The burden of Teacher Assessment

I’m not normally one for openly personal posts. Although my wife will happily say that much of my reason for blogging is either ego or arrogance, I usually try to keep to pragmatic matters. But this week I’m troubled. And I’m troubled on behalf of others, too.

I’ve made no secret of my loathing of the current Interim Assessment framework and its expectations (both narrow and high), or its tardiness, or error. But as our LA moderation lead said to us last week: whether we like it or not, for this year we’re stuck with it.

And ‘stuck’ is exactly how it feels. I’ve said at a few events held since the framework first came out that the Writing descriptors are literally what keeps me up at night .And with barely a fortnight until the Teacher Assessment deadline, and only a week until our external moderation, that remains the case.

As I look at the collections of work from my class – work of which I am in many cases very proud, and work which demonstrates great progress – I worry about the final figures I’m going to submit. I worry because they reflect on me, my team and my school, and I just don’t know where the land lies.

I worry, too, because everywhere I look I see people doing their best to push children over the hurdles. Not teaching, just ticking off the boxes. It means I’ve heard, from all directions, of the strategies people are using to provide evidence for skills that their children almost certainly don’t have. It means I’ve heard of pupils re-drafting work five times until it ticks the right boxes. It means I’ve heard of directed teaching and overly-structured work that will allow teachers to show the evidence that they think will give children the credit they deserve for their learning. And I know how much additional work I’ve put in – and my class have – in these last few weeks to try to tick those boxes myself.

But as the judgement day looms, I want those figures to be higher. I worry that my refusal to stretch the rules to breaking point may disadvantage my school, and may well reflect badly on me.

And what really worries me about that is that I’m a confident teacher. I know where I have made choices that are for principled reasons. I know that my headteacher isn’t some unscrupulous bully who will demand results with menaces. I know that I have taught my class well this year, and I know what progress looks like, and could happily show it to anyone. Indeed, just 6 weeks ago, Ofsted came in and agreed with it.

But what of the newly-qualified teacher in Year 6? What of  the teacher in a school where the headteacher has no qualms about bullying staff to get the results? What of the teacher who knows that one year of bad data could be them out of a job? What of the teacher already struggling with something outside of school having to work this out?

If I’m having sleepless nights, how must it be for them?

There are those who would happily see the back of SATs tests, who argue that teacher assessment is the way forward. Personally, I think it’s the stakes that matter. And just about the only thing worse for  a teacher than a high-stakes test, is high-stakes Teacher Assessment.

It’s like being taken to the hangman’s noose… and then being asked to make your own gallows.

Before you worry too much about me, rest assured that on proof-reading this, my wife said “I don’t think you’re arrogant…. all the time.” Praise indeed.


34 thoughts on “The burden of Teacher Assessment

  1. ks1blog 13 June 2016 at 10:16 pm Reply

    I guess we are all in the same boat – now just to stay afloat!!

  2. Danielle Morgan 13 June 2016 at 10:37 pm Reply

    Over the past few week I’ve been reading your blog. To be honest, it’s kept be going, with moderation for me looming and my ever second checking, are they secure enough? My recent teaching of a ‘correct exclamation sentence’ has really made me question my own teaching and the ever need to tick the boxes, yet still staying within the ‘independent’ boundaries. How scary that seems!
    I can’t help thinking that the released documents, published in March, is just a little too late, in order to show enough of what a 6 year old can do to meet the standard or even at greater depth. I hope, I’m sure, I am not alone.
    I’ve recently been told that the writing exemplification documents were written by older children as year 2 children would not have been at the standard when the documents were being created, what a joke! Whether they’ve been taught the curriculum or not, children don’t mature in less time nor do they acquire life skills just because of a heightened currriculum.
    I could argue my way through moderation, however it won’t change my data.
    Ps I might be lacking semi-colons, but I’ve sure nailed my contractions with correct use of apostrophes.

  3. Sue 13 June 2016 at 10:37 pm Reply

    I think all year 6 teachers are feeling like this. Pushing children to use punctuation in their writing that most adults wouldn’t know how to use! The constant search for something that would allow another box to be ticked and not really reading the children’s writing because you are searching for these! A ridiculous system that will see ‘good writers’ unable to achieve the expected standard! Ridiculous!

