Monthly Archives: December 2014

Assessment & Tracking

Over the year, I have worked on an assessment model which I feel tackles the new curriculum without recreating the issues of the old levels system. The intention is that the focus of assessment is on the specifics of what have been learned, as proposed by the original Expert Panel in 2011.

The model matches closely with the principles set out by the NAHT in its recommendations, while also providing schools with appropriate means of tracking outcomes using Excel spreadsheets.

All of these resources are made freely available for schools to adopt and adapt as they wish. Excel sheets have been protected to prevent accidental modification, but no password is needed to adapt it should a school wish to edit the content to suit their own approach.

The documents can all be downloaded from here:

spreadsheetTracking documents for Years 1 to 6:

Year 1 Tracking

Year 2 Tracking

Year 3 Tracking

Year 4 Tracking

Year 5 Tracking

Year 6 Tracking

Objective documents for core subjects:

objReading Key Objectives

Writing Key Objectives

Maths Key Objectives

Science Key Objectives

Primary Education: a year in review

No-one could deny that the past few years have been years of momentous change in education policy, and 2014 continued that trend. Any attempt to review it is bound to miss things, but I thought I’d give it a go, all the same. It was the year in which book scrutinies became the new lesson observations, and pay went up just as Gove went down.

The year began (if, dear teacher, you can conceive of a year beginning in January) with plenty of turmoil to deal with. Teachers were trying to get to grips with the new National Curriculum in preparation for September, leaders were battling with the proposed introduction of Free School Meals for infants. Things were not great for the department either – it was confirmed that one of the first primary school free schools was to be shut down.
The obligatory Ofsted changes revolved largely around Behaviour & Safety.

The NAHT released its report into the new landscape for assessment in schools. Having known for some time that levels were to be dropped, the department still hadn’t come up with any indication of what was to replace them, leaving schools somewhat in the lurch.
The STRB also published a report which led us to breathe a sigh of relief. The body had turned down Gove’s suggestions that limits on working hours be scrapped along with specified PPA and cover limits. It almost felt like a turning point.
Finally, the DfE released the long-awaited survey into teachers’ working hours showing that primary school teachers work an average of a 59-hour week. No surprises there then.

As teachers from the NUT were on strike again, the department finally got around to telling us what assessment would look like at the end of KS1 and KS2 – although as ever it raised more questions than answers, some of which still remain! We also heard from Ofsted the first of its proposals to reduce the stakes in inspections of existing Good/Outstanding schools.

Liz Truss used a speech to proclaim the new freedoms being given to schools, including on assessment, seemingly ignorant of the restrictions that the latest release would bring. She also reignited the debate about textbooks with a simplistic call in support. The QTS debate rose once again – rather tiresomely.
The obligatory Ofsted changes revolved largely tweaks to subsidiary guidance.

As Year 6s sat down for tests with misprints on the instructions and not a calculator in sight, panic started to set in for all schools about the September to come. It also became clear that it wasn’t only classroom teachers who lacked answers: the DfE didn’t seem that sure of many things, either.

As the rumblings in Birmingham continued, we started to hear the first mootings of the need for teaching ‘British values’ in our schools. We also heard that from 2019, there will be new infant league tables! It was also the month in which we heard that we would get a 1% pay increase this year – with some exceptions!

Where were you?
There can’t be many teaching colleagues who don’t recall the day that the news came that Gove was gone. As if July weren’t sweet enough in schools, the news led to shouts of joy, messages on staffroom whiteboards and even the occasional cake, I gather.
Interestingly, the department chose the same day to release the sample questions for the new KS1 and KS2 tests, perhaps in the hope we wouldn’t notice how mean they seemed!

Traditionally a quiet month for news, and not least in education. For some reason, this is when I discovered that the NAHT had quietly released its excellent model framework for assessment without levels.
The obligatory Ofsted changes were a more significant overhaul, including the scrapping of lesson observation grades.

