Memorandum submitted by the National Union
of Teachers (NUT)
1. The National Union of Teachers welcomes
the Education and Skills Committee's decision to undertake an
Inquiry into testing and assessment. The nature and purpose of
assessment has been the subject of intense debate for nearly 20
years; a fact acknowledged by the DfES in its recent consultation
document, Making Good Progress. Yet, despite the DfES's
acknowledgement that, "over the nearly two decades of the
National Curriculum and its assessment regime, the end-of-key
tests have often stimulated controversy", the Government
remains in denial about the continuing impact of high stakes National
2. Research evidence continues to conclude
overwhelmingly that the current high stakes system of testing
and assessment undermines children's learning. Other countries
in the United Kingdom have acted on this evidence and only England
remains with an end-of-key assessment system which is fundamentally
3. It is clear also, from the consultation
conducted by the NUT on Making Good Progress, that teachers
remain firmly opposed to the current National Curriculum testing
arrangements and their use as accountability measures. The fact
that successive governments have chosen to ignore the teaching
profession's concerns about the impact on teaching and learning
of the current National Curriculum testing arrangements is an
indictment of Government attitudes to teachers' professional judgement.
4. This fissure between the teaching profession
and the Government led, in 1993, to what the weekly magazine,
Education, called, at that time, "the greatest act
of civil disobedience in the history of education". The boycott
of the arrangements ended but the massive gap between teacher
attitudes to the National Curriculum assessment arrangements and
Government policy has continued to this day, triggering resentment
amongst the profession about the refusal of successive governments
to recognise the continuing damage of high stakes tests to the
curriculum and children's learning.
5. Indeed, if the gap between teacher professional
opinion and Government policies were not stark enough, the fact
that successive governments have chosen to ignore overwhelming
research evidence is a fundamental failure of evidence informed
6. The National Union of Teachers has been
at the centre of seeking a coherent, reliable and valid alternative
to the current arrangements. It has taken the position consistently
that teachers must be at the centre of defining the nature and
purpose of assessment.
7. The NUT has supported and contributed
to the development of assessment for learning; including through
its professional development programme. With other teacher organisations,
it has sought an independent review of summative assessment. It
has formulated rounded proposals which it believes can be adopted
by Government, are supported by schools and which would secure
the support of the wider public. These proposals are set out within
this submission. For this reason, the National Union of Teachers
requests the opportunity to give oral evidence to the Select Committee
on this Inquiry.
8. The Government in England has failed
consistently to adopt a coherent approach to assessment. Current
systems for evaluation, from individual pupils to the education
service at a national level, are extraordinarily muddled. There
is no clear rationale of why various systems of summative evaluation
and accountability exist. Consequently, schools experience over-lapping
forms of high stakes evaluation systems, including institutional
profiles based on test results and Ofsted judgements, which are
often in contradiction with each other. These over-lapping systems
of accountability are made worse by Government national targets
for test results and examination results and by the publication
on an annual basis of school performance tables.
9. Recently, the Government asserted within
its Making Good Progress consultation that the, "framework
of tests, targets and performance tables have helped drive up
standards in the past decade". There is no evidence that
such a framework has achieved this objective. Indeed, the same
document contains the DfES's view that, "The rate of progress
. . . has slowed in the past few years". Indeed, the reality
is that national targets based on test results have damaged the
record of Government on education, giving the impression of failure,
10. It is vital that the Government, under
a new Prime Minister, initiates an independent review of its school
accountability arrangements. Accountability for the effective
functioning of the education service is a legitimate requirement
of both local communities and Government. Parents have the right
to expect fair and accurate systems of accountability. The accountability
system in England is permeated, however, by a lack of trust. The
Government's assertion, in its recent document, Making Good
Progress, that, "most schools now regard an externally
validated testing regime as an important accountability measure",
is completely without basis in fact. Teacher initiative and creativity
is undermined by uncertainties created by multiple and often conflicting
lines of accountability.
11. Through an independent review, the Government
must act to clarify the distinction between assessment for learning
and evaluation for accountability purposes. Recently, the National
Union of Teachers agreed with other teacher organisations a proposal
to Government to conduct an independent review of summative assessment.
12. This proposal remains valid, but, even
more importantly, the Government should clarify the nature of
its legitimate need to evaluate how well the education service
it funds is operating, separately from the use of assessment by
teachers as part of their teaching.