  4. dpgits1961 13 June 2016 at 10:41 pm Reply

    I could have written this! Are you reading my mind and expressing my thoughts. I hate SATS, but this is proving to be the straw that might just break the camel’s back. Keep blogging. Good to know others feel the same. No sleep last night wondering how to squeeze the last ounce of effort.

  5. @bethben92 13 June 2016 at 10:42 pm Reply

    I am having to do TA for 12 Y6 children as their teacher has been off sick since Easter. In all areas. Cannot speak to her so going on their work and my knowledge of them from teaching them for 4 weeks in the run up to SATs. The other Y6 teacher is struggling with it and has had her class all year. Pressure on as although we met targets for individual subjects last year, combined was below floor. My thoughts are with all Y6 teachers in the coming weeks.

  6. Jo H. 13 June 2016 at 11:17 pm Reply

    Wholeheartedly agree. This year’s writing assessment framework has pushed me into teaching in a way that I’m ashamed of in order to even get close to SLT demands. Dread to think where we’ll be this time next year.

    • Amanda Bland 15 June 2016 at 7:40 pm Reply

      It’s a relief to know I’m not the only one. 😶 Really struggling with feeling disappointed that they haven’t produced enough to get through the hoop…when I should be celebrating their amazing achievements…

  7. teachwell 14 June 2016 at 1:38 am Reply

    Respect your honesty in this Michael. I just don’t think that Teacher Assessment is the way forward for writing and find the definition of ‘independence’ bizarre. It was always going to be the case that people would play fast and loose with it. I don’t know – I always assume Daisy C has the answers!! If only she were primary to begin with!

  8. Andrew Cowley 14 June 2016 at 5:34 am Reply

    Consider the response when parents read the TA results and interpret the terminology. Especially with Maths and Reading where the options are HNM and EXS. To parents not aware of changes, contexts and their meaning (which is likely to be the majority) the question of whether their children have been challenged or extended may arise. Parent forums will make interesting reading over the summer particularly if SATS resits become reality.

    • Michael Tidd 14 June 2016 at 7:00 am Reply

      Yes, I have real concerns about parents’ ability to understand and interpret both new scores and TA judgements. It’s very worrying

  9. Mal 14 June 2016 at 6:18 am Reply

    How individual HMIs will interpret 2016 assessment data in a fair, consistent and professional manner is of huge concern, as the influence of regional commissionaires increase and the academy agenda has merely changed the colour of its coat.

    • Michael Tidd 14 June 2016 at 6:59 am Reply

      Indeed, I think any use of this year’s data should be heavily coated in caveats…but we know that in places it won’t be.

  10. Jan Walker (@jw22304) 14 June 2016 at 7:01 am Reply

    Agree totally, particularly the numerous redrafting ‘just find somewhere to add a semi-colon’, never mind the content. Very sad. I am most concerned at the forum comments I see at the inconsistency of moderation comments as well, they appear to differ from Borough to Borough. Will assessment levels depend on where you live, and how ‘strictly’ you were told to adhere to the list of objectives?

  11. Kate Cameron 14 June 2016 at 9:29 am Reply

    This weighs very heavily on us all – year 2 teachers as well. And as much as we are focused on the writing assessments which are TA only, we have had some real debates in school about the Y6 Science. If we are brutally honest (principled?!) and follow the letter of the frameworks, we can’t honestly say that ANY of our pupils are meeting the expected standard in science. Anyone else having the same dilemma.

    • Michael Tidd 14 June 2016 at 9:32 am Reply

      That’s exactly how I feel. But I worry that many schools will happily conjure 65% or 85% regardless

  12. Annie C 14 June 2016 at 5:30 pm Reply

    Totally agree with you. For the first time in my 25 years of teaching, my class were greeted yesterday morning with a personalised checker on their desk reminding them that at some point this week ( before Thursday when the moderator arrives !) they need to include another dash/hyphen/semi-colon etc because I am not sure if they will have enough of them to satisfy the definition of ‘some used correctly’. This is not what I believe in.