The real new year began with a new curriculum, new SEND code of practice, the free school meals fiasco and plenty of other changes to contend with. Ofsted started launching no-notice inspections for a host of reasons, including not having the right information on your school website! It also became increasingly clear that the pace of change regarding the curriculum had been too quick even for the DfE, leading to several cock-ups.

An election must be looming. October saw the launch of the DfE’s Workload Challenge survey, and Ofsted released its clarification document (along with a consultation on more major changes to inspection). The DfE also announced the Early Years Pupil Premium.

The release of funding information showed that secondary school funding continues to be massively higher than primary funding. More pre-election promises included the continuation of higher funding for Primary Pupil Premium funding.

It’s hard to know what’s worst: the new-found need for teaching ‘character’ in school, or the need for government to get involved in the government-free College of Teaching, or the fact that this month brought yet another list of changes to inspection published on the last day of term. Roll on 2015 and an election year for more fun and games?

Perhaps we should be grateful that Ofsted at least thinks we’re not as bad as secondary schools.

Published responses to the Performance Descriptors consultation

Thank you to those of you who responded to the performance descriptors consultation, particularly if you did so following reading one of my blogs. Now that the consultation is closed, we shall have to wait to see what the DfE makes of the responses, but a few organisations have already published the responses they gave. I have started to collate them here for those who are interested in the range of views presented. I have directly linked to each; the comments beneath each link are my own comments.

Cambridge Primary Review
Responds ‘No’ to every question posed, and recommends instead a single descriptor for each subject to reflect the ‘national standard’, against which teachers could decide whether a child was ‘working towards’, ‘achieving’ or ‘exceeding’

UK Literacy Association
Responds ‘No’ to every question, and shares the CPR’s view that a single descriptor would be preferable. Also picks up on the excessive number of bullet points and ambiguous use of language in the descriptors.

NAAE (National Association of Advisers in English)
Responds ‘No’ to all but one question (and ‘Not sure’ on matching the NC). Refers to the “cavalier abandonment of levels”. Also highlights the ambiguous and unclear language.

UKLA (United Kingdom Literacy Association)
Responds ‘No’ to all questions, highlights the ambiguous language, and calls for a single descriptor for each Key Stage against which students can be judged to be working towards, meeting or exceeding.

ATM/MA (Association of Teachers of Mathematics & Mathematical Association joint response)
Implies ‘No’ to all questions, and prefers a single descriptor for both key stages based on the ‘Working mathematically’ principles from the secondary curriculum.

SCORE (Science Community Representing Education)
This doesn’t use the standard form, so it’s not clear whether they’ve answered Yes or No, but the latter seems more likely in most cases. They too prefer a single descriptor option.

ASCL (Association of School & College Leaders)
Interestingly, the union for secondary school leaders is one of the few organisations I’ve found so far to answer ‘Yes’ to most questions, although even it has many caveats. It prefers 4 descriptors for all subjects at KS1 and KS2.

NAHT (National Association of Head Teachers)
The NAHT doesn’t directly answer any of the questions, leaving the subject-specific ones for others to deal with. It has a clear focus on the practical issues of implementation rather than the flaws of the principles.

Hertfordshire Learning
Responds ‘No’ to all but one question (and ‘Not sure’ on weightings) and clearly prefers a more consistent approach (suggest a below/in-line/above approach) to the subjects and key stages. Also highlights many of the unclear elements in the descriptors.

ADCS (Association of Directors of Children’s Services)
This organisation responded by email, rather than the form. It seems to focus mainly on the increased complexity of the systems, suggesting a preference for the old system of levels.

NUT (National Union of Teachers)
Responds in open prose rather than using the standard form, but is unequivocal about its dislike of the descriptors. Also proposes a single descriptor for each subject at each Key Stage.

Voice (teachers’ union)
Responds ‘No’ to all questions, highlighting the difficulties of differentiating between descriptors, and the lack of clarity in the names of descriptors.

