs they took in year 6 if they’re not up to scratch. #headdesk seems entirely appropriate.
Since when did SATs become a test you had to pass? We abolished the 11+ because it set children apart and labelled some as failures at too young an age, and now it seems to be back. The Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan might say that children are already set apart by this age if they are not achieving expected levels in Maths and English. This says something positive about the predictive power of SATs tests, but no amount of retesting will change this. If someone is struggling with Maths and English at 11, chances are they will be struggling at 16 too. Instead of labelling children as failures and focusing on re-sits, perhaps more creative, more constructive programmes could be implemented to support children. The whole measurement becomes meaningless anyway, when we remember the previous education secretary required every child’s scores to be above average.
We have become entirely embroiled in the numbers here, there is no sense of the individuals involved – not their needs (special or otherwise), or personalities, or desires, or gifts, or even really their futures. Just reaching that magic level 4 at the end of KS2. It’s like benefit sanctions – the human misery doesn’t matter, just reducing the claimant count. Or the bedroom tax – no matter that there are no smaller homes to move into, the housing benefit bill must come down.
It’s not that there isn’t merit is spending less on benefits, or measuring progress in schools. But these things should not be an outcome in themselves. What is the point unless life is made better for all of us? There are better ways of spending less on housing benefits, by better control of rents and private landlords, but this way isn’t quicker or easier and affects the rich not the poor. There are better ways of helping people into work other than cutting off their income, but these involve a bit of time, attention, understanding and money! Taking resits in year 7 seems unlikely to improve opportunities for children struggling at school.
These policies only make sense when considered in a vacuum, without the messiness of actual people’s lives. But, given that politics is about people, I’m looking for policies which, at their heart, value people’s humanity.
At the core of my understanding of where faith and politics combine is discovering the intrinsic value of every person. For the Christian, humans are made in the image of God, there is something of God in every person. Every one of us is valuable simply because we are human. It is an intrinsic part of who we are. It is not a function of our productivity, or our utility. It is not dependent on our capacity to think, or to love, or to pass KS2 SATs. It is our essence. And it should be reflected in all our interactions between each other and the state.