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First responses to the DfE consultation document, Primary Assessment in England

Members of More than a Score give their reaction to the government’s proposals

Madeleine Holt, Rescue our Schools.

“Rescue Our Schools thinks Justine Greening needs to keep on listening.  If, as she claims, she wants a primary assessment system which parents and teachers can trust, then her priority must be to take their concerns seriously and act on them.

That means changing the whole framework of assessment, so tests genuinely help children’s learning. At the moment they are  too often age-inappropriate and they stress teachers and children in equal measure. They are leading to schools teaching to the test to the detriment of education.

Nothing will change unless the government breaks the link between scores and accountability. As for baseline, it is utterly inappropriate developmentally to ‘test’ four and five year olds. It will be nothing more than a divisive judgement on parenting which will make some children feel like failures from the moment they start school.”

Wendy Ellyatt, Chief Executive, Save Childhood Movement

“The Save Childhood Movement (SCM) is committed to ensuring that the best interests of the child lie at the heart of educational policymaking. Although we welcome genuine and open consultation in this very important area, we will continue to contest any system that 1) ignores the vastly different backgrounds that young children start from 2) imposes statistically invalid forms of assessment 3) labels and limits children in ways that compromise their natural learning motivations 4) prioritises literacy and numeracy over the importance of social and emotional development and 5) negatively impacts on young children’s dispositions and capacities as joyful lifelong learners.

The most successful countries balance the importance of academic achievement with that of social and emotional intelligence, in recognition of the fact that it is the development of the whole child that is crucial if students are to prosper in a 21st century world. We very much hope that the consultation will herald in a new era where this is fully acknowledged and acted upon.”

Alison Roy, Association of Child Psychotherapists

“We welcome the consultation and ending Key Stage 1 Sats, although 2020 seems too far away if the formal tests are proving to be emotionally damaging for children. There also needs to be more thinking about how to assess children’s development and learning needs, in a way which facilitates a greater understanding of how to improve their learning environments and their overall experience of primary education, not in order to create labels of pass or fail for them or their schools, further down the line.

We would not support any kind of intense scrutiny of academic potential and falsely generated expected targets/grades for young children – be it through tests or teaching assessment, as developmentally it would not be possible to know what they are capable of achieving and that level of scrutiny as opposed to thoughtful understanding could well be restrictive and emotionally harmful to them. What we do know is that children are better able to think and therefore more likely to thrive when they feel secure and supported to explore and make their own discoveries.”

Robin Duckett, Sightlines Initiative

“Changes that reduce the testing at one stage would place greater pressure on others, particularly early years children and their teachers, and the options on the testing of times tables is simply what year the tests should be administered, not whether they’re a waste of time and money.

We seem to be stuck between a rock and a hard place. The greater question of whether a regime of testing of this magnitude is ethically legitimate, given its impact on children, is given scant consideration.

We seem to be faced with the introduction of a new baseline regime or more detailed and specific criteria in reading, writing and maths at the end of Reception ( the very idea fills me with horror), no relief from the phonics check, mad as it is. There will possibly be some downscaling at the end of KS1 but at the expense of the younger children. Even then, schools would still be given the KS1 SATs as optional – and so many do other optional standardised commercial tests they’d probably use them anyway.

Reduction of teacher workload would occur through opting not to have teacher assessments rather than disposing of the standardised tests at 11.

This isn’t a consultation that gives us an option of addressing why school accountability is so massively predicated on an obsession with national testing and whether we need real and meaningful change in approach rather than more tinkering with an obsolete and failing system.”

The More Than a Score Alternative for Primary Assessment

Assessment – what we stand for. A Summary

Assessment: the alternative

The Government remains committed to the present system, even though its flaws are widely recognised: it narrows the curriculum, demotivates learners, greatly adds to teacher workload, and in some cases has serious effects on pupils’ mental health.

Drawing from international experience and research findings, More Than a Score has produced its alternative – an alternative that shows how assessment can support learning, and underpin a high quality system of primary education, without the negative effects of present arrangements.