13. The weight of research evidence against
the use of summative assessment for the purposes of school accountability
is overwhelming. Over the last decade, the NUT has conducted a
range of studies focusing on the impact of high stakes testing
for the purposes of accountability. The agreement that the NUT
reached with the Conservative Government, in 1994, included a
commitment to review the impact of National Curriculum testing.
This was a recommendation which Ron Dearing developed, but work
on this area was halted after the election of the Labour Government,
in 1997. The Government chose not to develop the work carried
out by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA) and
subsequently the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA)
on alternatives to the assessment and testing arrangements, although,
rightly, the QCA has continued occasionally to offer a radical
critique of the current assessment arrangements.
14. The Committee should reflect on the
battery of uses for which test results are now used for the purposes
of institutional accountability; uses which encourage crude and
inaccurate summative judgements or create obsessional bureaucratic
recording procedures. Some examples are set out below.
15. Ofsted now relies on contextual value-added
test result data as the baseline measure for school evaluation
despite the fact that the usefulness of CVA data is limited by
each school's unique demography and level of pupil mobility. Level
5 plus test results are being used as the gatekeeper for entry
to the Gifted and Talented scheme. Despite the National Assessment
Agency's guidance, local authorities are placing pressure on early
years settings to use National Curriculum numeric levels in preparation
for National Curriculum test result benchmarks at Level 1. Local
authorities are encouraging the use of commercial schemes for
special educational needs assessment which sub-divide each one
of the National Curriculum P levels at Level 1 into a further
16. This focus on the use of test results
for the purposes of high stakes accountability has damaging effects
on young people and teachers alike. The NUT's study, National
Curriculum Tests (2003), conducted by Dr S Neill, of the University
of Warwick's Institute of Education, found that teachers felt
strongly that testing narrowed the curriculum and distorted the
education experience of children. They said that the excessive
time, workload and stress for children was not justified by the
accuracy of the test results on individuals. Teachers did not
feel that the tests accurately affected school achievements.
17. The study found that experienced teachers
and teachers of younger children stressed two negative factors;
the effect of the tests in distorting the curriculum and educational
experience available to children, and the tests' effects on their
workload, which were largely due to their own efforts in supporting
children through the tests.
18. While the NUT's study found that high
stakes end-of-key testing continued to cause much greater concern
in primary than in secondary schools and that the longstanding
experience of testing and examinations at secondary level tended
to lead to greater acceptance amongst teachers and parents, teachers
of older children reported also that the testing period was more
stressful for students than for children in primary schools.
19. The critical piece of evidence that
the NUT believes that the Government has almost completely ignored
is the research review conducted by the Government funded body,
EPPI (Evidence for Policy and Practice Information) (2004), on
the impact of repeated testing on pupils' motivation and learning.
The review concluded that repeated testing and examination demotivated
pupils and reduced their learning potential, as well as having
a detrimental effect on educational outcomes. Other key findings
included evidence which showed that teachers adapt their teaching
style to train pupils to pass tests, even when pupils do not have
an understanding of higher order thinking skills that tests are
intended to measure and that National Curriculum tests lower the
self-esteem of unconfident and low achieving pupils.
20. The Government appears to have ignored
other key research. The Assessment Reform Group's (ARG) (2005)
study of the role of teachers in assessment of learning came to
key conclusions based on the exhaustive research reviews it has
carried out in conjunction with EPPI. Crucially, the Assessment
for Reform Group concluded that:
"It is likely that opportunities to use
assessment to help learning and reduce the gap between higher
and lower achieving children are being missed . . . Many schools
give the impression of having implemented assessment for learning
when, in reality, the changes in pedagogy that it requires has
not taken place . . . This may happen, for example, when teachers
feel constrained by external tests over which they have no control.
As a result, they are unlikely to give pupils a greater role in
directing their own learning, as is required in assessment for
learning, in order to develop the capacity to continue learning
throughout life. The nature of classroom assessment is (being)
dictated by the tests".
21. The NUT believes that this finding is
crucial to the future of the development of personalised learning.
Personalised learning is fundamentally dependent on teachers integrating
assessment for learning in their teaching practice. If the evidence
is that National Curriculum tests are a barrier to the development
of personalised learning, then the Government has to choose between
the two approaches; one cannot complement the other.
22. The Select Committee will be fully aware
of the work conducted by Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam. It believes
that Inside the Black Box (1998) and Working Inside
the Black Box (2002) contain a fundamental critique of "an
ill-judged confidence in the reliability of short, external tests,
which are the dominant instrument of public policy" (1998).
