Bad news to bury worse news

The DfE announced today that it plans to introduce a multiplication tables check in Year 4 – and I’m angry.

I’m not alone in feeling angry it seems, but my reasons are very different than those of so many.  The multiplication check has been government policy for some time, has been moved to Year 4 on the basis of feedback from the profession, and will not form part of the high stakes assessment information that is published every year. Perhaps more importantly, the check focuses on something which is undoubtedly useful for mathematics. It’s a classic case of where teaching to the test is absolutely desirable.

So why the anger?

Well, the DfE also chose today – perhaps not coincidentally – to release the updates to the Teacher Assessment frameworks for KS1 and KS2. So while everyone was getting their knickers in a twist about whether an online check was helpful or harmful, the department managed to quietly sneak out the news that the useless writing assessment procedures we’ve been battling with for nearly three years now are here to stay.

It’s worth remembering that these are the frameworks against which statutory teacher assessments are made. The decisions which have seen wild volatility between and within local authorities, a failed moderation system, huge discrepancies in what is permitted, and a real lack of understanding of the circumstances under which judgements should be made. This is the system we’ll continue to have to use in the years to come.

Notably, the DfE doesn’t trust such judgements for the purposes of setting a baseline for secondary schools. The new progress 8 measure ignores the Writing judgement completely. Yet it will remain an integral part of the high stakes assessment process against which primaries are judged. Schools and school leaders will continue to have to choose between honest, accurate assessment, and playing the system to ensure that schools remain above the floor and coasting standards.

It’s clear from recent years’ results that the system isn’t a fair or useful reflection of how pupils are achieving in schools, and that the high stakes use of the outcomes will unjustly damage schools and careers. It’s obvious to most that the framework offers no sensible judgement on the quality of children’s writing, or their skill as a writer.

Yet here we all are, arguing about whether a 25-minute quiz in Year 4 is the problem.

I can’t help but think that that’s exactly what the DfE hoped for.


5 thoughts on “Bad news to bury worse news

  1. […] 4 Timetables Check is going to be trialed later this year – not really news but, as Michael Tidd points out, it’s a good way to draw people’s attention away from the third announcement. The […]

  2. Richard 16 February 2018 at 9:30 am Reply

    As a question, because I’m a cynic, the multiplication ‘check’ is not part of the high stakes assessment…but neither was the phonics check supposed to be, but that’s made its way into OFSTED, ASP and various places now also…..

  3. Tom Burkard 17 February 2018 at 10:39 am Reply

    Couldn’t agree more with every point you’ve made. But being that ministers and managers must have data–that’s a political reality that ain’t gonna change–how do you think we can produce meaningful data?

  4. Sean Smith 18 February 2018 at 2:16 pm Reply

    Do people realise that the x table test is only going to test multiplication and NOT the associated division facts.

    It seems it never occurred to the 20-something ivory tower DFE Oxbridge graduates that a x-table test should also include division – after all it was called a times table test…duh!

    Which teacher or school has ever only taught and celebrated the multiplication fact whilst ignoring division????

    As with all tests, law of unintended consequences…

    Results reported in ASP, used as measure by OFSTED, examined by governors, pressure passed to HTs, then down the line to teachers and to children and guess what…kids are taught multiplication facts in preference to division facts…

    • Michael Tidd 18 February 2018 at 6:44 pm Reply

      Funnily enough, my column in next week’s TES mentions exactly this.

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