  13. Joanne 14 June 2016 at 7:01 pm Reply

    What’s really sad is that we have been doing it in Y2 – can you turn that into a contraction? Find a place to add an exclamation. It doesn’t promote a love of writing or good writing. It just ticks boxes so no one can come and accuse us of lying. My biggest dilemma is – do I let a child who writes with imagination and flair, fail because their spelling is dodgy?

  14. Sam Mawer 14 June 2016 at 8:35 pm Reply

    I think we have to be principled. As a year 6 teacher, I have tried, through modelled versions and referring to texts, that there is purpose in a range of punctuation and that we can use it for impact. No change to last year in approach; a slight change in content though. Our percentages are not going to look great – it is what it is. I’m lucky enough to be part of an SLT who do not chase down percentages. We stuck to our guns when our LA SIP told us that our writing predications were quite low compared to her other schools. “Have you had an issue with writing in the past?” was her repose. “No – but this year, the goal posts have changed – and this is our honest prediction.” We refused to change them! We want what is best for our children – and this is where they are – we have worked as hard as we possibly could!

    I am also a moderator this year. When I agreed, back in September, I thought it would be a really good experience to be a part of the emerging system. Little did I know! Our LA has been measured in their approach and the moderations I have completed so far have been really positive. There needs to be some common sense. There needs to be some recognition of the children behind each piece of writing. The moderation should be a professional dialogue with the outcome of ensuring some standard approach to what we have been given this year.

    I’m also being moderated!

    What a year! It has been a disaster from the government’s perspective. As a profession, we must stick to our principles and support each other through it. Work together on getting learning right for the children in our schools.

  15. MrsM 14 June 2016 at 9:32 pm Reply

    I’ve just had my KS2 external moderation this morning. I think it’s such a shame that the girl who’s worked so very hard, who had a 1 at KS1, who’s had so much against her, is getting a Working Towards Expected . She would have been so chuffed with a 4C. And once again, it’s the higher level punctuation that’s held us back – some need to demonstrate a dash, a colon, or a semicolon. However, they have been marked down as needing Additional Evidence. As long as they can produce a piece of work that ticks the top 4 categories of the Expected section as well as the offending punctuation, and it’s scanned and sent off in time, they will be able to say they have reached Expected standard. I have no Working at Greater Depth though, so nothing to distinguish between them. a real shame.

  16. MrsM 15 June 2016 at 9:28 am Reply

    I feel the same. Yesterday myself and my fellow Year 6 colleague sat down and looked at our Year 6 percentages. We then disclosed this information to our SLT who did not look at all impressed. “How can we get this higher?” was the response. “We can’t, we only have until the 17th.” was our reply. “We’ll get sacked with results like that”, said the deputy. Cue pressure, pressure on a Year 6 teacher to save their deputy’s job. Strewth! Cue, frantic assessment of teacher assessment to get those percentages higher. What’s the point? We might as well have submitted results back in September based on what the school wanted or needed. Resignation letter currently being written – this wasn’t what I had signed up for.

    • Michael Tidd 15 June 2016 at 10:04 am Reply

      What an awful situation! I feel for you.
      Sadly, I don’t think you’ll be alone in that situation, either in terms of pressure, or deciding to walk away.
      Just dreadful.

    • Edward Burton 15 June 2016 at 8:08 pm Reply

      MrsM, I salute you! I recently resigned as a deputy because I was sick to death of putting teachers like yourself under the kind of pressure you describe. Good luck with whatever you do next.

    • Anon 15 June 2016 at 10:35 pm Reply

      I’m in a very similar situation. My compromise with my conscience has been to submit the actual data to SLT, by email so it’s recorded. Then they are handling submission to our LA – I shall be interested to see what our results are.

      • Michael Tidd 15 June 2016 at 11:44 pm Reply

        Seems a good approach, but how sad that it should come to that.

