When I posted this,
I was joking really. But in my absence, a video and bizarre supporting webpage emerged from the DfE that have further raised the profession’s collective hackles. So here are my thoughts. They can be best summarised as follows: mostly the DfE is right, but where they are wrong, they’re just plain wrong.
Five things you need to know
- Setting a higher bar
The government has the right to set different standards and a curriculum, and to set new tests. Although they did not quite meet their own deadline of providing information a year in advance with the new-style tests, they weren’t far off. This part of the department doesn’t seem too chaotic to me, which is a marvel considering what ministers have thrown at it.
- Preparing for the new tests
I’ve said before that I agree that the thresholds can’t be set until after the tests have been taken. And the fact that this is the case means that they can be reasonably set at around the old 4b standard, which the government has given its evidence to support. (It happens not to be evidence I agree with, but that’s another matter). I think that actually this will make the tests acceptable. That some people disagree with the content of the tests doesn’t mean they’re chaotic.
- Getting it right
Ironically, this is where it starts going all wrong. They talk about the frameworks being published later than they’d like. In fact, they were published back in Autumn 2014, which was a reasonable time. Except that they were so awful that they had to be scrapped and started from scratch: the delay was caused by the DfE. Then the exemplification which is so vital to interpretation of such discredited approaches to assessment was so late that some of it still hasn’t arrived. If there is any disingenuity here, then it is undoubtedly on the part of the person writing this statement. If there were anything but chaos about this, then we would at least by now have some vague idea of what Teacher Assessment will look like in 2017, yet there is none. The fact that we are having these battles just 10 weeks before the tests is shocking.
I’d note, too, that we were promised the exemplification by the end of January (which itself was far too late). For the DfE to claim some magnanimity in moving the KS1 submission date back by 2 weeks when the materials are already over 3 weeks late after their already late deadline is far worse than ingenuous. It once again shows their complete disregard for the profession, and is unacceptable.
- Teachers won’t have to fill out 6,120 check boxes
The exemplification guidance is quite clear that teachers must “check and record whether there is sufficient evidence for each of the statements within the standard”. That could not be more plain. For the secretary of state to claim that this is scaremongering is ignorant. If the document is erroneous in stating that, then she ought to apologise for the confusion caused by her department, not blame others (as @theprimaryhead points out in his blog)
As it is, I still fail to see how this can be got around if teachers are to ensure that moderators cannot find any gaps in evidence and thus potentially report teachers or schools for maladministration. Again, if this is not the intention, then the secretary of state ought to apologise for the confusion caused, not blame the unions.
Currently, as a teacher of Year 6 pupils, I can see no other way of preparing myself for the high-stakes moderation process, than to collect an evidence trail of ticks to assure the moderator (and myself). And as a deputy headteacher, I can see no other way of preparing my school for the high-stakes league tables and floor standards, than to corrupt good teaching to try to tick those boxes.
Lindsey Thomas’s excellent blog addresses this point in greater detail well.
- A new floor standard which sets high expectations for all
Firstly, it annoys me that the department continues to claim that the new standards challenge schools with able intakes. The attainment element of the standard removes challenge for the schools with the easiest catchments.
That aside, I’ve said before that it’s reasonable to set the expected progress measure after the results are in. The problems come from the ridiculous way in which Writing attainment will be measured. The secretary of state seems to missed the point made by the unions that the new expected standards in Writing for both Key Stages are far in excess of those proposed by the DfE. The secretary of state refers to children “mastering the basics”; I’ve yet to find anyone who thinks that use of semi-colons counts as a ‘basic’.
The original argument was that pupils who achieve 4b have a far greater chance of achieving 5 good GCSE grades, and so the new threshold should be set at this level. The interim frameworks and exemplification documents clearly show that the DfE has far overshot the bar with its new materials. Setting such a high bar will lead to huge proportions of children being deemed to have failed to meet the standard, and of schools being described as failing. I genuinely believe that this is more a cock-up than a conspiracy, but it’s one that the department seems determined to deny. It is this approach which leads to claims of chaos in the department, and to the claim that the DfE don’t know what they’re doing.
The irony in the repeated use of the word “disingenuous” won’t have been lost on teachers.