Assessment – what we know so far

Written by: HTU | Published:

Deciphering the new assessment and accountability requirements for primary schools is no small challenge. Camilla Erskine and Sue Walton discuss what is proposed and what it means for schools

The government has finally published its long-awaited response to the consultation on primary school assessment and accountability. The stated aims are two-fold. First, to “set high expectations so that all children can reach their potential and are well prepared for secondary school” so that no child is allowed to fall behind and second, “to celebrate the progress that pupils make in schools with more challenging intakes”.

However, a recent survey of 900 primary schools carried out by the trade association BESA, revealed that only 15 per cent of primary schools are currently planning to follow the government’s directive and abandon the traditional levels. And certainly the government’s proposals are confusing, and in many places contradictory. So let’s look at what is proposed and unravel what this means for schools.

Day-to-day assessment

The government’s document states that national assessments will take place at key points during a child’s primary education but makes clear that at other times there will be no national prescription. Teachers will therefore be free to continue using the more informal day-to-day mix of assessments that they have always used such as questioning and discussion to inform teaching and to feedback to pupils and parents about attainment and progress. 

It also emphasises that good teachers assess children on a regular basis. To help with this the government launched an Assessment Innovation Fund for schools or groups to bid for up to £10,000 each to develop easy-to-use approaches to pupil assessment for other schools to use. The outcome was published at the beginning of May, with three primary schools being successful in their bids for funding. Common themes of the successful bids are the identification and recording of next steps in learning against the new curriculum. What the document does not state is that schools have to use these systems, but they will of course be free of charge.

At the same time, Elizabeth Truss, education minister has explicitly invited education publishers to offer a procured solution to schools, saying that teachers “have freedom to choose”.

National assessments: Overview

Looking at the broad objectives of the new national assessments, they come with two stated purposes: to provide standard information to parents and to give a picture of school performance. To complement day-to-day teacher assessment there will be:

  • The existing progress check of two-year-old children.
  • A new short baseline assessment in reception (which is likely to cover both English and mathematics because these are the subjects against which progress will be measured at the end of key stage 2).
  • A phonics check near the end of year 1.
  • Teacher assessment in mathematics, reading and writing at the end of key stage 1 informed by scores in externally set, but internally marked tests.

In addition to this there will be teacher assessment of speaking and listening and science and national tests at the end of key stage 2 in mathematics, reading, grammar, punctuation and spelling and teacher assessment of mathematics, reading, writing and science.

National assessments in detail

Looking at these in more detail, we have the new reception baseline assessment. The plan is that the baseline will be used from September 2015 with the first progress assessment against that baseline being made in 2022 when the children starting reception in 2015 will reach the end of key stage 2. In 2022, progress will be measured using either the baseline or key stage 1 results – whichever shows the most progress.

What this document does not do is give much detail about this assessment, other than that it will “sit within teachers’ broader assessments of children’s development” and focus on the key building blocks of learning (counting and picture, and letter and number recognition). It will be administered by reception teachers. Apart from this little is known – so far – about the nature of the baseline assessment.

For children entering reception in September 2016, the baseline results will be used as a progress floor standard for all-through primary schools. However schools can choose not to carry out a baseline assessment in which case they will be measured on attainment only. 

It appears therefore that the baseline assessment is not statutory, although schools might feel it too risky to be judged purely on their end of key stage 2 attainment data (see later).

The proposal is that schools select from a list of approved assessments, because the government is not planning to develop a single national assessment. There is no indication as to when the list will be published, but one of the criteria for inclusion on the list is that the assessment must be able to demonstrate that it is a strong predictor of attainment at key stage 1 and 2. This raises some interesting questions about reliability and comparability of outcomes if different assessments are used by schools, especially as those outcomes will be used as the baseline against which pupil progress will be measured. There is clearly more work needed here as the document says that consideration is still to be made as to “how to communicate results from a reception baseline to parents and to Ofsted”.

Key stage 1 assessment

When children get to key stage 1, tests that are externally set but internally marked continue as before but there will also be new tests, with an assessment of grammar, punctuation and spelling being introduced, to reflect the curriculum from summer 2016. The output of the tests will be scaled scores. A scaled score is defined as “a score where 100 will represent the new expected standard for that stage”. So scaled scores, can be likened to the old IQ (intelligence quotient) tests where 100 is the given score for an average score of intelligence. 

Little detail is given about these scaled scores other than pupils with a score of 100 or above will have met the new standard and those with a score of less than 100 will not. What is not clear is how the scaled score will relate to current measures for key stage 1.