Kevin Courtney, General Secretary of the NUT:

“Our current system of primary assessment is in urgent need of reform. In summer 2016 nearly half the 11 year olds in the country were told they weren’t ready for secondary school. That wasn’t true – but it was deeply damaging. It’s a peculiarity of the English system that, despite the number of tests children face, none of them test how well the Government is doing at supporting learning. Testing random samples of pupils – random so the children won’t be crammed – will give a much truer picture of our education system.”

Madeleine Holt, Rescue Our Schools:

“It is easy to think that all countries put young children through high-stakes testing: they don’t. Parents need to know that England stands out for its punitive testing regime. Nor do the most successful education systems link scores with judging schools. More than a Score’s assessment alternatives rightly break the link between scores and accountability.”

David Reedy, United Kingdom Literacy Association:

“UKLA believes that the prime purpose of assessment should be to improve children’s learning. There is considerable evidence that the tests in Y2 and Y6 give a narrow and distorting view of progress in reading and writing and in what it means to be literate in the 21st Century. The changes advocated by More Than A Score would result in a more holistic approach to assessment across the curriculum, and provide a more valid assessment of pupils’ progress and achievement. UKLA strongly supports this campaign for a fundamental review of current primary school assessment in England and the UK.”

Alison Roy, Association of Child Psychotherapists:

“We want to see assessment which involves parents and teachers working and thinking together about how to achieve the best possible outcomes – an assessment which supports a broad curriculum, enabling children to find out what they are, or can be good at and allowing every child to gain a sense of achievement.”

“Experience, backed up by research, indicates that children who are happy and emotionally secure will be more resilient and much more likely to succeed academically. They will also be much less likely to exhibit challenging and antisocial behaviours, or drop out of the school system completely.”

“As child mental health specialists, we are supporting the MTAS campaign and we are joining with the many parents, teachers, researchers and specialists who are calling for this change.”

Nancy Stewart, TACTYC, Association for Professional Development in Early Years:

“Teachers’ constant assessment – noticing what children understand and can do as they observe and interact – is crucial to providing the best support for learning.  This is quite different from external imposed testing which measures a narrow range of items out of meaningful contexts.  Good gardeners provide young plants with attentive care and the best conditions for growth; they do not keep pulling them up to measure their roots.”

 

An old and professional alternative to the present system

Author: Emeritus Professor Michael Bassey

Today’s political discussions of education assume that imposing a fact-heavy national curriculum and rigorous testing will raise the standard of education. Those of us who were active in primary schools before the 1988 Education Act should speak out and demonstrate that there were excellent teachers guided by their professionalism long before the politicians made their forays.

As a young tutor at Trent Polytechnic, Nottingham, in what we then called ‘teacher education’ not training’, coupled with a research brief, I set out to encapsulate good practice in local primary schools. The resulting report Nine Hundred Primary School Teachers (1978) described the results of a massive study of classrooms carried out with a team of 30 research assistants. Lady Plowden, in her Foreword, wrote:

‘This most comprehensive report on the practices of primary education in Nottinghamshire gives a great deal of information about the day by day work of a large number of teachers. … There does not seem to be any danger of the schools in Nottinghamshire moving into the so-called ‘progressive methods’ in which ‘children do as they please’. … I believe that a national survey would similarly show that throughout the country teachers are in general responsibly structuring children’s experience in the classroom.’

I also made several detailed case studies of different classroom routines, three of them republished in Case Study Research in Educational Settings (1999). These case studies illustrate: ‘that before the Education Reform Act of 1988 and the subsequent and continuing interference of the state in classrooms, there were dedicated and competent teachers fully committed to the needs of the children in their care who were quite able to work effectively without official monitoring and state harassment.’

Extracts from one study illustrate why I was, and still am, polemical about the ‘state harassment’ of primary schools. The class teacher, Mrs W, aged 29, had been teaching for 8 years. There were 30 children aged 5 to 6 in her class. She worked to ‘the integrated day’. It was Monday 3rd February 1975.

By 9.15 the children had arrived in class, taken coats off, some chatted briefly with Mrs W, others looked at the plants which had grown from seeds sown last week, all answered to the register, paid their dinner money and sat quietly on the carpet. Mrs W sat on her rocking chair by the carpet, the children turned towards her and for ten minutes they discussed what had come from the seeds.

