Primary schools given hope on assessment

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:

A consultation on primary assessment arrangements and a pledge of no new tests or assessments before 2018/19 have been welcomed as the ‘promise of light at the end of a long and very dark tunnel’

Education secretary Justine Greening has confirmed that primary schools will not face any new tests or assessments in the next two years – until 2018/19.

At the same time, she has announced that a consultation will be launched “early in the new year” on assessment and its implications for schools, covering issues including “the best starting point to measure the progress that children make in primary school and the role and operation of teacher assessment”.

The news has drawn praise from the sector, with many hoping that it shows signs that Ms Greening will be more willing to listen to the profession than her predecessors.

This summer saw key stage 2 pupils taking for the first time new assessments in English and mathematics tied to the new, more rigorous national curriculum and with more challenging expected standards being set for pupils.

The result was a fall in a number of pupils meeting expected standards (to 66 per cent in reading, 70 per cent in maths, and 74 per cent in writing).

In a written Parliamentary statement, Ms Greening said: “In the past, although we saw high proportions of children meeting the previous lower standard at the end of primary school, too often it did not translate into good qualifications at the end of secondary school. Although the new assessments were rightly more challenging, teachers and pupils rose to that challenge.”

However, the new tests were not without their controversy as many schools complained about the pressure on pupils. Some parents also boycotted the tests this year.

In her statement, Ms Greening reassured schools that because of the changes to primary assessment, “no decisions on intervention will be made on the basis of the 2016 data alone”. She has also reconfirmed a previous commitment that no more than six per cent of primary schools will be below the floor standard in 2016.

However, the strongest welcome has come for Ms Greening’s promise of more stability.

She said: “There has been significant change in recent years, but the timeline from this point will bring greater stability, with no new national tests or assessments introduced before the 2018/19 academic year.

“As part of this I am setting out steps to improve and simplify assessment arrangements. First, we have worked closely with the profession to improve the guidance for the moderation of teacher assessment. This new guidance will be accompanied by mandatory training for local authority moderators.”

Ms Greening also said that the key stage 1 SPAG test will remain non-statutory this year and that the planned statutory year 7 resits for key stage 2 pupils who miss the expected standard will not now be introduced.

She added: “Rather, we will focus on the steps needed to ensure a child catches up lost ground. High-quality resit papers will be made available for teachers to use if they wish, as part of their on-going assessments. In addition, we will introduce a targeted package of support to make sure that struggling pupils are supported by teachers to catch up in year 7.”

The announcement was described as “the promise of light at the end of a long and very dark tunnel” by union Voice. General secretary Deborah Lawson said: “While many of our concerns remain, I am encouraged by the secretary of state’s willingness to listen to – and take action on – the views of teachers and their representatives.”

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) is due to publish the findings of its own independent review of assessment in the new year and says that a long-term review by the government is crucial. James Bowen, director of the NAHT’s middle leadership wing NAHT Edge, said: “Many of the current problems with assessment have been caused by rushed and ill-thought through reforms, so the news of a proper consultation and no major changes before 2018/19 is welcome.

“Middle leaders and teachers have been immensely frustrated by the chaotic assessment system this year. While we continue to have concerns about the quality of 2016 data and believe something has to fundamentally change in the future, we take some comfort in the fact that the secretary of state has been clear that the data alone will not drive any decisions on intervention.”

Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, added: “The need to redesign the whole system of primary assessment is an issue that policy-makers cannot ignore.

“This announcement has begun to move us in the right direction but teachers will want to see acceleration towards a fairer system in which children’s individual needs can be met and their abilities fairly captured. Otherwise nothing will improve for 11-year-olds and we risk labelling another cohort as failing to meet an unrealistic expected standard.”

As Headteacher Update went to press, the Department for Education (DfE) published updated guidance and requirements for schools and local authorities involved in teacher assessment and statutory moderation for key stage 1 and 2 tests.

Revised in light of experiences last year, the NAHT said that changes to the evidence-base in the updated guidance were “significant”. General secretary Russell Hobby added: “The guidance now explicitly states that local authorities must not dictate what evidence should look like or how it is presented.

“They should not expect portfolios or checklists of evidence. This will help deliver a more common sense approach to what is expected of school leaders.

“The plans set out greater references to the expectation for ‘professional discussion’ and additional importance is placed on teachers’ professional judgement. This is an important signal that school leaders and teachers are trusted and their judgements respected.”

For the updated DfE guidance and requirements to support schools and local authorities involved in teacher assessment and statutory moderation in 2017, visit http://bit.ly/2fzNmb8 (key stage 1) & http://bit.ly/2f55rNG (key stage 2).


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