Category Archives: primary

Another damned expectation

I think one of the most useful qualities a headteacher can have is the ability to leave concerns behind at work. It’s never perfect – as I’m sure my family would attest – but if as a class teacher you find it hard to stop thinking about work in the evenings and weekends, then headship will only add to that challenge.

This weekend’s publication of a plan for music education feels like it was deliberately sent to test that ability.

True, you could say: never look at the news at weekends and never check your emails, but it’s not realistic. And so, early on Saturday morning I was presented with yet another document from the DfE telling me I’m failing. For that is how it feels.

Schools are different, so whatever you do, there will always be some school doing something better. Indeed because of the sheer volume of schools, you can usually guarantee that literally anything you do in a school will be done better somewhere. But as a head, so long as you can look at your own school and feel confident that you’re doing everything you can to offer the best deal on your priorities, you can live with that knowledge.

It becomes much harder when the government handpicks a small selection of examples and then tells every school in the land that what was the exemplar is now the expectation. It becomes an impossible task.

A couple of the case study examples in the new music plan talk about £20,000 annual budgets for music education in their schools. I just don’t have that money available. When I looked, half of the schools mentioned receive over £1000 more per pupil than my school: if someone put an extra £300,000 into my school next year, rest assured I’d find £20,000 for music!

Some of the (mostly urban) schools appear to be full, or even over subscribed. If each of my classes of 26 or 27 suddenly became 30, I might have another £60,000 in my budget which could certainly help music provision. But short of attempting to poach children from neighbouring villages or encourage more baby-making locally, there aren’t many options on that front.

None of which is to criticise what those schools achieve. The sharing of their practice is to be welcomed. We can always learn from other schools’ approaches, and can always strive to match those offers. But it’s not a level playing field.

So for government documents to state things like

The case studies included with this plan illustrate how excellent music education is being delivered now across the country within existing school budgets

is at best, unhelpful, and in truth disingenuous. Yet the DfE has chosen to all but insist that schools now create plans to bring their music curriculum up to the standard on offer in those schools.

Or, in fact beyond it. Even in their exemplar schools, not every one of the DfE’s bullet point list is met. Now you might argue that it’s important to be aspirational, but at what point are we setting people up to fail?

Music isn’t the only priority in schools. In the current climate, the massively underfunded need for recovery from the pandemic often tops the list; the near collapse of mental health services places a huge cost on schools both in terms of time and funding; demands for 90% attainment in English and maths will absorb both time and money. And neither of these things are in plentiful supply.

There isn’t a primary head in the land who wouldn’t like to give every child the opportunity to become proficient at piano. But for many, their first priority is ensuring that every child is fed, in a safe home, attending school in the first place, and hopefully mastering the basics that will set them up for their next steps.

None of that will be improved by a music development plan. Yet now school leaders will be forced to take time and money for other priorities to focus on this.

It’s demands like this that make me wonder how long the job is sustainable. Not because I don’t want to improve music education, but because I’m tired of constantly failing.

I’ve failed to get every child to attend school regularly.

I’ve failed to get 90% of my school working at the expected standard in maths.

I’ve failed to provide enough curriculum time for whatever subject Ofsted has lately pronounced upon.

And now I’ve failed to ensure that my school has enough practice rooms for music.

Never mind the fact that it doesn’t have enough space to provide calming spaces for all those children who need them because a special school place can’t be found for them. Never mind the fact that we don’t have enough teaching spaces to deliver decent interventions for those who desperately need to catch up. Never mind the fact that half of school leaders’ time is taken up with plugging the gaps left by failing local authority children’s services.

Now I must write a plan for how I’m going to create new practice rooms. Oh, and remove some teaching time from another subject to make room for more music lessons. Quite which subject they think we’re teaching too much of, I don’t know!

For me, this is the stuff that makes the job intolerable. I don’t mind there being SATs or an inspectorate. I can live with having to balance a challenging budget so long as it’s enough to pay for the basics. I can even cope with being on call on Christmas Eve to fill the gaps in the government’s pandemic strategy. But I’m tired of constantly being told to do more.