Gerbil and budgie food had produced long green shoots like thick grass, but the tomato, apple and orange pips had produced nothing. A potato kept in the dark was examined; beans in jam jars had made some shoots and two onions had produced long roots and the water smelt strongly.

A couple of minutes were spent revising work on the calendar and then, at 9.29, Mrs W stood and within three minutes had organised the children’s work for the morning. Four children would work on Our Book of Faces; another four would start making shapes with clay; the ‘big children’ had special work books and Michelle got hers that day.

“I want to hear the boys read today. So, Mark and Simon get your books out first and sit in the corner. Just sit down until everybody else is busy. Now don’t forget, everybody. You’ve got some writing to do and you’ve got some number work to do. Best thing is not to leave it all till the afternoon. Plan your day and decide when you are going to do it. Right, everybody busy please.”

The children moved quickly. There was a rush for the Wendy corner, but only four stayed – they knew the rule of how many.

For 45 minutes the children were all busy, individually or in groups. In the Wendy corner they were playing co-operatively in response to what looked like giant’s feet coming through the ceiling. Four were cutting faces out of magazines, pasting them into the book and discussing it.

Of the clay children one made a coiled pot, one a ‘footballer’ from rolled pieces laid flat, the other two made patterns. Ten children sat at the ‘writing tables’, some writing about dinosaurs, others about the plants growing from their seeds (at various levels from tracing letters to writing using their own word books), others were responding to number work cards (made by Mrs W) like

“You have 6 sweets and you eat 3. How many are left?” Another four were building something with bricks, and two were in the reading corner. I missed what the others were doing – but I’m sure Mrs W knew!

During this time she: ‘heard boys read, responded to children who queued for help with writing or to show completed writing or number work (entered in her ‘tick’ book) and moved around the room to help here, encouraged there, resolved a quarrel, etc.’

There is not space to describe the rest of the day nor how Mrs W organised number work, writing and reading. But this is evidence that her concern was for the ‘whole’ child, and that this was appropriately assessed:

‘Each half-term Mrs W makes notes on each child’s emotional and social development and puts in their record scrapbook a sample of their written work and number work. She also keeps in diary form the major events of the half-term: the interests that arose, how they developed and what they led to.’

Rather than destroy all this, the political task should have been to find ways of bringing all teachers to this high level of professional excellence. This required a recognition that, beyond the traditional 3 Rs, there should be, as Mrs W knew, concern for the emotional, social, creative and physical all-round development of every child.

Emeritus Professor Michael Bassey

Nottingham Trent University

This piece originally appeared in the NUT/ Reclaiming Schools publication The Mismeasurement of Learning. You can order a free copy by contacting primary@nut.org.uk

You can book free tickets to the launch of the More Than a Score alternative for primary assessment here.

Assessment, alopecia and the alternative

Primary Assessment Conference, More Than A Score Conference, Institute of Child Health, London.

Author:  Katie, a classroom teacher from the South of England

Once upon a time, I was interviewed for a teaching position.  I remember the head teacher asking me what I thought about SATs.  I spent some time decrying the whole assessment and accountability regime which had been imposed on primary schools.  A regime imposed without a thought about the needs of the children.  I talked about the need to assess children, to ensure that their needs were being met.  I even talked about the need for the public to understand that schools were not wasting their tax payments.  I spoke for some time.  I realised that the interview panel had stopped writing and were just looking at me.  I felt that I’d gone too far.

That was in 2006 and I was appointed to my first teaching post in spite of (or because of?) my response.

Although my response may have seemed a naïve and optimistic at the time, my fundamental belief that children are more than a score has not changed.

Over time, I have seen SATs become more and more stale yet more and more important.  I have seen Year 6 children suffering from hair-loss alopecia as a result of exam stress.  I have heard teachers tell Year 6 children that they are the “only hope” a school has of leaving Special Measures.  I have heard parents offer their children financial rewards for doing well in their SATs.  I have even heard of schools offering Easter revision classes, during the school holidays, for Year 1 children to boost their chances of passing their phonics screening test.

