More Than a Score is a coalition of organisations and individuals connected to primary education including parents’ groups, academics, trade unions and subject associations. We are working together to call for a change in Government education policy on assessment and accountability. You can read more about members of More Than a Score here
More Than a Score calls on the government of Theresa May to:
- Recognise the scale of these problems and respond to the unprecedentedly high level of professional and parental concern.
- Suspend arrangements for primary assessment in 2016/17.
- Hold an independent and expert review to produce recommendations for the revision of the primary school curriculum, assessment and public accountability.
More Than a Score believes that the current system of national testing of primary school children to judge the effectiveness of teachers and schools is deeply flawed. It has resulted in:
A narrowing of the curriculum
Research about the impact of high stakes testing, for example testing that determines teachers’ pay or the ranking of a school as happens in England, has shown that an increased focus on the demands of the test means that children experience a narrower curriculum (e.g. Clarke et al. 2003; Jones and Egley 2004; Children, Schools and Families Committee 2008; Rothstein et al 2008; Alexander 2010).
The Children, Schools and Families Committee (2008) found that “any efforts by the government to introduce more breadth into the school curriculum are likely to be undermined by the enduring imperative for schools, created by the accountability measures, to ensure that their pupils perform well in national tests”.
Teachers consider that children in England today are experiencing a narrower curriculum than in the past. Children with low attainment, disadvantaged pupils and those with special needs are affected by this narrowing of the curriculum to an even greater degree as they will tend to spend more time focusing on English and Maths through booster and catch up sessions, at the expense of the rest of the curriculum (Hutchings 2015).
2016 was the first year that children taking SATs were being assessed under the new curriculum that was introduced two years ago. Children taking Key Stage 2 SATs (at the end of primary school) were taught under the old curriculum with different content and expectations for the majority of their education, but the tests did not take this in to account. This means that children were being set up to fail.
Education that doesn’t meet the needs of all children
97% of teachers thought that children with special educational needs and disabilities are disadvantaged. Likewise, 84% were concerned about the effect on EAL pupils, for whom English is an additional language, and 74% were concerned about the effects on summer-born children. (NUT 2016a)
This year at the end of Key Stage 1 82% of September born children reached the expected standard in reading compared to 65% of children born in August. In writing it was 76% compared to 54%, and in maths 82% compared to 61%. The standard across all three components (reading, writing and maths) was met by 88% of September born children compared to 74% of their August born classmates. (DfE 2016)
A negative impact on children’s self-esteem, wellbeing and mental health
Curriculum narrowing reduces many students’ chances of being thought talented in school (Berliner 2011).
In response to high stakes testing teachers adopt a teaching style which emphasises transmission teaching of knowledge. This favouring those students who prefer to learn in this way and disadvantaging and lowering the self-esteem of those who prefer more active and creative learning experiences (Harlen and Deakin Crick 2002).
Childline’s Annual Report 2013-14 found there was a 13% rise in the number of children expressing concerns about education problems compared to the previous year. Fifty eight per cent of counselling sessions in relation to school and education problems were about exam stress, a 200 per cent rise on the previous year. 16% of Childline’s counselling about school and education problems were with children aged 11 or younger in 2013-14. This was a 43% increase compared to 2012/13.
Children with higher levels of emotional, behavioural, social, and school wellbeing, on average, have higher levels of academic achievement and are more engaged in school, both concurrently and in later years. Relationships between emotional, behavioural, social, and school wellbeing and later educational outcomes are generally similar for children and adolescents, regardless of their gender and parents’ educational level (DfE 2012).
A negative impact on teacher’s wellbeing and mental health
86% of primary teachers said their morale has declined in the last two years and three quarters describe their morale as low or very low. Almost half (48%) of primary teachers said they are considering leaving the profession within the next two years. Workload was cited as a factor by 93% of respondents. Other reasons include the rapid pace of curriculum change (60%) and teacher mental health concerns (50%). (NUT, 2016b)
More Than a Score supports the use of a wide range of modes of assessment to inform teaching. These would not necessarily take the form of tests; there are many ways of assessing. A variety of appropriate models already exist, and professional development activity could help teachers to use them effectively. You can find out more by looking at our vision for assessment and accountability page here.
More Than a Score believes that schools are accountable to children, parents and communities. More Than a Score also believes that standards of education at a national level also need to be monitored. However, More Than a Score does not believe that anything is gained by ranking schools based on children’s results in tests.
Monitoring standards at a national level will allow Government to use experts to develop evidence based policy that will support weaker areas of the system, allow good practice to flourish, and ensure that every child experiences an education that meets their needs and provides opportunities for them to thrive.
You can find out more about the systems that More Than a Score believes could be used to ensure schools are accountable to children, parents and communities, and that national standards are effectively monitored by looking at our vision for assessment and accountability here.
You can sign up as a supporter of More Than a Score to receive emails about the campaign here.
You can write to your MP, or meet with them to discuss the issue of primary assessment. Find advice and support on how to do this here.
You can talk to parents, teachers and members of your community and encourage them to find out more about More Than a Score.
- Alexander, R. (ed) (2010) Children, their World, their Education: Final Report and Recommendations of the Cambridge Primary Review, London: Routledge
- Berliner, D (2011) Rational Responses to High Stakes Testing: The Case of Curriculum Narrowing and the Harm That Follows Cambridge Journal of Education, 41(3): 287-302
- Children, Schools and Families Committee (2008) Testing and Assessment, HC 169-1
- Clarke, M., Shore, A Rhoades, K., Abrams, L., Miao, J. and Li, J. (2003) Perceived effects of state-mandated testing programs on teaching and learning: findings from interviews with educators in low-, medium- and high-stakes states, National Board onEducational Testing and Public Policy
- Department for Education (2012) The Impact of Pupil Behaviour and Wellbeing on Educational Outcomes https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/197650/DFE-RB253.pdf
- Department for Education (2016) Phonics screening check and key stage 1 assessments: England 2016 https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/phonics-screening-check-and-key-stage-1-assessments-england-2016
- Harlen, W. and Deakin Crick, R. (2002) A systematic review of the impact of summative assessment and tests on students’ motivation for learning, EPPI-Centre Review. London: EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education
- Hutchings, M (2015) Exam Factories? The impact of accountability measures on children and young people http://www.teachers.org.uk/files/exam-factories.pdf
- Jones, B. and Egley, R. (2004) Voices from the Frontlines: Teachers’ Perceptions of High-Stakes Testing, Education Policy Analysis Archives, 12(39)
- National Union of Teachers (2016a) Survey of members working in primary schools in England https://www.teachers.org.uk/education-policies/primary/crisis-in-primary-assessment
- National Union of Teachers (2016b) Survey of members working in primary schools in England and Wales https://www.teachers.org.uk/news-events/conference-2016/curriculum-and-assessment-chaos-survey-primary
- NSPCC (2015) Childline Review 2013-14 https://www.nspcc.org.uk/globalassets/documents/annual-reports/childline-review-under-pressure.pdf
- Rothstein, R., Jabobsen. R. and Wilder, T. (2008) Grading education: getting accountability right, New York: Teachers’ College Press