It’s exhausting to be told time and again that because one school has managed some accomplishment in some tiny part of their overall role, that we must now all do the same and more “within existing school budgets”.

When my time comes to jack it all in and walk, it won’t be the behaviour, or the parents, or the SATs that push me over the edge: it’ll be another damned expectation.

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Why all the opposition to phonics?

I live on the south coast of England, but occasionally visit family in the Midlands. When we go, we almost always use the motorways as the fastest and most efficient way of getting there. There are downsides to this: they’re not especially scenic, don’t have much variety and certainly don’t entertain the children. But on balance, they’re the best option.

You might say that we choose motorways first and foremost.

Other routes are available. People managed perfectly well to reach the Midlands before motorways existed. Certainly other routes could provide a more varied diet of scenery and stop-offs, but overall, motorways do the job of getting us where we need to be so we can focus on our main goal of enjoyment.

This is the thing with efficient routes: they don’t need to be perfect, just predictably more effective than others.

Enter the phonics debate.

I’m not so interested in the research arguments here, but rather the teacher opposition. Not that any teacher opposes phonics in its entirety; rather there seems to be some considerable opposition to the “first and foremost” or prioritisation of phonics teaching. And some confusion about exclusivity and fidelity.

One of the greatest challenges, I think, is that systematic phonics programmes can be… Well, quite dull to teach. The repetitive structure, the very basic units of knowledge, the limited story vocabulary – none of it is as thrilling as reading We’re Going on a Bear Hunt with an excitable class of five-year-olds. So as a teacher, if you believe that reading good stories is out of fashion because of phonics, then you’d understandably be frustrated, much like most drivers would rather not spend their whole lives on the motorway and never visit a country park.

Of course, whether teachers enjoy teaching sessions is secondary to whether they’re effective for the children learning. It is though, understandable if teachers fear that the joy will be sapped from the role because phonics is all that’s permitted.

But that’s eminently not what any proponent of phonics or the DfE or Ofsted have ever proposed. The DfE’s reading framework clearly prioritises reading aloud from great literature, sharing stories and developing comprehension. All of these things are needed in addition to phonics, and any suggestion that they’re forced out is a failing of individual schools or teachers.

None of this makes the phonics teaching any more thrilling for the teacher, any more than I might revel in travelling up the M1. But in combination with other engaging activities the motorway still remains the most obvious route.

But other routes are available

I’ve been told this a lot this week: other strategies exist, other strategies work, some children struggle with phonics, children learnt to read “before” phonics etc. (As though phonics were invented in the 1990s as opposed to being are the very heart of how our writing system works).

Well, the A1 exists, but it would take unusual circumstances for me to choose it as my route North. That’s not to say it never happens. From a very small part of the world, the A1 makes sense, but you can guarantee that the vast majority benefit from the motorways. Indeed, highways planners increasingly make the A1 more like a motorway for good reason.

Equally, many people struggle to access a motorway as first, but that doesn’t mean we just say motorways don’t work for them. You can guarantee that even if they start on a bumpy farm track, for most long-distance travelling they’ll still aim for a motorway.

So yes, there are special circumstances where phonics doesn’t lead to reading mastery straight away, but that isn’t good grounds for abandoning it long term. And in a few exceptional cases, phonics teaching might not serve a few individuals, but that’s true of all teaching: we don’t abandon the effective routes for all, but rather provide the additional support for those who need it.

But children learnt to read before phonics.

Well, not in English they didn’t. Our whole writing system is predicated on the principle of written symbols representing sounds. Sure, it’s inefficient with all its duplication and variation, but I don’t see anyone seriously proposing a change to orthography, so it’s what we’re stuck with.

What people usually mean was that children learnt to read before phonics teaching was so heavily pushed, and that is certainly true. But then, people got to Nottingham before the M1 existed: this isn’t a good reason to eschew motorways now.

But Ofsted say you have to use phonics alone

No, they don’t.