23. There are many other studies too numerous
to refer to. It is, however, highlighting three which the NUT
believes the Select Committee must address.
Research by the Institute of Public
Policy Research (2001) found that pupils' mental health problems
were directly linked to pressures connected with testing and recommended
that the Government should take a less prescriptive approach if
it was to halve the increase in mental health problems in schools.
The Demos publication, Beyond
Measure (2003), concluded that the assessment system measured
recall of knowledge, rather than depth of understanding and tested
only a narrow section of the curriculum and that it demotivated
and lowered the self-esteem of learners.
The studies by Cambridge University,
on the lives of primary (2002) and secondary school teachers (2004),
by John Macbeath and Maurice Galton, concluded that high stakes
National Curriculum tests had almost wiped out the teaching of
some Foundation subjects at Year 6. At secondary level, they found
that the use of high stakes testing for the purposes of institutional
evaluation, alongside high class sizes, inappropriate curriculum,
pressure to meet targets and keeping up with initiatives, exacerbated
unacceptable pupil behaviour.
24. Internationally, the Government in England
is isolated in its approach to assessment. The Select Committee
should draw on the evidence available through a study of 21 countries
which have participated in the OECD's PISA programme (Programme
for International Student Assessment) and the PIRLS (Progress
in International Reading Literacy Study) study. Most developed
countries within the OECD use forms of assessment for which are
integrated within teaching and learning. Use of tests for evaluating
the performance of teachers and institutions is rare but can have
a powerful impact. The Select Committee would be well advised
to look at the developments in the United States in relation to
the use of standard assessment tests and compare those with the
effectiveness of a high performing country education system, such
as Finland, Sweden, Korea and Canada.
25. It is the steadfast refusal of the Government
to engage with the evidence internationally about the impact of
the use of summative test results for institutional evaluation
which is so infuriating to the teaching profession. Despite the
cautious and timid moves made by the Government on new types of
testing within its Making Good Progress proposals, nothing
rarely has changed in the psychological make-up of the Government
on this issue.
26. Even more irritating for teachers is
that, within the United Kingdom, developments have taken place
to which the only Westminster Government response is that since
both countries have responsibility for education, decisions on
education remain with them. The Select Committee should certainly
ask why the Government has shown no apparent interest in why the
Welsh Assembly Government abolished testing for seven year olds,
in 2002, and national tests for 11-14 year olds, in 2004, and
why, in Scotland, teachers draw national assessment tasks from
an electronic bank to support their judgements about pupils' attainment
and why test scores are no longer collected by the Scottish Government.
27. In short, up until now, the Government
has approached the whole issue of National Curriculum assessment
with a curious mixture of blinkered stubbornness and timidity.
28. Making Good Progress contains
potentially radical proposals for the future of assessment and
personalised learning. Despite the DfES' assertion in Making
Good Progress, that "the issues . . . should be the
subject of a larger and wider agenda which should involve debate
across the school system", any potential for such a debate
is diminished by its insistence on maintaining a high stakes approach
to assessment and accountability. Indeed, any potential for positive
reform in its statement that, "ultimately, existing end-of-key
arrangements could be replaced by tests for progress",
is severely limited by a refusal to abolish school performance
tables and imposed national targets.
29. The NUT believes that only if the proposals
in Making Good Progress are amended on the following lines
will they provide the basis for a valid and reliable pilot.
The Making Good Progress pilot
should be developed on the basis that it is a genuine experiment.
Schools could either be granted permission to innovate through
the Education and Inspections Act or be disapplied from the current
assessment arrangements through existing legislation.
Requiring schools to continue with
end-of-key tests as well as expecting them to conduct progress
tests, not only imposes an excessive burden on schools, it contaminates
the ability to evaluate the relative merits of the progress tests
in the pilot against the use of end-of-key stage tests in other
schools. Teachers in the pilot will continue to have in their
minds the fact that they have to conduct end-of-key stage tests
as well. For national target and performance table purposes, teachers
will remain constrained to focus on the borderline pupils in Year
6 and Year 9. The requirement in the pilot to conduct end-of-key
stage tests as well should be dropped, therefore.
Any expectation for schools in the
pilot to conduct existing "optional" tests for Years
4, 5, 7 and 8 should also be dropped for the reasons given above.