To what end?

These tests are not about the children.  These tests are designed to find out which schools have been able to fill children with the right facts, enabling the children to answer the right questions in the right way on the right day.  Schools which have not been able to do this are deemed to be failing.  The children are labelled as being “behind their peers.”

As a qualified and experienced teacher, I know which of my children are working within a range for their age, which are working significantly below and which are flying high.  I have worked with other professionals to ratify our opinions (or not!).  We have always known that there are better ways than testing, but trying to take down the system has proved impossible.

The More Than A Score event, on 3rd December 2016, offered me a chance to find out about how teachers, parents and academics could find an alternative.

I had recently been asked to create a new assessment policy for our school and, as we had just moved from Good to Requires Improvement, I knew that my head teacher wanted something focussed and precise.

The conference took my breath away.  Not only were there teachers, of all backgrounds, saying enough is enough, but there were parents, mental health professionals, academics and more.  These people had come together to defend children and their right to be just that.

I realised that, if I wanted change, I had to do what was right.  I needed to stop engaging with pointless assessment tasks, designed only to tick boxes and please someone else.

After a day with passionate and articulate people who feel as I do, I created a draft assessment policy for our school.

I have yet to hear what the head teacher thinks of it.

At [SCHOOL] we believe that children will achieve well if they are nurtured, cared for and challenged. We believe that assessment is an integral part of the teachers’ craft and will be undertaken at all relevant points during the teaching and learning cycle. Assessment will be undertaken for the sole purpose of improving access to the learning experiences which will allow each child to make good progress. Good progress will look different for each child because each child is different.

Teachers will use their skills and experience to judge whether or not a child is making good progress and adjust their planning to support all children appropriately. We understand that a child’s academic achievement can be affected by any number of external factors and we will make it our business to understand each child’s needs at any moment in time.

Teachers will use their professional judgement to decide a child’s next steps in learning and will never expect any child to make progress in a linear fashion.

We will not force any child take part in any unnecessary assessment activities, particularly those where the teacher deems that a child is not ready, for any reason, to undertake those activities. This includes all external assessment.

Katie has been teaching in primary schools in Reading for eleven years.

More Than a Score’s next event is the launch of the alternative for primary assessment. This event is taking place in Westminster on Wednesday 29th March 6-8pm. If you would like to book free tickets to the event please follow this link.

An alternative to SATs: Teacher Assessment and National Sample Testing for Science at Key Stage 2

ase

Author: Lucy Wood on behalf of ASE’s Primary Science Education Committee

While there is a significant debate about the arrangements for testing literacy and numeracy at the end of Year 6, there has been a quiet consensus between government and much of the science community about how the third ‘core primary subject’, Science, should be assessed in English primary schools.

Under current arrangements, teacher assessment judges the performance of individual pupil’s science for reporting to parents and next schools which is in marked contrast to the Maths and English SAT tests, the focus of the ‘More than a Score’ campaign. In addition, there is no aggregation of pupil results, with instead a separate system of national sample testing providing the data for monitoring the standards of science across the country.

The testing of Key Stage 2 science by SATs was discontinued after 2009, much to the relief of most teachers and pupils. These ‘high stakes’ tests had tended to drive science teaching away from the development of investigative skills and towards the rote learning of factual knowledge, especially in Year 6. Acknowledgement by the Department of Education in 2011 that ‘teacher assessment is the most appropriate form of assessment for science at the end of KS2’ [1] has paved the way for the research-led development of strategies and materials to support teacher judgements.