  17. Mark 15 June 2016 at 11:40 am Reply

    I’m going to lay the blame at local authorities, and possibly the DfE for this mess. In the past there were differences between authorities, with some encouraging portfolios of ‘published’ writing and some using children’s first drafts as their evidence in moderation. However, the central moderation training and materials did at least keep us all fairly honest.
    I’m not in year 6 this year, but my observation of the process is that there is a lot of variation in the advice given. The LA I work for is guiding us to accept pupils’ editing as independent work, even if teacher initiated, as long as the pupil isn’t told specifically where to put the improvements. We have been moderated and have fairly high scores for ‘working at’. There has been a lot of check-boxing, and children improving their work. Nobody is trying to game the system (at moderation all of our judgements were verified except two children who the moderator raised a grade). Other authorities are being more stringent, and I hear reports on TES of schools where very few of their children are likely to be ‘working at’.

  18. Kate Cameron 15 June 2016 at 8:24 pm Reply

    I think it is fascinating (depressing) to see the level of response that this post has generated. One of the longest comments sections. And what does it reveal? Huge discrepencies in approaches from everyone from LAs to SLTs to individual teachers; an overwhelming feeling that the judgments which are coming out of this system do not reflect children’s true abilities and the progress they have made; and widespread disillusionment from a committed teaching profession. This is the direct result of the DfE’s rushed and confused implementation of the assessment changes. No doubt they will find a way to lay the blame at the door of the profession though. I can’t see how this year’s results – either these KS2 assessments, or the KS1 assessments can be any more reliable across the country than the shambolic Early Years Baseline. What a mess!!

    For those of you feeling like throwing in the towel, please keep in mind the fact that at the end of the day what children need is pretty straight forward. I ‘jokingly’ remind my teachers that basically their job is to teach them to read, write, add up and have friends. The rest is political nonsense which I think it is your leaders’ job to protect you (as class teachers), and even more importantly, your pupils, from. They won’t always get it right because they/we are under enormous pressure but we have a moral duty to hang on to the important stuff and keep faith with the 30 shining/slightly grubby faces which greet us every morning.

    Don’e be downhearted – the profession needs you!

  19. Matthew 16 June 2016 at 8:54 am Reply


  20. Linds_31 24 June 2016 at 11:25 pm Reply

    Please, please, please if you haven’t already, write to your local MP using the framework on the NAHT website to let them know what we’re having to do. Urge them to pass your concerns on to Government, we can but try to get this ridiculous system changed.

  21. grandmasgrains 25 June 2016 at 3:00 pm Reply

    So… writing TAs done. Hours and hours and hours of work by the children and the teachers. “But what about the science?” asks my Head. To be honest I hadn’t had a detailed look at it before and now I have it’s clear that none of the children have met the expected standard! So do we submit 0%? How will that make the children feel? Our children have been brilliant at science this year. They have done all sorts of investigations and have a thorough understanding of the Year 6 curriculum. But they have forgotten about the ways to sort rocks. And they are not entirely clear about levers, pulleys and gears – although they think bikes and cars have gears. And the stuff about the skeleton that they did in Year 3 seems a long time ago. And they are not quite sure about how plants reproduce (Year 5), or what air resistance is exactly, but might it be to do with aeroplanes staying in the sky?….. I showed the Interim statements to a secondary school science teacher. He laughed; “My year nines can’t do all that!”

    • Michael Tidd 26 June 2016 at 4:38 pm Reply

      It’s crazy, isn’t it?
      I’m pondering doing a survey of secondary Science teachers in the autumn to see how many think their students are at the expected standard. Bet it’s nowhere near as many as get given it this week!

  22. Kate Cameron 27 June 2016 at 9:18 am Reply

    Interesting conversation last week – we were all saying a similar thing. “There’s no way we could ever get them to know all of that…” Then I remembered when we used to have to do a science test, and they DID have to know (well, most) of that. We used to get a pretty high percentage of level 5s even in Science as well as the highest score in levels 4s of all the subjects. Hmmm…

  23. Mrs R 27 June 2016 at 12:25 pm Reply

    But they didn’t have to know ALL of it! Just enough to get good marks on the test. This is like asking every child to score 100%

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