ATL (Association of Teachers & Lecturers)
Responds in open prose rather than using the standard form, but is unequivocal about its dislike of the descriptors. Also proposes a single descriptor for each subject at each Key Stage.

Pearson Publishing
Clearly there are slightly different interests for a publisher looking to provide resources to the sector. Nevertheless, it’s worth mentioning on here, as the publisher has been very thorough in examining the myriad inconsistencies of the statements compared to the National Curriculum they’re meant to be based on.

The Association of Science Education
Although these are not published on the website (as far as I can tell), Juliet Green has kindly posted a copy of the content in the comments below.

If you have seen another published response, please let me know either in the comments below or via twitter at @michaelt1979.

The Gillette problem in Education

When Dave Gorman launched his second series of “Modern Life is Goodish”, he did so with a trailer mocking the increasing number of blades attached to our razors.

The Dave Gorman Razor trailer

The Dave Gorman Razor trailer

The whole thing’s very amusing when it’s dealing with the humdrum of shaving life. But this same inflation appears to be infiltrating our education system as increasingly complex systems of assessment become available. And the DfE are at least in part to blame.

Its recommendations for an end-of-key-stage assessment system are to replace the simple system of 4 main levels of outcome (cunningly named level 3, level 4, level 5 and level 6) with 5 descriptors which seem to cover a narrower range of ability. But to what end? Why do we need to differentiate between children in this way at the age of 11?

The government’s preferred “mastery approach” to teaching suggests that we should be focussing on ensuring that almost all children meet the expected standard – so why the need for a further four categories of attainment (not to mention those that fall below those categories).

The only explanation I can find, is for league tables. Just as I suspect that 5-bladed razors are not significantly more efficient than the old Mach 3, so I rather suspect that 5 descriptors will be no more useful to schools to students than the 3 we used to have just 3 years ago!

Of course, to create league tables you need measures that can produce a whole host of differentiation. And so, up and down the country, schools are losing interest once more in assessment, and returning their focus to tracking – how will we show progress? how will we show when children are making expected progress, and more than expected progress? Because for all their talk of freeing up teachers to focus on what matters, the reality is that the department is only interested in measurable outcomes that can produce graphs to blame predecessors and more to claim improvements.

It’s simple to split children into 5 groups when you have a scaled score system. So what if the chances of scoring 100 or 110 on a test are more to do with the luck of the questions than the underlying ability of the student? It’s easy all the same to say that the child scoring 105 is doing better than the child scoring 100. To heck with the reality.

Can we really honestly say that we can split 11-year-olds into more than 5 measurable groups of writers? Groups which are significantly narrower than our current L3/4/5 bands. The level descriptors manage it through the use of weasel words. We are asked to differentiate between children who “make appropriate choices of grammar and vocabulary to clarify and enhance meaning” and those who “make deliberate choices of grammar and vocabulary to change and enhance meaning“, not to mention the separation of those who make “judicious choices“.

And if we do make such judgements… to what end?

The only possible reason for having so many descriptors, so many imagined levels, is to provide numerical data for league tables. It has nothing to do with teaching and learning (which after all needs a focus on assessment, rather than tracking).  It is only to do with trying to judge schools, and providing room for children to “exceed expected progress”.

And all the time DfE demands it at the end of Key Stages, so tracking software companies will recreate the nonsense for all the intervening years. And so, all the benefits of removing levels are quickly replaced with an increasingly complex, increasingly unreliable and uninformed, set of spreadsheets. No longer is the judgement about one level every 2 years, or even 2 sub-levels each year. No, now we can choose from one of 5 categories every year – or in some cases 6, to ensure that one can be measured each half term.

And if that isn’t enough to persuade you that the Performance Descriptors are no good for anything, then there’s no hope!

If you’re reading this before 5pm on Thursday 18th December, you’ve still got time to log on to the DfE consultation on the descriptors and tell them how awful they are. Please do.

