The evil offspring of APP

It’s not often I quote the words of education ministers with anything other than disdain, but just occasionally they talk sense. Back in April, Liz Truss explained the ‘freedoms’ being given to schools to lead on assessment between key stages, and commented on the previous system of APP. She described it as an “enormous, cumbersome process” that led to teachers working excessive hours; a system that was “almost beyond satire, […] requiring hours of literal box-ticking“.

Not everybody agreed with the scrapping of levels, but the recent massive response to the Workload Challenge has shown that if there is one thing that teachers are in agreement about, it is the excessive workload in the profession. Now at least we had a chance to get rid of one of those onerous demands on our time.

And yet…

Just this evening I came across two tracking systems that have been produced by private companies and appear to mimic and recreate the administrative burden of APP. What’s more, they seem to have managed to take the previously complex system, and add further levels of detail. Of course, they attempt to argue that this will improve assessment, but our experience tells us that this is not the case.

As Dylan Wiliam quite rightly said in the first principle in his excellent article in Teach Primary magazine:

A school’s assessment system could assess everything students are learning, but then teachers would spend more time assessing than teaching. The important point here is that any assessment system needs to be selective about what gets assessed and what does not…

The problem with the new models which attempt to emulate APP is that they fail in this. They’re trying to add a measure to everything and so suggest that they are more detailed and more useful than ever before. But the reality is that this level of detail is unhelpful: the demands of time outweigh the benefits.

Once again, too many school leaders are confusing assessment with tracking. The idea that if we tick more boxes, then our conclusions will be more precise is foolish. If three sub-levels across a two-year cycle was nonsense, then 3 sub-levels every year can only be worse. Just because the old – now discredited – system allocated point scores each year, doesn’t mean that we should continue to do so.

Assessment is not a simple task. By increasing the volume of judgements required, we reduce teachers’ ability to do it well: we opt for quantity over quality. We end up with flow-charts of how to make judgements, rather than professional dialogue of how to assess learning. We end up with rules for the number of ticks required. As Wiliam also says:

Simplistic rules of thumb like requiring a child to demonstrate something three times to prove they have ‘got it’ are unlikely to be helpful. Here, there is no substitute for professional judgement – provided, of course, ‘professional’ means not just exercising one’s judgement, but also discussing one’s decisions with others

If you’re a headteacher who has brought in a system (or more likely, bought into a system) which implies that progress can be measured as a discrete level (or stage, or step) every term, that asks teachers to assess every single objective of the National Curriculum (or worse, tens of sub-objectives too!), or that prides itself on being akin to APP, then shame on you. There’s no excuse for taking an opportunity where the department itself points out that teachers are being expected to do an unreasonable amount of work, and replacing it with a larger load.

If you’re a teacher in a school that has adopted one of these awful systems, then I can only commiserate. Might I suggest that you print off a copy of this blog, and slide it under your headteacher’s one night. I’d also highly recommend adding Dylan Wiliam’s article to it.

We need our school leaders to lead – not just repeat the mistakes of the past.

Teach Primary magazine

It’s only right that I confess that I write an article for each issue of Teach Primary and so couldn’t fairly be said to be completely impartial. That said, I do think it’s well worth subscribing, if only for gems like Wiliam’s article and others that come up each issue, along with resources, ideas and wisdom from actual teachers and leaders.


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10 thoughts on “The evil offspring of APP

  1. Ian Lynch 25 November 2014 at 10:47 pm Reply

    The INGOT community site is a free fully managed resource for evidence management, progress tracking and reporting so there is really no need to buy this sort of tool. I have put a simplified version of the ks1 ks2 performance criteria currently in consultation there, reducing them by approx 75%. I can reduce it further depending on how pedantically the DfE sticks to what they have. Given Michael Gove said they were removing levels and the complexity of assessment it seems a major U turn to come up with a 42 page document that is far more complicated than the system it is intended to replace. Bizarre.

  2. Tired Teacher 25 November 2014 at 10:54 pm Reply

    would you say learning ladders falls into this?

    • Michael Tidd 25 November 2014 at 10:58 pm Reply

      I’ve not seen the latest versions of the Learning ladders. I did say in my review some months back that I thought the ‘three times’ rule was an error. As far as I’m aware, though, there isn’t any attempt to break the year into three measured chunks or similar. But I could be wrong. There are certainly worse offenders, I think.

  3. Bruce DW 26 November 2014 at 3:44 am Reply

    It seems to me that it’s important to avoid exactly the trap that you mention. What is vital is to identify key skills and knowledge that needs to be grasped in order to make progress in whatever it is we’re trying to help children achieve. If we want children to be people who can write convincingly, with skill and a personal voice by the time they’re 11 years old and they come to us at 4 barely able to hold a pencil, what are the essential skills that they must grasp to achieve this? Then how do we teach this? And how do we recognise it when it’s been achieved and what do go on to next? Having said all that, how many times to we have to see something before we think that it’s really embedded and understood? Questions , questions, questions.
    What I do think though is that systems such as you describe are fatally flawed for being inaccurate and having descriptors that could, in some cases, equally apply to a six year old as an able eleven year old and as such are simply not fit for purpose.
    While I do hope that something workable and of real substance will emerge from the swirling fog of confusion, I do hope that people don’t just grab anything to avoid the rather useful job of thinking through what assessment is all about for their school.
    And can we really put anything in place firmly until the performance descriptors are finally revealed? Another question.
    Thanks for another provocative, thoughtful post.

  4. DanielJAyres 26 November 2014 at 7:54 am Reply

    Reblogged this on Educational Gems.

  5. sarahanneken 26 November 2014 at 8:43 am Reply

    Reblogged this on skennedy205 and commented:
    Refreshing…sigh of relief…I agree!

  6. Ian Lynch 26 November 2014 at 8:49 am Reply

    The first thing to do is to get as many colleagues and parents to fill in the DfE consultation at and say it is not fit for purpose (or words to that effect) It only takes 5 minutes to do that.. We really need 10s of thousands of teachers and parents to do this to make it impossible for them to just say no-one much objected. The report is due out just before the run up to the general election so the political timing for a grass root driven protest could not be better. Let’s not get too bogged down in stuff that can’t be changed and put the effort into something that can be. Almost anything would be better than the consultation document as it currently stands.

  7. nancy 26 November 2014 at 1:42 pm Reply

    Couldn’t agree more with you Michael.
    (About both, Teach Primary contains some excellent articles, doesn’t it…. 😉 )

  8. […] The evil offspring of APP –   A blog from a teacher with some very sound advice IMO […]

  9. maverickteaching 9 December 2014 at 10:48 am Reply

    Reblogged this on Maverick Teaching and commented:
    Thought this linked nicely to my data overload rant?

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