No, really, they don’t. There are a couple of really clear statements in the handbook about how judgements are reached, including considering how:

  • staff develop children’s love of reading through reading aloud and telling stories and rhymes
  • stories, poems, rhymes and non-fiction are chosen for reading to develop pupils’ vocabulary, language comprehension and love of reading. Pupils are familiar with and enjoy listening to a wide range of stories, poems, rhymes and non-fiction

Comprehension and reading for enjoyment are also central to the National Curriculum, so failure to address those elements would be unlawful for most primary schools.

What people say here is often based on either misunderstanding or – more often – being misinformed.

What is clear is that ofsted do expect a clear structured programme for phonics. Not necessarily a bought-in one, but not a jumble of schemes. That doesn’t mean you can’t use your own resources, or even a combination of resources – but that needs great care. But what does this “fidelity” argument really mean?

Nowhere does anything say you most follow one scheme and do nothing else. But equally, it is clear that we mustn’t muddle things. It’s no good teaching children the Read, Write, Inc sequence of correspondences (that starts with m, a, s, t, d) if you then use a set of early reading books that follow the Letters and Sounds that introduces s, a, t, p first.

And of course it makes sense that the books we give children to read independently are those which contain the sounds the know. Just as any parent would rightly be frustrated if the Y5 teacher sent home algebra homework without ever teaching the skills in maths lessons. That’s not to say that children must read only tedious ditties based on limited letters – far from it. They should have plenty of opportunities for sharing great stories; we just wouldn’t expect them to read them independently.

The issues raised in ofsted reports are not criticising schools for letting children see good books, but those who fail to ensure that they’re not being set up to fail by being asked to read books independently which are beyond their ken – or not giving them any opportunity to read independently at all.

Equally, if schools are properly providing decodable books, then teaching multi-cueing strategies in unnecessary as much as it is unhelpful. After all, my SatNav doesn’t tell me about traffic on the A1 as I fly past Watford Gap services.

But the phonics check

I’m indifferent here. It probably served a purpose in moving schools towards phonics, I suspect it’s outlived its usefulness in guiding behaviour now, other than to have more unhelpful effects (like making people teach alien words). But it’s perfectly possibly to oppose the check without having to abandon the approach to phonics altogether.

So where’s the disagreement?

As far as I can tell, nobody is arguing that we shouldn’t teach phonics.

Nobody is suggesting that phonics isn’t integral to reading.

Nobody has said that children shouldn’t be introduced to great books or poetry.

Nobody has forced schools to buy anything.

Nobody has said that phonics is the golden bullet for all children.

So rather like the motorway to the Midlands, don’t we all agree that first and foremost makes sense?

Primary Curriculum Timetabling

As I look to timetabling in the new school year, I reflected on the work Tom Sherrington did a few years ago about secondary timetables. Unfortunately, the primary curriculum timetable is not so easy to analyse, given that very few schools stick to a simple programme of x lessons of equal length per day, and few teach every lesson every week – or even every fortnight, as would be common in secondary.

Because of this, it’s much harder to get a sense of how much time schools are giving over to each subject, particularly given the changes of recent years and those on the horizon. So, I set out to try to find out as much as I could, through another of my Google surveys.

It’s impossible to present all of that information tidily, since every school’s situation is unique, but here I’ve tried to draw out some key things.

Weekly subject hours

Different schools take different approaches. Three different schools might offer 36 hours of Art each year, with one offering a weekly 1-hour lesson, another having two hours every other week, with a third having two-hour lessons every week, but only every other half-term. Yet another might mainly use Art days each term to reach its quota. So we’re not comparing like with like, here, but the table below attempts to show the average number of hours taught for each subject if evened out over 36 weeks of term (allowing a couple of weeks for being off-timetable) – all rounded to the nearest 5 minutes.

averagenctime.png
I don’t imagine anyone being massively surprised by any of those figures, but it certainly gives an indication of the narrowing of the primary curriculum. When the QCA last recommended teaching hours in 2002, it suggested an average of 55 minutes a week for the majority of foundation subjects. We’re now struggling to get above 30 for Geography!