Primary Assessment: where are we so far?

In a little over a month, I’ll be speaking at a conference in London about primary assessment. I have previously spoken at such an event back in May/June of this year, and at the time shared the stage with a representative from the DfE who seemed to have as little clue as the rest of us about what was likely to happen.

Things move quickly in education, particularly under the current government, so much has emerged since then, yet there are still plenty of unknowns and plenty of areas of uncertainty. It’s for that reason that I’ll look forward to attending the same conference to hear from other experts in the field, and to see how other schools are tackling the challenges of our situation.

Since the summer, we have learned a good deal more about the nature of the test, as well as something more about teacher assessment. There remain many unanswered questions, particularly about how Teacher Assessment will work, and I’m hoping that the DfE representative might be able to shed some light on that matter. I’m also fascinated to hear from Ofsted about what they say they’ll be looking for in the systems that schools use.

What we do know, perhaps more clearly than ever, is that schools are being left to ‘go it alone’ when it comes to internal assessment. Of course, schools were always free to do so, but the levels system became all-but-universal. Now, schools are working individually, in partnerships, alliances and chains to create their own systems of tracking progress and recording assessments to support their judgements during each key stage.

What seems to matter more than ever is that schools collaborate on this. Whether that be with other schools in their locality, or through ‘buying in’ a shared system which provides a sense of moderation as back-up, schools need to be aware of what others are doing more than ever. Rather than looking to the DfE for a preferred model, or the required approach, schools should be looking at what is available in the ‘marketplace’, and making a choice that suits their requirements. As Dylan Wiliam said in his recent Teach Primary article – simple off-the-peg solutions may no longer be good enough.

Of course, that’s why at the conference I’ll be talking about my own, adaptable, free model of Key Objectives and the accompanying tracking documents. I’ll also be talking about how I think mastery approaches can support the combination of assessment with planning and teaching. That’s not because I think I have all the answers: I don’t think anybody does any more. I think all we can do is share what we know and find what works for us, within the confines of the system we have.

It’s a difficult time for school leaders to know where to turn and what to use, but it’s also an opportunity for us to really take a grip of how assessment works in our schools and to make it work for the benefit of our students, rather than for the producers of graphs.

The conference at which I will be speaking is the Optimus Effective Primary Assessment under the new National Curriculum conference in London on Thursday 29th January. More details are available at

Readers of my blog who would like to attend can receive 20% off the standard rate if they use the promotional code MT15 when booking online.

When will someone at Ofsted say “Stop”?

Those of a broadly similar age to me may well remember the fake ads in the middle of episodes of the Fast Show.

Do you like cheese?
Do you like peas?
Then you’ll love… Cheesy Peas!

A classic case of having too much of a good thing – or at least, the wrong combinations of “good things”. The parallels with Ofsted may not be immediately clear – but let me eek out an analogy all the same.

Just this week on Twitter, @cazzypot shared her excellent blog on the latest nonsense of a tick-box for ‘British Values’. I asked the DfE to consider it as evidence for their Workload Challenge, which to their credit, they did. I did so, because it is yet another example of schools adding to workload and systems for the sake of evidence.

But how does this link to cheesy peas? Bear with me.

To be fair to the inspectorate, they are often not as responsible for ‘expecting’ schools to do things as some might think or claim. Indeed, they have gone so far as to release a clarification of what they don’t expect. But that will never be enough. Because all the time schools are being praised for what they do do, and criticized for what they don’t do, there is no incentive for schools to reduce requirements. Indeed, every time an Ofsted report praises something, it is likely that such a task or approach will be added to the workload of teachers in other nearby schools. And when they criticize another for failing to do something – lo and behold every other nearby school will add another new task to their list.