Decisions about when the progress
tests should be conducted should rest entirely with teachers.
The fact that Making Good Progress offers schools, "regularperhaps
twice yearlyopportunities" should not create any expectation
that the tests should be conducted on this basis.
Teachers should be involved in developing
the progress tests. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority
should be asked to establish a forum for teachers involved in
the pilot authorities to discuss the nature of progress tests.
Schools in the pilot should be exempted
from the national target setting and performance table regime.
Independent research on the impact
of the pilots on teaching and learning and teachers' workload
should be commissioned by the DfES. The results of the pilot should
provide the basis for a national debate initiated by the Government
on the future of the assessment arrangements. The NUT agrees with
the proposal within the 2020 Vision report that there should be,
"a shift of focus towards the progress of every child
and away from thresholds and average attainment levels".
It agrees also with the report's proposal for an investigation
into the impact of national tests and examination preparation
on the quality of learning.
The Government asserts within Making
Good Progress that national targets have driven up "absolute
levels of attainment". There is no evidence that national
targets in themselves have achieved any such thing. Instead, the
Government's national targets have led to an excessive skewing
of resources towards children on the borderline of national target
levels. This same skewing effect will take place if the proposed
progression targets are introduced. Again, resources will be skewed
towards borderline pupils. Pupils for whom achievement of an additional
level outside the national target levels at Year 6 and Year 9
is possible with additional support may well suffer as a result.
Adding progression targets to measures
which have only just incorporated contextual value added targets
will only increase the unstable mix of pressures on schools and
increase the possibility of groups of pupils missing out on the
support they need.
The NUT welcomes the proposal within
the pilot that pupils should receive funded, individual tuition
and that qualified teachers should deliver it. If individual tuition
is to be offered fairly to those pupils whom teachers judge will
benefit, then it cannot be confined to pupils who may achieve
two levels. The criterion which should apply in the pilot is that
resourcing for tuition should go to the pupils who would benefit
the most, particularly those from socially deprived families and/or
who have English as an additional language. Judgements on which
pupils they would be can only be made by schools themselves.
Resources for individual tuition
should be ringfenced. In addition, responsibility for providing
individual tuition should not be simply added to the responsibilities
of existing teachers. Additional qualified teachers should be
employed within the pilot to deliver the additional personal tuitions.
The NUT opposes the introduction
of the progression premium for schools in the pilot. It is not
clear what such a premium is for. There are obvious questions
about its purpose. Is it a bribe for schools in the pilot to deliver
success? Is the progression premium a reward? Would such a premium
be available to all schools if the pilot was rolled out nationally?
30. In summary, the NUT has emphasised to
the DfES that it should:
remove the current optional and end-of-key
stage test from the pilot; and
drop the progression premium and
re-allocate the funding set aside for the premium to increasing
the number of days available for individual tuition.
31. Committee members will be aware of the
NUT's Education Statement, Bringing Down the Barriers.
Part 2 of Bringing Down the Barriers contained the NUT's
strategic proposals on the National Curriculum and its assessments.
Those proposals can be accessed in full by Committee members.
For the purposes of this submission, the NUT believes it is worthwhile
reminding the Committee of the direction the NUT believes the
Government should take.
"Personalised learning has a long history
based in part on child centred learning and the need to differentiate
teaching according to need. Meeting the individual needs of each
child and young person is an aspiration which all those involved
in education can sign up to. The NUT believes that two conditions
need to be established for personalised learning to succeed. A
fundamental review of the National Curriculum and its assessment
arrangements are essential to meeting the aspirations of personalised
learning. Young people need to be able to experience, and teachers
need to be able to provide, much more one to one teaching.
The Government in England should recognise
the major developments which have taken place in reforming assessment
in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The review of assessment
in Wales, conducted by Professor Richard Daugherty and his team,
is a model from which the DfES should learn. An independent review
of testing and assessment of children should be commissioned by
the Government. Such a review should encourage and support assessment
for learning and should examine the role of summative assessment.
It should cover the current Foundation Stage profile and testing
and assessment in the 5-14 age range.