 

Perhaps more surprising is the fact that although there is more time given to the tested subjects in Year 6, the decline in ‘breadth’ is not huge. It seems that the curriculum is fairly limited across the whole of primary.rangeThe greatest breadth in curriculum, at least in timetable terms, appears to be in Year 3.

Regularity

Some years ago there was a clear government target for primary pupils to have at least 2 hours of timetabled PE each week. It seems that the target has achieved something, as it is the only foundation subject which has ended up with significantly more than its previously recommended amount (which was 1 hour 15 minutes in 2002). It’s also one of the few subjects with weekly slots, with 98% of responses saying they taught PE every week, with nearly 90% having more than 90 minutes of PE each week.

pe

The only subject that comes close to regular weekly slots is Science, with around 2/3 of respondents saying they taught Science every week.

science

At the other end of the scale, Design & Technology is very rarely taught on a weekly schedule. This is perhaps not surprising given the amount of resource required for the subject. Nearly a third of schools appear to use standalone days each term or half-term for the subject instead:

dt.png

Exceptional Cases

I didn’t collect exact data, but only in categories, so of those schools who said they had 7½ or more hours each week of English or Maths, I could only count the 7½ hours. In the end, more than half of responses (52%) gave an answer of 7½ hours a week or more for English. It seems, therefore, if anything that the above are under-estimates of the time given over t o English.

Only about 10% of schools gave a similarly high answer for Maths, but this is still quite a significant number. Those figures rise to 57% and 16% each for pupils in Year 6.

At the other end of the scale, approximately 5% of responses said that they gave over no time to PSHE. The subject is not yet statutory, so presumably that figure will fall over the coming year or two. Around 4% of responses said they taught no Computing at all; I wonder if that’s more a confidence issue than a planned decision. Who knows?

 

 

Multiplication Tables Check Comparison Data

As ever with such things, it is important to point out that this data is not a scientific sample, has not been verified, and could be completely meaningless. However, in the absence of any comparative data from the DfE, it is an attempt to give some vague indication of the national picture of schools that took part in the MTC sample.

At the time of writing, some 211 sets of data had been submitted to the open spreadsheet online. Because it’s an open spreadsheet, there’s no guarantee that it doesn’t have errors, or that some data hasn’t been damaged, or even completely made up. With that in mind, I have completed some very simple calculations based on the data to give some idea of indicative figures.

Overall Averages

The mean average of all pupils’ results was 18.4

The mean average of all schools’ averages was also 18.4

The following table shows the approximate cut-off points when comparing schools’ averages, to place schools into bands.

bands

Perfect Scores

There was talk at one point of full marks being the expect threshold. It’s no longer clear that this is the case, or even that there will be a pass mark of any sort at all, but within the sample:

Overall proportion scoring 25/25: 17.4%

Bands for proportion scoring 25/25:

bands2

Pupil Scores

More pupils did score full marks than any other individual score, with scores clearly more likely to be at the top end of the scale.

scores.png

School Averages

The majority of schools had an average score of between 16 and 20

scores2

Does any of this mean anything? Not really… it’s a tiny sample from a voluntary pilot of a new test with no clear expectations hastily compiled from questionable data. But some of it is at least slightly interesting.

Annual reporting to parents – our approach

Having shared our annual report template with a few interested teachers, I thought it was worth sharing the main template more widely. If you’re not interested in reading about it, then feel free to scroll to the bottom just to download the template… I’ll never know 🙂

It’s always struck me as odd that we seem to have contradictory wisdom about the main forms of report to parents. New teachers are always told that there should be “no surprises” at a parents evening. If children are falling behind, or misbehaving, or perhaps failing to complete homework, then parents should already know this rather than finding out in their 10-minute slot.

Why is it then, so many seem to presume the opposite for report-writing, as though parents know nothing of their child’s learning and so need everything spelling out in detail? In truth, most parents receive broadly similar reports year after year, because children don’t change that much.

The need to fill extra lines of content means either repeating the banal detail of what has been taught (regardless of how well it has been learned), or of trying to find minutiae to discuss.

