Memorandum submitted by Mrs Lorraine Smith,

Headteacher, Western Church of England Primary School, Winchester, Hampshire

 

Executive Summary

I have welcomed the chance to express my views about the place of assessment in our schools.

Assessment should be an integral part of teaching and learning. Assessment informs the teaching and learning process for each individual child and groups of children. It indicates rates of progress and when well used, it informs 'next steps' and identifies important milestones in each child's learning journey.

Summative assessment gives a picture about standards within a school - for individuals, groups and cohorts, and helps to inform overall curriculum design, planning and approaches to teaching.

Assessment is a vital tool both operationally, on a day to day basis within the classroom, but also strategically.

I would ask that summative assessment is not given disproportionate importance in our education system.

A key role of primary schools is to nurture the whole child. Education should enable young people to have the capacity to solve their own problems and participate fully as citizens who can meet the challenges and opportunities the future holds, with confidence and optimism. Narrowing the focus of primary education to subjects that can be assessed through SATs undermines the aim of primary education as expressed in Excellence and Enjoyment.

League tables serve no purpose in helping to deliver the 5 outcomes of the Every Child Matters agenda.

 

Submitter

My name is Lorraine Smith. I have been headteacher of Western Church of England Primary School since 2002. Prior to that I was headteacher of Fleet Infant School for over 7 years. I have been teaching continuously since I qualified in 1978. My passion is primary education and helping prepare primary children for their future. I believe a curriculum that emphasises active, enquiry based approaches to learning will enable children to become engaged, motivated and independent learners.

 

General Issues

1. It is important to have a national system of assessment so that teachers, schools and inspectors can make judgements about children's attainment at key times in their school career. However, I do not think it is necessary to have externally marked SATs for pupils at the end of KS2 or KS3. This is a costly exercise and the money could be better spent on giving pupils appropriate levels of support or challenge throughout their school career through, for example, additional adult support.

2. There is good benchmarking regarding levels of attainment in England and teachers should be allowed to exercise their professional judgement in awarding a level that best fits a child's achievement across the year rather than basing their judgement on the outcome of a timed test paper in May.

3. Whilst Teacher Assessment has gained higher status in KS1, it is still not regarded highly enough by parents, secondary schools or inspectors for KS2.

4. Many secondary schools carry out their own assessments of pupils in the autumn term eg CAT tests and use these results to set their pupils for core subjects.

5. The formal testing of Y6 pupils in May puts undue pressure on pupils to perform in exam conditions that are contrary to the way in which primary pupils learn best.

6. It is inevitable that some practice of SATs is necessary for pupils to perform at their optimum, but it is also important that children continue to be taught key skills throughout the spring term, in contexts that engage and motivate them. Getting the balance right can be difficult, while SATs results are given such high prominence.

7. 'Excellence and Enjoyment' emphasises creative approaches to teaching and learning. Whilst OFSTED continues to look at SATs results as the key measure of a school's success, schools may not feel able to deliver a curriculum that emphasises an enquiry based, active, problem solving approach to learning. This can be particularly true in Y6. 'Primary education is a critical stage in children's development - it shapes them for life. As well as giving them the essential tools for learning, primary education is about children experiencing the joy of discovery, solving problems, being creative in writing, art, music, developing their self-confidence as learners and maturing socially and emotionally.' Excellence and Enjoyment (2003)

 

Current Key Stage Tests

8. What do they tell us at KS1 and KS2 that skilled teachers do not already know? They can give us information about how children perform under test conditions. This is useful but there is too much emphasis on these results as opposed to the progress made over the course of the year.

9. Assessment for learning (as described by Professor Black and colleagues: Inside the Black Box, Beyond the Black Box) is a very useful and powerful assessment tool and one that all good teachers use to ensure their pupils make progress. Good teaching and learning is based on the teacher's knowledge of what the child knows, understands and can do, their professional judgement on the child's 'next steps' and the learning goals they want each child to have achieved by the end of the year.

10. Having clear benchmarks for individual pupils' performance helps to improve attainment as it helps pupils and staff know what pupils should know, understand and be able do at the end of a unit of work, a term or a year.

11. Cohorts can differ markedly year on year and close tracking of individual pupil progress is key when looking at a school's success. The apparent dip in progress that is evident in Y3 and Y4 needs to be examined in more depth at a national and local level. Ways to overcome this apparent slowing in progress need to be shared so that pupils build securely on what has gone before in KS1.

