Published on: 05 May 2017

We all need to do everything we can to provide a rich and more informed picture of the whole child – without creating unnecessary burdens.

Creating a well-informed picture of the whole child

This week, the Education Select Committee published its review of the primary assessment system, focusing on the new SATs introduced in 2016 but having interesting things to say about accountability and the potential for a new Reception baseline. The Committee has a Conservative chair and is made up of five Labour MPs, six Conservative MPs and one SNP MP: its role is to scrutinise legislation and policy and to review implementation. The report has some very interesting recommendations, many of which I would agree with and which fit with our approach at GL Assessment.

A meeting this week with a Year 6 teacher in a Stoke-on-Trent school reflected much of what the Committee reported. The report says: ‘... the high stakes system can negatively impact teaching and learning, leading to narrowing of the curriculum and ‘teaching to the test’, as well as affecting teacher and pupil wellbeing.’ The teacher I met said how difficult it had been to avoid stress and that the rigorous focus on spelling was inhibiting very able children from using exciting vocabulary in their writing for fear of making a spelling error. This is surely an unintended consequence of the new assessments. The lack of preparation time – which the Committee notes, too – impacted on the teacher’s ability to ensure that children were well-prepared and they thought that many of the questions appeared to be there to ‘catch children out’. 

NAHT General Secretary Russell Hobby, in his evidence to the Committee, said, ‘Given the importance of loving reading as an outcome of primary school, to have that summed up with a test of reading, which you feel like a failure of, does more harm than all the value of the data that we could collect from that.’ Our teacher told us that it is a struggle to find half an hour a week for her class to visit the school library and choose a book to read for pleasure. Another unintended consequence?

The Committee also has some clear opinions about any second attempt at a Reception baseline. I quote: ‘The Government must conduct a thorough evaluation of potential benefits and harmful consequences of introducing any baseline measure, involving early years experts and practitioners, including impacts on pupil wellbeing and teaching and learning. The primary purpose of a measure of children at age 4 should be a diagnostic tool to help early years practitioners identify individual needs of pupils and should only be carried out through teacher assessment. We welcome the Government’s commitment that no data from a baseline will be used to judge individual pupils or schools.’

I agree wholeheartedly. Assessments that try to do several things end up doing none of them very well. Our child-friendly early years assessments have one clear purpose – they are diagnostic, adding to the teacher’s own understanding of a child, with the goal of ensuring the right support is in place, sooner rather than later.

As the primary assessment consultation continues and the Government considers the full range of submissions post-election, we all need to do everything we can to provide a rich and more informed picture of the whole child – without creating unnecessary burdens.

By Sue Thompson, Senior Publisher, GL Assessment

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