So, when it came to re-working the report template for my current school, I had a few things in mind:

  • I wanted to minimise the amount teachers have to write, while leaving room for comments about the important personal & social detail (the bit parents are really interested in!)
  • I wanted to be clear about where children met – or failed to meet – expectations, and to set clear expectations for excellence.
  • I wanted to give an opportunity to reflect on attainment in all subjects.

So, our report is made up of a number of sections (after the introductory statement):


comment

This is clearly the most important part of the report, not least because this is the section memories are made of. In my school I do ask teachers to write a comment which incorporates the personal/social elements as well as some reference to attainment in the key subjects of English & Maths. It’s also the place to add in detail about any particular skill or expertise in other subject areas.
The whole box takes up to 10 lines – roughly 180 words max.


subject

The subject attainment section is very brief in terms of outcomes, but quite clear for parents. I’m not a fan of the vocabulary of ‘Greater Depth’, but given its use in the statutory assessments, it seems to make sense to use it consistently across the school. Invariably these descriptors are not a great surprise to parents (mine, for example, were never going to expect me to achieve great things in PE!), but where they do highlight something, then parents can of course raise that at the open afternoon that follows shortly after reports are issued.


pre

This section is something I brought with me from a previous school, and we had taken the idea from another school – so if your Nottinghamshire school was the originator, do let me know!
I like it because it’s a clear at-a-glance indicator of key areas of interest, including attendance which can sometimes come as a surprise to parents. I also like the clarity that “Good” is good, but that to be exceptional is, well, exceptional.


end

There is no doubt that adding a pupil comment creates additional work. I like to keep it as much because I think it’s something for pupils and families to look back on in years to come as it is an insight into their current achievements. It’s also a useful reflective opportunity for older pupils. (Pupils don’t see the rest of the report first; juniors type their entries and they get added electronically; infants write on smaller sheets of paper which are pasted in to the template – achievable in a 1fe school).

As for the targets, I don’t expect anything in-depth or insightful. For most children’s it’s at least one English and one maths target, often linked to key skills that can be practised at home, such as number bonds, key word spellings or regular reading. There might also be a personal/social target if appropriate, or behaviour in some cases. As I say to my staff, though, sometimes it’s also appropriate to put a target that just says “keep up the great work!”


htcomm

I do manage a headteacher comment for every pupil, but as we only have 200 that’s perhaps more manageable than in some schools. (I haven’t pointed out to my staff that this means I actually write more for reports than any one teacher; I’m not sure the point would go down to well given all the other demands on them!)


Presenting the report

I’m always conscious that school reports are often kept for years, if not generations, and try to present them accordingly. Our template is set up as a 4-page document, which we print onto A3 white card and fold into A4 size. The front cover consists mainly of the large (attractive) logo and pupil name, and the back cover is pretty blank, but I think it makes the whole thing look a whole lot nicer.

As a school, we also currently track Key Performance Indicators in key subjects across the year, and so printed those out to accompany the report last year. I may take soundings from parents this year to see if they value that level of detail; I’m not clear that they would.

I also include a covering letter with reply slip. In theory this helps us to track receipt, but more importantly I hope it gives parents an opportunity to send positive responses and thanks to teachers which they might not otherwise have the opportunity to convey. I still keep some report reply slips from my teaching days – and I ditch others!


The Template

Well done if you read this far. No credit if you just skipped my words of wisdom. I have stripped out the school-specific content from the template (logos, etc.) and uploaded a version here which you are welcome to download, adopt, edit and re-share as you wish. No need to add any credit on the report (it’d look odd for a start!), but I’d be glad to hear if you found it useful.

Okay, I’ll stop… just download the Report Template!

On the importance of vocabulary

Just a quick blog, inspired by this much more detailed and challenging one by Solomon Kingsnorth:

I think he has a point about the importance of vocabulary, and it’s something we can easily underestimate. It’s also something we can worry that we’ll never be able to resolve, because there’s no way of knowing what vocabulary will come up in any given text or test.

