Published on: 26 Sep 2017

After a few turbulent years for primary assessment in England, we welcome the DfE’s efforts to introduce some much-needed stability into the system, although it’s fair to say that there are still a number of questions that need to be answered.

Primary assessment: the unanswered questions

By Hilary Fine, Senior Publisher, GL Assessment

After a few turbulent years for primary assessment in England, we welcome the DfE’s efforts to introduce some much-needed stability into the system. The government’s response to the Primary Assessment Consultation has indeed provided a way forward for assessment in the early years, statutory end of key stage teacher assessment reporting, a multiplication tables check and a review of moderation of writing – although it’s fair to say that there are still a number of questions that need to be answered.

Assessment in the Early Years

While the government is proposing changes to the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP), the intention to develop a new baseline as a statutory assessment from autumn 2020 is the policy attracting the most attention.

Most would agree that if there is a desire to acknowledge the significance of the work schools do with all the children they teach, as well as giving teachers more opportunity to address disadvantage early on, then there is a need to establish a reliable and valid measure of children’s starting points. However, there are serious practical implications that need to be considered when using a Reception baseline as an accountability measure.

One issue that needs to be aired is how schools will be measured in light of pupil mobility. After all, the number of students who move between starting school and the end of primary is not insignificant and this will surely make it very difficult to match up scores. How will the policy work if a child has divided his or her time over two schools? Which school will be considered to have done more?

There’s also the important question of junior and infant schools lacking starting and ending measures respectively; something that the government has yet to reach a solution for.

If the government does opt for a baseline assessment in Reception, we’d like it to take minimal time and cause minimal disruption for teachers and children, using a tool that children are comfortable with and where the children can remain unaware that they are being assessed. Digital assessment does offer some benefits here.

More than this, though, we believe any baseline measure should be more than just a starting point for an accountability measure. If there is any point in teachers conducting a Reception baseline and children doing it, the information gathered needs to have a formative benefit, and we’re pleased that the DfE has recognised this, too.

 Key Stage 2 assessment

Generally, the move to reduce the number of statutory assessments is a good thing. It will reduce the burden on teachers allowing them to concentrate on offering a full, broad and balanced curriculum. But, we need to prevent ourselves from falling into the trap of thinking meeting a threshold measure in English and Maths means that children are ready for secondary school.

Where subjects are concerned, there’s a strong scientific element to the Key Stage 3 curriculum and many acknowledge that it isn’t currently given appropriate weight in Years 5 and Year 6. And of course, school is about much more than what’s taught in lessons.

The DfE has reiterated the need for formative assessment which informs teaching and has a crucial role to play in pupil progress. Yet, there are a number of schools who haven’t fully grasped formative assessment in light of the removal of national curriculum levels.

A trend we’ve seen over recent years is the use of cumbersome tracking tools, which eat up teacher time and provide too much data to be meaningful or helpful in promoting pupil progress. We all therefore need to do a lot more to improve the knowledge and skills to select the appropriate tools and use data in the best possible ways.

In addition, the DfE fell short of suggesting that digital assessment tools may further reduce the burden of administering assessments, statutory or otherwise, even though digital assessments are widely used in the primary sector.  The multiplication tables check will be the DfE’s first primary online assessment, but the DfE has said that it will look at how technology can be utilised to reduce burdens associated with assessment in the future. Teachers and school leaders should do the same. We’re not at outstanding practice yet.

 

 

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