For example, the Teacher Assessment in Primary Science (TAPS) project at Bath Spa University has developed a framework to create a flow of assessment information which can be gleaned from a range of classroom activities.[2] This builds on the Nuffield Foundation’s Developing policy, principles and practice in primary school science assessment report in 2012, which was led by Professor Wynne Harlen and sets out a proposed framework for the assessment of science in primary schools[3]. The TAPS focus is on ‘assessment for learning’ as an integral activity, with teachers gathering evidence during a topic to feedback directly into the on-going learning of the pupils. The teachers can then use the same evidence to summarise their pupils’ achievements against specific learning objectives, with moderation and discussions amongst colleagues forming part of the process. The TAPS framework provides a rigorous pathway for effective assessment of science and the project is continuing to gather sample material from a range of primary schools to illustrate what ‘good practice’ looks like, aiming to give as much support as possible to teachers on the front line.[4]

Indeed, teachers have been keen to point out that substantial guidance and a wide bank of exemplar pupil outcomes are essential, so there are many on-going initiatives which take into account the requirements of the new 2014 curriculum and assessment guidelines. For example, the ASE website[5] provides a collection of pupils’ work with explanatory notes to show in detail what ‘working at the expected standard’ might look like, which has been compiled by the Pan London Assessment Network, a collaborative group of consultants wishing to support schools with primary science assessment.

The Department for Education’s confirmation that the interim teacher assessment framework, established in 2015/6, will be used again this year for reporting on Year 6 pupils has been broadly welcomed, despite acknowledgement of some difficulties and anomalies encountered due to the curriculum changes and a lack of prior year tracking. The ASE ‘strongly recommends a continuation of the current arrangements to allow time for the national curriculum to be embedded and for teachers to gather and track pupil data over sufficient years’.[6] It would be a mistake to have any change of direction where such a good level of consensus has been achieved, albeit with a recognition that the system is still ‘work-in-progress’, with each school needing to refine how assessment is implemented in their own context over the coming year.

National sampling of science attainment is an entirely separate activity to the assessment by teachers of individual pupils and works on a similar basis to the international surveys on pupil performance, such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). A large pool of questions, covering a substantial portion of the curriculum, are collated into a variety of test booklets which are then administered following a matrix of options, so that pupils are not all taking the same test. Using this method, there can be no comparison of the performance of individual pupils or schools and it is therefore removed from the ‘high stakes’ arena of SATs. A sample of approximately 9,500 pupils is selected from 1,900 schools, with just 5 pupils from each school. Although the schools are informed of their participation two months prior to the test, the 5 pupils are named only shortly before the test date, so specific preparation of pupils is less likely to occur.

There have only been two cycles of this biannual matrix style sampling in 2014 and 2016; the results from 2014 showed that 63% of pupils reached the ‘expected standard’ (or ‘Level 4’ in the now disused levels system) which did not compare favourably with the indication of 81-84% reaching ‘Level 4’ in the sample testing between 2010 and 2012. However, the 2010-2012 sampling was conducted on a very different basis, with the selection of whole school cohorts who were warned of the test in advance and a single test for all pupils. In addition, the change in the balance of question types in the matrix sampling, reflecting a greater emphasis on ‘application and analysis’ and ‘synthesis and evaluation’ as more demanding than ‘knowledge and comprehension’, means that comparisons with data prior to 2014 are of limited value.

The results of the 2016 sampling are due to be published shortly and will make interesting reading. To be of most value, the trends and highlights should be used by schools, educators and policy makers to continue the improvement of our science provision, which we believe can be achieved without the need to impose a ‘high stakes’ SATS style testing regime in the primary classroom.

[1] Department of Education (2011) Independent Review of KS2 testing, assessment and accountability: Government Response

[2] https://pstt.org.uk/application/files/6314/5761/9877/taps-pyramid-final.pdf

[3]http://www.nuffieldfoundation.org/sites/default/files/files/Developing_policy_principles_and_practice_in_primary_school_science_assessment_Nuffield_Foundation_v_FINAL.pdf

[4] https://pstt.org.uk/resources/curriculum-materials/assessment

[5] http://www.ase.org.uk/resources/primary/plan/

[6] ASE response to the House of Commons Education Committee’s Inquiry into Primary Assessment (2016)

The Association for Science Education (ASE) is the largest subject association in the UK. It is an active professional learning community that has been supporting all those involved in science education from pre-school to higher education for over 100 years; members include teachers, technicians, tutors and advisers.  ASE continues to make a positive and influential difference to the teaching and learning of science throughout the UK and further afield.