In autumn 2014, new performance descriptors will be introduced to inform statutory teacher assessment. Results will be “expressed by the performance indicator a child most closely meets”. There will be just one descriptor for science but several for mathematics, reading, writing and speaking and listening. It will be interesting to see how the new performance descriptors differ from the current level descriptions. It is also not clear why there will be one descriptor for science but several for the other subjects. 

As there are concerns about the robustness of teacher assessment in key stage 1, the Department for Education plans to work with Ofsted and schools to improve moderation. However again, no indication is given as to what this work might entail, nor the timescales. 

Key stage 2 assessment

At key stage 2, new more challenging externally set and marked national tests will be introduced from 2016 for use at the end of key stage 2 in mathematics, reading and grammar, punctuation and spelling. Sampling tests for science will continue as will teacher assessments for mathematics, reading, writing and science. 

As for key stage 1, new performance descriptors will be introduced. There will be several for writing but one each for science, reading and mathematics. The performance descriptors will be used by schools to report on whether or not a pupil has met the new standard. Again, it is not clear why there will be multiple performance descriptors for one subject (writing) but only one for others. It is also not well defined how the descriptors will be used in practice – e.g. a pass/fail, met/not met judgement or similar.

What we do know is that the output from the reading, mathematics and grammar, punctuation and spelling national tests will be scaled scores. Parents will receive details of their own child’s score, the average score for the school, local area and nationally.

The original proposal for children to be ranked by decile has been dropped due to concerns about the impact on children. There were also fears that such information may be misunderstood by parents. Currently schools report national curriculum levels to parents for the child alongside the school and national averages. The addition of local area is new and is not defined.

Pupils unable to access tests

For those pupils unable to access the end of key stage tests, teacher assessment will continue. P-scales will remain unchanged (apart from the renaming of ICT and modern foreign languages to computing and languages respectively). What requires clarification is the question of what happens to pupils unable to access the tests but who are working above the P-scales but where no timeline is stated. Inspection will remain the main school accountability mechanism for these pupils. The possibility of external moderation is being considered.

New floor standards

Floor standards are also set to continue and will become even more challenging. In future schools are to be held to account for how well pupils achieve and on the progress they make. So schools will only be considered to have met the floor standard if pupils make sufficient progress in all of reading, writing and mathematics. The target for attainment is that 85 per cent of pupils meet the standard to prepare them for secondary school. The new standard is defined as being “similar to Level 4b”. This is a considerable jump from the current 65 per cent target, especially as it also relates to a more challenging national curriculum!

In future, an all-through primary school will be above the standard if either pupils make sufficient progress at key stage 2 from their starting point in the reception baseline or 85 per cent hit the new end of key stage 2 standard. For junior and middle schools, progress will be measured from the end of key stage 1 results.

It is here that the document appears to give contradictory information. It begins by saying that schools will be held to account on progress and achievement but then states that schools will be above the floor standard if they have met the progress or the attainment target. 

Given the baseline assessment appears to be non-statutory presumably it is the latter. As stated earlier it will be interesting to see whether this affects whether schools decide to carry out a baseline assessment or not as if they don’t they can only be judged on attainment.

What schools must publish

Most of the information provided at the current time, at first sight, appears to raise more questions than it offers answers. Hopefully this summary and the timeline below has clarified a few points. However, whether or not only 15 per cent of schools currently feel they will not follow the government’s directive on introducing new assessment levels in line with these stated parameters, there are new requirements that schools cannot avoid. Schools must publish the following information on their websites. 

  • Average progress made by pupils in reading, writing and mathematics.
  • Percentage of pupils achieving the expected standard in reading, writing and mathematics at the end of key stage 2.
  • Average score of pupils in end of key stage 2 assessments.
  • Percentage of pupils who achieve a “high” score (not yet defined, but certainly in excess of a scaled score of 100) in all areas at the end of key stage 2.

Summary timeline

  • September 2014: Teaching of new national curriculum begins for pupils in years 1, 3, 4 and 5.
  • Autumn 2014: End of key stage 1 and 2 performance descriptors published.
  • Summer 2015: Last end of key stage assessments for current national curriculum (with results published as national curriculum levels for the final time).
  • September 2015: Teaching of new national curriculum begins for pupils in years 2 and 6. First reception baseline assessments taken. Last year of compulsory EYFS Profile.
  • Summer 2016: First new key stage 1 and 2 national assessments. First reporting against the new performance descriptors and use of scaled scores. Floor target of 85 per cent introduced. 
  • Summer 2022: Schools judged on the best of progress from reception baseline to end key stage 2 or just end of key stage 2 attainment.

• Camilla Erskine is senior publisher at Rising Stars and Sue Walton is an education consultant. For more assessment updates, visit

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