It’s always amazing how one department can have such contrasting views on matters.
Days after the primary assessment & accountability consultation closed – all the way back in October – Michael Gove was making comparisons between rising GCSE outcomes and Soviet economics ministers massaging the figures. He spoke about ministers “lying” to children about increases in grades awarded. With “comparable outcomes” rules, the department made clear that standards are not expected to rise at all at GCSE level except in exceptional circumstances.
Today, his department has finally released the outcomes of the primary consultation and by the third page it includes the bold claim that for primary schools the reverse is apparently true: “With the continued improvement in teaching and the sharper focus of the new curriculum, results should rise.” So that’s simple.
What’s more, the rise is not intended to be gradual. In 2014, the attainment floor threshold for primary schools is set at 65% of children achieving Level 4c or higher. In two years time, schools will be expected to have 85% of children attaining the new higher threshold – something around the current 4b level. Only 63% of children did so in 2013. A cynic might suggest that the policy opens the door for a mass wave of forced academisation in the primary sector – something that the DfE seems to have struggled to encourage through its carrot-based approaches: the stick looms!
The rationale for this stark change? Not enough children who currently achieve a 4c at Key Stage 2 are getting 5 good GCSEs. It isn’t made clear quite why this is primary schools’ fault, but evidently that is the conclusion the department has drawn. So standards cannot rise at secondary school, but must at primaries.
How will this rise in standards be judged? In KS1 it seems that level descriptors have been scrapped with much fanfare to make way for… performance descriptors. Quite how these will be different remains to be seen. At KS2, teacher assessment will be based on a set of threshold descriptors for Reading, Maths and Science, which like the tests in Reading and Maths will show either that a child has – or has not – met the required standard. A standardised score from tests will give some indication of quite how far they have exceeded (or missed) such a target.
The scrapping of level descriptors in Writing are also to make way for these newly-named “performance descriptors”. Perhaps the DfE realised that scrapping a system without thinking about its replacement doesn’t work as easily as they might have imagined. Significantly, no indication is given of whether any teacher assessment data will actually be published
The department proudly asserts that the new scaled score will offer increased precision of results at KS2 – scientists will note that they make no claim about accuracy!
Externally-set tests are back on the menu for KS1 – although without the benefit of being able to pack off the papers for someone else to mark.
Standards will rise all around – as if by magic. Or else.
Progress will form part of the new accountability framework, but with little indication of how it will be measured. As a middle school teacher, I notice no effort has been made to correct the nonsense that some middle schools are judged on the KS2 progress of children who might have been with them for just 2 terms out of their 12-term middle school journey!
Finally, it’s interesting to note that P-levels are to be retained. One can’t help but think that after 5 months of wrangling to try to make something work in keeping with their proposals, the DfE felt that tackling P-levels too was a bridge too far.
But that might just be cynical.
Consultation Response documents can be read at:
I have summarised the details of changes for primary teachers at this blog post.