So I took a look at this year’s KS2 Reading test paper and tried to identify some of the vocabulary required to answer each question. It’s not every word in the texts, but it’s also not just the case of the 10 marks theoretically set aside for vocabulary. In fact, I think there were 80 or more examples of vocabulary which might not have been met by pupils who don’t read regularly:

Q1 approximately, survive
Q2 disguise
Q3 razor-like, powerful
Q4 majority
Q5 develops, newborn
Q6 hibernate
Q7 captivity, territory
Q8 puzzling
Q9 vital, essential
Q10 extinction, survive, supplies, diminishing, poaching, territory
Q11 adopt, reserve
Q12 challenge
Q13  
Q14  
Q15 fascinating,
Q16 protective, enfold
Q17 punished
Q18 mountainous, praised, lavishly
Q19 wounded, lame, circumstance
Q20 seized
Q21  
Q22 vividly recall
Q23 frail, hobbled
Q24 hobbled, hesitate, peered
Q25  
Q26 lit up
Q27 amusing, shocking, puzzling, comforting
Q28 arrives, injured
Q29 verses
Q30 suggests, bothered, basins, smelt
Q31 lifeless, ancestors
Q32 guardian
Q33 devices (left to my own devices)
Q34 recesses
Q35 dawned (dawned on me)
Q36 assorted, debris, network, grime
Q37 detemination, thorough
Q38 impression, evidence, frightening, intensity, cautiously
Q39 justice, efforts
Q40 inspect, fashioned, ought

The only questions that are counted as vocabulary marks are the 10 written in italics. And all those ones in bold? They’re listed as inference questions in the mark schemes. The challenge of inference is often about interpreting complex language as much as it is about guessing what the writer intended.

Perhaps more importantly, very few of those words are technically specific to the texts they appeared in. Even in the case of the non-fiction text about pandas, much of the apparently technical vocabulary is applicable to plenty of other contexts that children meet in the course of the curriculum.

The link here to ‘tier two’ vocabulary is clear: there is plenty of vocabulary here that would come up in a number of different contexts, both through fiction and non-fiction reading.

Which rather makes me think that Solomon is on to something important: a significant part of teaching reading is about getting them reading and reading to them.

What is a “particular weakness” anyway?

In DfE terms, it’s early days for being able to make decisions about KS2 Writing outcomes. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that we were reaching February without any exemplification at all, so for the STA to have released its “particular weakness” scenarios as early as mid-January is progress!

However, publishing the materials is one thing. Providing the clarity that a high stakes statutory assessment process dearly needs is quite another. The example scenarios offer some insight into the thinking at the STA about this new ‘flexibility’, but seem to have deliberately skirted round the key issues that keep coming up, such as dyslexia!

In an effort to get a sense of the interpretations out there, I put together some very brief scenarios of my own, and asked Y6 teachers to say whether or not they thought such pupils would be awarded the expected standard. And as I feared, there is a real lack of clarity about. The six example scenarios follow, accompanied by the pie charts showing decisions. In each case, the blue represents those who would award EXS (based on a sample of 668 responses)

Scenario 1

graph1

77% award EXS

Edith has shown herself to be a fluent and confident writer. She adapts her writing for a variety of purposes, and in many cases has evidence of elements of working at Greater Depth. However, there are no examples of the passive voice used in any of her writing, except through planned tasks.

Scenario 2

graph2

67% award EXS

Beowulf is a good writer, who meets almost all of the requirements for EXS. However, he has been identified as being at high risk of dyslexia. In his writing he has shown that he can use some of the Y5/6 words accurately. However, he struggles with some of the regular spelling patterns from the curriculum, and his work contains several errors, particularly for the more complex patterns.

Scenario 3

graph3

36% award EXS

Ethelred writes effectively for a range of audiences and purposes, with sound grammatical accuracy. He uses inverted commas correctly to mark speech, but does not yet consistently include punctuation within the inverted commas.

Scenario 4

graph4

71% award EXS

Boudicca writes well, showing an interesting range of language, sentence type and punctuation. However, she has developed a largely un-joined style of writing, which although clearly legible does not include the usual diagonal or horizontal strokes.

