Some thoughts on the Primary Assessment Consultation

Pub Quiz question for the future: In what year did the primary assessment framework last not change? (Answers on a postcard, folks)

I may not always be the most complimentary about the DfE, but today I feel like there is a lot to praise in the new consultation on primary assessment. They have clearly listened to the profession, including the work undertaken by the NAHT assessment review, and have made some sensible suggestions for the future of primary assessment. As ever, I urge people to read the consultation, and respond over the next 12 weeks. Here, I’ve just shared a few thoughts on some key bits:

Assessment in the Early Years

For years, I feel like Early Years practice was held up as a shining example of assessment, as we were all wowed by their post-it notes and online apps, and all the photographs they took. I was never overly keen on all the evidence-collating, and I’m pleased that we’ve begun to eschew it in the Key Stages. It’s pleasing, therefore, to see that while the department is happy to keep the (actually quite popular) Early Years Profile, it wants advice on how the burden of assessment can be reduced in the Early Years.

I’m also pleased to see the revival of the idea of a Reception baseline. Much damage was done by the chaotic trial of different systems in 2015, but the principle remains a sensible one to my mind. I would much rather see schools judged on progress across the whole of the primary phase. It’s also quite right that baseline data shouldn’t be routinely published at school or individual level. The consultation seems open to good advice on how best to manage its introduction (an approach which might have led to greater success with the first attempt!).

Key Stage 1

I wasn’t certain that we’d ever persuade the DfE to let go of a statutory assessment, but it seems that they’re open to the idea. I do think that the KS1 tests – and the teacher assessment that goes along with them – are a barrier to good progress through the primary years, and I’d welcome their abandonment. The availability of non-statutory tests seems a sensible approach, and I’m happy to see that the department will consider sampling as a way to gather useful information at a national level. Perhaps we might see that rolled out more widely in the long term.

I’d have rather seen them take the completely radical option of scrapping the statutory tests straight away, but I can see the rationale for keeping them until the baseline is in place. Unfortunately that means we’re stuck with the unreliable Teacher Assessment approach for the time being. (More of that to follow)

Key Stage 2

Of course it makes sense to scrap statutory Teacher Assessment of Reading and Maths. Nobody pays it any heed; it serves no purpose but adds to workload. I’d have preferred to see Science go the same way, but no such luck. At the very least, I hope there is a radical overhaul of the detail in the Science statements which are currently unmanageable (and hence clearly lead to junk data in the extreme!)

There is also some recognition in there that the current system of Teacher Assessment of Writing is failing. The shorter term solution seems to be a re-writing of the interim frameworks to make them suit a best-fit model, which is, I suppose, an improvement. Longer term, the department is keen to investigate alternative (better) models; I imagine they’ll be looking closely at the trial of Comparative Judgement at www.sharingstandards.com this year. I’m less persuaded by the trial of peer-moderation, as I can’t quite see how you could ensure that a fair selection of examples are moderated. My experience of most inter-school moderation is that few discussions are had about real borderline cases, as few teachers want to take such risks when working with unfamiliar colleagues. Perhaps this trial will persuade me otherwise?

On the matter of the multiplication check, I don’t share the opposition to it that many others do. I’ve no objection to a sensible, low-stakes, no-accountability check being made available to support schools. I’d prefer to see it at the end of Year 4 – in line with the National Curriculum expectations, and I’d want to see more details of the trials, but overall, I can live with it.

Disappointments

Although it hardly gets mentioned, the opening statement that “it is right that the government sets a clear expected standard that pupils should attain by the end of primary school” suggests that the department is not willing to see the end of clunky descriptors like “Expected Standard”. That’s a shame, as the new scaled score system does that perfectly well without labelling in the same way. Hopefully future alternatives to the current Teacher Assessment frameworks might lessen the impact of such terminology.

