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Accountability, Assessment

Time for an Assessment Inquiry

The last few weeks has seen the production of the Headteachers Roundtable submission to the Education Select Committee Inquiry on Primary Assessment.  It’s timely and hopefully will shed a light on a number of key issues.  I’m indebted to Sally Hamson and Binks Neate-Evans who co-authored the submission with me.


Whilst many primary school leaders argue that “the wheels came off the assessment bus” this year we would suggest that the assessment bus never had any wheels on it.  Insufficient thought and planning was given by Ministers and the Department for Education about the impact of substantial concurrent changes to curriculum and assessment within a very condensed time period.  We decided it was best to be honest from the beginning.  A number of the key points we made are below.

The key purpose of Primary Assessment must be to support learning and enhance teaching.   To achieve this assessment must be diagnostic, formative, evaluative and summative.  In addition to this, fixed point standardised and summative assessments are used by central government, governors/directors and senior leaders to judge the effectiveness of the education provided by a school.  These two different purposes whilst not mutually exclusive don’t always co-exist together easily.  The assessments linked to accountability often become the primary driver of behaviour; cue a significantly narrowed curriculum for many pupils.  Too many schools have yet to fully exploit the opportunities associated with the removal of levels.  The same is true in secondary schools.

Goodness only knows how parents made any sense of the new system and information they were given about their children; secondary school teachers likewise and possibly many primary teachers as well.  Far too little regard was given to children with Special Educational needs.

Like many other submissions to the Select Committee we’ve highlighted issues like: the flawed attempt to baseline pupils on entry with three different assessments that lacked comparability; the use of teacher assessments at Key Stage 1 and for Writing at Key Stage 2 for accountability purposes being hugely problematic and the current assessments at Key Stage 1 failing to produce a sufficiently granular outcome on which a future value added measure could reliably be determined.

As a group we’ve always attempted to make alternative, constructive proposals rather than just complain or criticise from the side line.  However, it’s a tough call to decide whether a period of curriculum and assessment stability for schools is more essential than sorting out the current issues.  Whatever the decision, following Justin Greening’s announcement of the review of assessment in Primary Schools, further changes to the system must be effectively planned from the outset with a key objective to minimize disruption, workload and stress to classroom teachers.

Having written an Alternative Green Paper: Schools that Enable All to Thrive & Flourish, we had a number of suggestions ready to add into the paper.  Key to our thinking is that any statutory assessment requirements – reception baseline, Key Stage 1 & 2 tests and criterion expected and exceeding based standards – are intrinsically linked to accountability and need to be viewed within this wider context.

As a group we don’t agree with the use of floor targets and definitions of coasting based on attainment measures, these should cease immediately.  These are more a measure of a school’s intake rather than the quality of the education provided to pupils.  If you really want to look at a school’s effectiveness then you need a contextualised multi-year value added measure.  This measure must be based on the progress made by children from entry to leaving the infant/primary school.  This will require standardised objective teacher-led baseline assessment at the start of reception and a total rethink of Key Stage 1 tests; the latter need to be appropriate, standardised, objective and granular.  Key Stage 1 assessments should be statutory for Infant Schools and whilst made available to all other primary schools for diagnostic, formative and evaluative purposes they would be optional.  I think a school would be daft not to use them as once you have removed the cliff edged, high stakes accountability they become a tool for checking the progress children are making and intervening where necessary.

The assessment of writing has to be standardised and moderated at a national level at both Key Stage 1 and 2.  A national system of moderating children’s written work using comparative judgements would seem to be the way to go.  Once changes have been made to the assessment of writing, along with the current tests for Reading and Mathematics at Key Stage 2, a contextualised value added measure may be determined using the nursery baseline assessment as the starting point.

Ever the optimist, I have high hopes for the forthcoming Education Select Committee Inquiry and the review to be conducted on behalf of the Secretary of State, starting next year.  My plea is this; listen to the profession, listen to expert opinion, take your time to reflect and construct the whole assessment and accountability model and then stage the implementation over a number of years.  It’s more important to get it right this time than to rush it through.



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