12. Value added scores give an interesting indication of a school's success with different groups of pupils.

13. League tables do not give an accurate reflection of how well a school is doing. Schools in challenging circumstances can be disadvantaged by league tables. If 'Every Child Matters' then such schools may need to ensure that children feel safe, are physically and emotionally secure and that the prerequisites for learning are in place.

14. The changes to the Foundation Stage curriculum are key to ensuring that all pupils have a positive start to their school career. These changes are based on best practice and will inevitably impact on the type of curriculum offered to KS1 pupils. If the focus is too narrow at KS1, the work undertaken in the Foundation Stage may be undermined.

 

The Future

15. I do think the national system should be changed. There is too much emphasis on the SATs results. This is not the case in other parts of the UK (Wales and Scotland).

16. According to a recent survey young people in England are amongst the unhappiest in Europe. Is there a correlation between the number of externally marked tests they have to sit during their school career? Do schools provide rich, meaningful contexts for learning? Is education placing enough emphasis on learning skills and acquiring positive attitudes to learning?

17. Personalised learning is an interesting concept, but what does it mean? There does not seem to be a clear definition that makes sense in the current climate of inspections and testing. If it means 'equipping the learner for independent learning, offering the learner the opportunity to take the initiative' and it includes 'valuing mastery, the will to learn, knowledge of the learning process, basic skills, capacity to collaborate, capacity to set goals and use feedback' Charles Desforge then personalised learning embraces good primary practice and it can certainly offer a positive way forward.

18. Level 4 is a reasonable expectation for the majority of pupils. Level 5 is a good expectation for the more able pupils. What is a reasonable expectation for children with special educational needs? If these children overcome their barriers to learning and make 2 levels of progress during KS2 from Level 1, then they have surely done very well? They have a platform on which to build. With good teaching, positive attitudes, real engagement and purpose, they can continue to learn and have their achievements recognised.

19. Assessment for learning, which emphasises the dynamic relationship between teaching and learning, seems to offer a constructive solution to the current situation. I feel the current situation puts staff, pupils, schools (particularly Y6 teachers and headteachers) under enormous pressure and can be demotivating and demoralising. Of course headteachers should be accountable for pupil standards in school but there is so much more to a school that Y6 SATs results. By overemphasising this aspect, it seems to me that the system is taking the heart out of schools and we cannot afford to do this.

20. I would like education to be broader and embrace all aspects of a pupil's potential - intellectual, physical, social and emotional.

21. UNESCO's 4 Pillars of Education summarise the aims of education as I would like to see them:

learning to know:

Acquiring a broad general knowledge, intellectual curiosity, the instruments of understanding, independence of judgement and the impetus and foundation for being able to continue to learn throughout life

learning to do

The competence to put what one has learned into practice, even when it is unclear how future work will evolve

To deal with many situations and to act creatively on one's environment.

This involves higher skills at all levels, being able to process information and communicate with others

learning to live together

Developing understanding of and respect for other people, their cultures and spiritual values, empathy for others' points of view, understanding diversity and similarities between people, appreciating interdependence and being able to dialogue and debate, in order to participate and co-operate with others, enhance relationships, and combat violence and conflict

learning to be

Developing the 'all-round' person who possesses greater autonomy, judgement and personal responsibility, through attending to all aspects of a person's potential - mind and body, intelligence, sensitivity, aesthetic sense and spiritual values - such that they can understand themselves and their world and solve their own problems

 

Recommendations

1. Place greater emphasis on Teacher Assessment at KS2 (similar to current practice at KS1)

2. Have a bank of tests that Y6 pupils can undertake (similar to current arrangements at KS1) possibly 'level by level' tests as advocated in the DfES consultation document 'Making Good Progress'

3. Report KS2 Teacher Assessment rather than SATs scores to Local Authorities/DfES

4. Further develop teacher understanding of assessment for learning

5. Reduce number of externally marked and externally reported assessment tasks pupils/students have to undertake during their school career in KS1/KS2/KS3

6. Resist the pressure to do 'value added' analysis from Foundation Stage Profile to end of KS1 Teacher Assessments

7. Look at the apparent barriers to progress in Y3 and Y4 and share good practice with all schools

8. Abolish league tables

9. Inspections to put data for cohorts into the context of whole school achievements against the 5 outcomes, pupil attitudes to learning and opportunities for social, moral, spiritual and cultural education.

 

July 2007