Scenario 5

graph5

55% award EXS

Cleopatra is a confident writer, who shows good grasp of technical aspects and a beautiful joined style of writing. She enjoys writing fiction and can develop good plot, with writing that flows well. However, in non-fiction texts she is not always able to use the cohesive devices that enable cohesion between paragraphs. There are some examples of stock phrases used (On the other hand, Another reason, etc.) when writing in a formal style, but these are not consistent across the non-fiction texts she writes

Scenario 6

 

graph6

92% award EXS

Englebert is a technically sound writer. He is able to adapt writing for fiction and non-fiction purposes and uses a variety of language and punctuation techniques. His spelling of common patterns is generally good. However, there are a number of examples of words from the Y5/6 lists which are mis-spelt in his writing generally. His teacher has shown that he could spell these words correctly when tested in the context of dictated sentences throughout the year.

 

Notably, all but one of the results were within 5 percentage points of the figures above when looking only at those who said they had had some training provided on this topic. The biggest difference came for scenario 4 (handwriting) where only 61% of those who said they’d been trained would award EXS compared to 71% of the full sample.

 

It’s hard to say what I expected when I set up these little scenarios. I certainly don’t know what any “correct” responses might be. I think I imagined that some would be fairly evenly split – as with the case of Cleopatra’s weak use of cohesive devices.

Scenario 6 has genuinely surprised me. I don’t know what a moderator would say, but my fear about dictated sentences would be that children could easily be tested on a handful of words each week, learned for Friday’s test, and then quickly forgotten. Is that sufficient to say they can spell at the Expected Standard? Who knows? (That’s not to say that I think ‘no’ is the correct answer either; I’m not persuaded that the importance of spelling those particular words is as great as the system might suggest).

I’m equally surprised at scenario 3. Is it really right that speech punctuation is so so important that 2/3 of teachers would deny a pupil an EXS judgement on this alone – even when so many are happy to overlook spelling or handwriting failures?

As I say – I don’t have any answers. If any moderator – or perhaps an STA representative would like to give a definitive response, I’d be glad of it. I suspect that as close as we’d get to an official answer is that a moderator would have more evidence upon which to make a decision. Which is all well and good. For the 3-4% of pupils whose work gets moderated. For everyone else, we have to hope that teachers have got it right. And judging by these results, that’s not that easy!

Writing Moderation materials

Just a quick post to share the moderation support materials that were shared by the STA today. For some reason, they have only been shared via the password-protected NCA Tools website. However, there is no indication that they should be maintained under any conditions of secrecy, and no indication that they are not covered by the usual Crown Copyright rules… so here they are:

KS1_standardisation_training_presentation_1

KS1_teacher_assessment_moderation_training_pack_1

KS2_standardisation_training_presentation_1

KS2_teacher_assessment_moderation_training_pack_1

The presentations include clarifications about some of the criteria included in the assessment frameworks.

The moderation training packs include the examples that are meant to help illustrate what counts as an exception when you want to overlook one of the criteria.

See if you find it at all helpful…

National Curriculum test videos

With the introduction of the new style National Curriculum tests in 2016, I made some short informative videos for parents about each set of tests. Since then, I’ve updated then each year to reflect changes such as this year’s timetable changes at KS2. The videos last around 5 minutes and are ideal for sharing on school websites, twitter feeds, facebook pages, etc.

To help schools use them most effectively, I have provided links below in each of the main formats so they can easily be shared. Please feel free to share or download the videos and use them for your school:

Key Stage 2 tests

youtube facebookicon Twit mp4icon
YouTube Facebook Twitter MP4 download

Key Stage 1 tests – including Grammar, Punctuation & Spelling

 

youtube facebookicon Twit mp4icon
YouTube Facebook Twitter MP4 download

Key Stage 1 tests – without GPS

youtube facebookicon Twit mp4icon
YouTube Facebook Twitter MP4 download

Primary Assessment changes… again!

First of all, let me say that I’m pleased that primary assessment is changing again, because it’s been a disaster in so many ways. So here is a summary of the changes at each key stage – with my thoughts about each.