There are no performance tables or national
targets linked to test results in Scotland, Wales or Northern
Ireland. School performance tables and national targets have the
capacity to damage the record of Government on education as well
as schools. The next Government should abolish both tables and
"The data available from summative assessment
and examination results should feed into school evaluation reports
as they do in current inspection reports. To meet the country's
need for a summative picture of the effectiveness of the education
service, it should re-establish the Assessment of Performance
Unit. The Unit would be able to summarise data and ask questions
through studies based on sampling. Such a Unit would operate independently
with an advisory board involving teacher and support staff unions,
the TUC, the CBI, Government and relevant agencies. It would respond
to requests for national evidence on standards within schools
32. In Which Way Forward?, Professor
Peter Mortimore's comparative review of the Government's White
Paper, Higher Standards: Better Schools for All, the Education
and Inspections Act, and the NUT's Education Statement, Bringing
Down the Barriers, he commented on the NUT's proposals with
respect to assessment and the APU.
"The proposal by the NUT for an independent
review (of National Curriculum testing and assessment) seems imminently
sensible. . . . it would be important for a review of assessment
to be undertaken by a panel drawn from those involved with the
system, advised by experts in the technical details. The panel
might wish to study the arrangements adopted in Scotland and Wales
as well as other international practice."
33. Peter Mortimore welcomed the NUT's proposal
for, "an APU-type body which would monitor national standards",
which he believed would provide, "a reliable national
picture of standards of achievements".
34. In the context of the position outlined
above, a position which has been subjected to reliable independent
evaluation, the NUT believes that the Select Committee should
adopt the following proposals.
The NUT has taken the position consistently
that teachers must be at the centre of defining the nature and
purpose of assessment. Through its professional development programme,
the NUT has supported and contributed to the development of assessment
for learning. The Committee should consider proposing a national
bank of teacher developed assessment tasks, which can be drawn
down by teachers when they need to assess pupils' learning.
There should be a major funding boost
for professional development in assessment for learning. Teacher
organisations could play a major part as providers of such professional
development. Funding should be restored for inter-school moderation
of assessment judgements. That funding could be transferred from
the current major printing and distribution costs of National
Curriculum end of key stage and optional tests.
As part of an independent review
of the National Curriculum assessment arrangements, the review
of summative assessment should focus on how to achieve the most
efficient and economic way of summarising and reporting pupil
achievement within the context of the framework of the National
Curriculum. One requirement of the review should be to focus on
separating summative assessment from arrangements for institutional
A review of National Curriculum assessment
must be conducted by an independent group. Part of its remit should
be to evaluate the arrangements in Wales and Scotland and explore
developments in Northern Ireland. The Making Good Progress
pilot would have value if it adopted the NUT's proposed modifications
set out in this submission. The pilot could then provide substantive
evidence to an independent review.
The Government should re-establish
the Assessment of Performance Unit so that a summative picture
of trends in pupil achievement can be achieved nationally without
subjecting schools to the vagaries of school performance tables.
The Unit would sample pupil achievement from 0-19.
In parallel with an independent review
of National Curriculum assessment, the Government should review
the measures in place it has for school accountability. Such a
review would cover the current inspection arrangements, national
targets and school performance tables. Its focus would be on achieving
public accountability of schools whilst removing the warping and
distorting effects of current high stakes accountability measures.
35. The NUT submission to the Select Committee
has focused necessarily on National Curriculum testing and assessments.
The NUT has submitted evidence to the investigations conducted
by the Select Committee on 14-19 education. The NUT backed fully
the Tomlinson Report on 14-19 education. An opportunity is available
to the Government to explore the development of the current diplomas
and whether accompanying arrangements such as the changes to GCSE
coursework are relevant and reasonable. That opportunity presents
itself as a result of previous Secretary of State, Ruth Kelly's
commitment to review the progress of the post-Tomlinson proposals
in 2008. The Select Committee should continue to press for such
an approach despite the Secretary of State's view that the 2008
review will only focus on A levels.
36. There is one further proposal which
the NUT believes the Select Committee should recommend to Government.
It was contained in Bringing Down the Barriers.
"As a result of the 10-year lead time,
no single Government can have responsibility for implementing
the post-Tomlinson arrangements. It is essential, therefore, that
14-19 reforms should have continuity over time. The NUT would
propose, therefore, the establishment of an implementation body
which covers the full term of the post-Tomlinson arrangement.
A broad range of representation from teacher organisations, the
TUC, Learning and Skills Councils, universities and industry to
the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and Government would
be included on its membership. Its job would be to provide a forum
and sounding board for any potential problems arising from the
practical implementation of change. Its existence would assist
in establishing a social consensus for progressive change".
37. This approach to 14-19 education is