Credit for whoever managed to get in the important fact that infant/junior and middle schools still exist. (Points deducted for failing to acknowledge first schools in the mix). However, the suggestions proposed are misguided. The consultation claims that,

the most logical measures for infant schools would be reception to key stage 1 and, for middle and junior schools, would be to continue with key stage 1 to key stage 2

While that may be true for infant, and potentially even junior schools, for middle schools this is a nonsense. Some middle schools only start from Year 6. How can it be sensible to judge their work on just 2 terms of a four-year key stage? The logical measure would require bespoke assessments on entry and exit. That would be expensive, so alternatives will be necessary. Personally I favour using just the Reception baseline and KS2 outcomes, along with sensible internal data for infant/first and junior/middle schools. The KS1 results have never been a helpful or reliable indicator.

Partly connected to that, I would also have liked to have seen a clearer commitment to the provision of a national assessment bank, as proposed by the Commission for Assessment without Levels, and supported by the NAHT review. It does get a brief mention in a footnote, so maybe there’s hope for it yet.

In Conclusion

Overall, I’m pleased with the broad shape of the consultation document. It does feel like a shift has happened within the department, and that there is a clear willingness to listen to the profession and correct earlier mistakes. There is as much positive news in the consultation as I might have hoped for.

If there were an interim assessment framework for judging DfE consultations, then this would have ticked nearly all of the boxes. Unfortunately, of course, nearly all is not enough, as any primary teacher knows, and so it must fall to WTS. Seems cruel, but he who lives by the sword…

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6 thoughts on “Some thoughts on the Primary Assessment Consultation

  1. craigwestby 31 March 2017 at 12:49 pm Reply

    A nice summary of your thoughts, Michael.

    EYFS

    I’m pleased to hear that they are looking more closely at the language gap concerning disadvantaged children. It’s a real issue for schools like ours and something we have to give credence to in order for the children to ‘catch up’. The EYFSP taking account of international studies in this area would be a good step in the right direction and would reflect the challenges faced by schools.

    Multiplication Check

    I have also said end of Y4. Looking at the National Curriculum objectives in year 5, many of the objectives heavily rely on strong number knowledge (including x tables) e.g. F.D.P – we spend a whole term alone on this. Children need x tables knowledge in order to solve these types of problems efficiently. A check at the end of Year 4 will not only pinpoint to schools where additional support is needed, but could also be shared with parents to emphasise their importance.

    We do well in national tests but still struggle to get all children in y5 and y6 to learn their x tables.

    My greatest fear has been, and still is KS2 writing.

    Secure-fit is not ‘fit’ for purpose. Best fit can take account of creativity along with grammar and punctuation. I am an advocate for using C.J. for moderation purposes but at the moment, the bigger, underlying issue is honesty (and clarity) when making those high stakes judgements for writing. In fact, I am writing a blog about it at the moment. Are some pupils being given too much support for writing? I would argue ‘yes’. Are some schools being honest with their judgements? I won’t go into too much detail here but I think if you compared a piece writing that a child has written at home to a piece by the same child submitted as evidence for end of ks2 assessment, there would be some irregularities. Until we be really honest as a profession, we can’t truly help children improve.

    • Michael Tidd 31 March 2017 at 4:43 pm Reply

      Couldn’t agree more – on all counts.

  2. […] Some thoughts on the primary assessment consultation, by Michael Tidd […]

  3. daveo81 3 April 2017 at 12:38 pm Reply

    I went for comparative judgement in the survey but from what I understand the process just involves comparing two pieces of writing and judging them against each other. I haven’t used it, but there doesn’t seem to be any element of rating against audience and purpose which I feel are the two most important aspects of a piece of writing. A child might write a brilliant story, but if it was intended for a younger audience and it includes gore and death – have they truly written a good piece of writing? I am wary of any system that suggests it is an “easy” way to assess writing.

  4. Sandy Cameron 19 April 2017 at 5:06 pm Reply

    I fail to see the logic of asking how primary assessment workload can be reduced at the same time as ‘consulting’ on the introduction of the tables check. The only question on this point is not ‘whether’, but ‘when’! The phonics check doesn’t get a mention at all – presumably another Untouchable.

  5. Vicki 22 April 2017 at 3:32 pm Reply

    Completely agree with you about the multiplication check being at the end of Year 4. Year 6 children are overloaded with tests ☹️

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