Early Years Foundation Stage Profile

  • The EYFS Profile will stay, but will be updated to bring it into line with the new national curriculum and take account of current knowledge & research. I’ve never been a huge fan of the profile, but I know most EY practitioners have been, so that seems a sensible move.
  • A proposed change to reduce the number of reported Early Learning Goals to focus on prime areas and Literacy/Maths
  • The ’emerging’ band may be divided to offer greater clarity of information particularly for lower-attaining pupils.
  • An advisory panel will be set up to advise on changes to the profile and ELGs. Membership of that could be contentious

Reception Baseline

  • New Reception baseline to be introduced from 2020 (with proper trialling beforehand this time, one presumes!) to take place in the first 6 weeks of school.
  • Won’t be a ‘test’, but also won’t be observational over time. Suspect something more like the current CEM model, perhaps?
  • Will focus on literacy & numeracy, and potentially a ‘self-regulation’ element, as good predictors for attainment in KS2
  • Data won’t be used for any judgements about Reception, but will be used at cohort level to judge progress by the end of KS2.
  • The intention is for the assessment to provide some narrative formative information about children’s next steps.

Key Stage 1

  • The KS1 Grammar, Punctuation & Spelling test will remain optional.
  • Statutory Assessment will remain until at least 2023 (to allow for a year of overlap with the first cohort to be assessed using Reception baseline).
  • A new framework for Teacher Assessment of Writing has been published for this year only. Exemplification will follow this term.
  • DfE will continue to make assessments available (perhaps through an assessment bank if that ever gets off the ground!) after 2023, to help schools to benchmark attainment.
  • After 2023, tests and statutory teacher assessment will become optional for through primary schools.
  • There is more work to be done to find a system which works well for infant/junior and first/middle schools. This will be done with those in the sectors.

Key Stage 2

  • A multiplication check will be introduced at the end of Year 4. (Although, of course, whether the end means July or May remains to be seen).
  • School-level data on the multiplication check won’t be published.
  • This will be the last year that teachers have to make Teacher Assessment judgements for Reading and Maths
  • A new framework for Teacher Assessment of Writing has been published for this year only. Exemplification will follow this term.
  • DfE will continue to evaluate other options for the future, but not really committing to anything yet.
  • Small trials of peer-to-peer moderation will take place this summer.
  • Science Teacher Assessment frameworks will be updated next year.
  • The Reading test will not be timetabled for Monday of SATs week any more (hurrah!)
  • The DfE aims to link the reading content of the tests more closely to the curriculum to ensure children are drawing on their knowledge.

My thoughts

Overall, I’m pleased. Most of these changes are to be welcomed. The Reception baseline is a sensible idea (just a shame it was so badly implemented the first time round), as is scrapping KS1 assessments. The Early Years changes seem reasonable given the popularity of the current setup. The improvements to the KS2 Reading test are positive, as is the removal of pointless Teacher Assessment judgements.

On Writing, I fear we haven’t gone far enough. The current system is a joke, and it seems like the interim solution we’ll have to replace the old interim solution will just aim to make it less awful without really fixing the problem. It’s a shame that there is no obvious answer on the horizon. Perhaps the department has had its fingers burnt by rushing into quick fixes in the past and is prepared to bide its time.

In the interim, the updated expectations for Writing seem more manageable both in terms of achieving and assessing them. Of course, the devil is in the detail. If we get another exemplification book that breaks down single statements into several tick-boxes then we may be back at square one. Equally, of course, we can expect proportions of pupils meeting the expected standard to rise again substantially this year. Surely we have to be honest now and say that we really cannot use this data for accountability purposes? Mind you, perhaps it won’t matter – if we’re all getting 90% in Writing, it’ll only be the tested subjects that will make a difference to the accountability!

There are some other changes I would have liked to have seen. I really don’t think the “expected standard” label is helpful, particularly in subjects where scaled scores are used; it’s a shame we’ve not seen the back of that.

We’re not out of the woods yet. But we’re heading in the right direction, and credit is due to those at the department for listening. Let’s just hope they keep listening until we all get it right.