The problem is, like cheese and peas, simply adding more and more ‘Good Things’ doesn’t automatically produce a better outcome. Many schools are doing good things, and rightly that gets recognised. Many schools are wasting time doing pointless things: expecting detailed lesson plans, unwieldy evaluation pro formas, ridiculous pseudo-scientific ideas, and so on.  But until an Ofsted report ever points such things out as being unnecessary, or even burdensome, what incentive or direction is there for leadership teams to reduce the demands?

Of course, as I have said before, school leaders should take some of the blame. But the system doesn’t help them to differentiate between what is necessary, and what is gimmicky, but might garner a tick on the Ofsted form.

Just because a school where they happen to use cheese is doing well, and another when they happen to use peas is also doing well, doesn’t automatically imply that all schools ought to be using Cheesy Peas.

But who will be the first Ofsted inspector brave enough to tell a school to stop doing something?

Primary Roll Call – ‘Leaders & Thinkers’

Last year I wrote a post entitled Primary Tweeters to follow in 2014. They are still good recommendations, but a year is a long time on Twitter – and blogs. Alongside a parallel post by Jo P, I have decided to offer a brief update of some highly recommended twitter users and bloggers for primary teachers to follow. Mrs P’s post (Primary Roll Call – Classroom Ideas) focusses more on the teachers who offer practical and inspirational ideas for the classroom; mine is more about those who work at leadership and strategic levels. Of course, many could easily feature on both lists, so do check out both!

In no particular order, my 10 recommendations are:

Dame Alison Peacock
Alison is headteacher of the Wroxham School – widely known for it’s learning-without-limits approach that saw levels disappear some time ago. She tweets, blogs and speaks with much sense as a headteacher and system leader.

Dr Richard Farrow
Never one to shy away from debate, Rich has a clear vision for what education should be about, and speaks without fear favour on a range of issues across education. He is a Y5 teacher in Stockport and tweets and blogs regularly.

The Primary Head and Old Primary Head
These two are the Batman and Robin, the Dangermouse and Penfold… the Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee of Tweeter, and of the Westcountry one presumes. Both engage on big issues, but also neither are afraid to shy away from the smaller ones. Both are headteachers, and both blog (The Primary Head / Old Primary Head) and tweet (@theprimaryhead / @primaryhead1) frequently with good humour.

Chris Andrew
Chris is a deputy head in London, and notably has begun his Ofsted training this year. He has a well-rounded view of education and is hopefully tackling the behemoth from the inside! He tweets and blogs/re-blogs.

Mr Chadwick
I’m a big fan of Mr Chadwick’s. He talks sense about primary education. In a world where much is too woolly, and where debate too often descends into petty argument, this man presents sensible thought, with reason and calmness. He tweets at @mr_chadwick

Tim Clarke
Another headteacher – this time from Hampshire – who engages regularly online. He has been a great support to me and others in matters relating to the new curriculum, and must be a great head to work for in many ways. He both tweets and blogs.

Tim Head
Maybe Tim’s have a tendency to be decent fellows? This one is a Computing leader in the Midlands – but don’t let any of those things put you off! I’m firmly in the anti-tablet and pro-drywipe board camp, but still this man offers much of interest and debate. He tweets with a shameless profile image.

Bill Lord
Bill is another Head – and another decent one it seems. He is frequently seen engaging with policy and strategy matters, and yet remains keenly interested in the nitty-gritty of teaching literacy and the like. He tweets and blogs.

Rebecca Stacey
Another headteacher – fairly new to it, having moved just slightly from London to Cumbria! She is another who blogs regularly, again on things that matter in the day-to-day classroom both technological and otherwise. She tweets and blogs online.

BONUS PICK – Since Jo got to pick a bonus, I’m going to add someone who doesn’t quite fit into the main category, but is well worth following: Sean Harford is due to taken over from Mike Cladingbowl as National Director for Schools at Ofsted, and so will doubtless be of great interest to many primary folk. He tweets at @HarfordSean

Finally, don’t forget to check out Jo’s post – she also tweets (and pins!) regularly. For other leaders and thinkers, you can take a look at my Twitter list. And of course, follow me!