Memorandum submitted by Hampshire County
This response is provided on behalf of Hampshire
Local Authority (LA). It does not claim to offer a comprehensive
representation of the views of all involved in the processes of
testing and assessment. However it draws extensively on the expressed
opinions and experiences of many colleagues in the inspection
and advisory service and of practitioners in the primary and secondary
phases of education. It focuses mainly on issues at Key Stages
1, 2 and 3.
The assessment regime has become
enormously burdensome for schools.
National Curriculum (NC) tests
have now expanded out of all proportion to their usefulness.
NC testing underpins a system
of school accountability, self- evaluation and regular inspection
through the provision of NC data on pupil attainment and progress.
However, the validity and reliability of some of the data continues
to be questioned by practitioners and researchers.
The tests skew teaching by focusing
on core subjects and encouraging widespread teaching to the tests.
The system has encouraged the
growth of an expensive assessment industry.
There is a case for retaining
testing at the end of each phase of statutory education (ie at
ages 11 and 16) but any assessment at other times should be used
formatively by teachers and not as an accountability tool.
Important aspects of pupils'
abilities and skills are often ignored because the emphasis on
tests gives higher status to more easily measured aspects of the
The recent DfES proposal for
more frequent tests for each NC level (`Making Good Progress'
pilot) is counter to the extensive research on effective formative
The development of a rigorous
approach to teacher assessment offers greater opportunity for
professional development and a fairer and more valid way of monitoring
1. The uses and abuses of assessment data
Tests are acknowledged to be
just `snapshots' of pupil attainment but the numerical data from
them is increasingly treated as definitive in relation to individuals'
progress and in judging a school's effectiveness. However, we
know from research that there can be significant errors in grading
students through external tests.
Schools now have a vast amount
of numerical data for tracking pupils' progress. Each NC level
was originally conceived as a broad descriptor of approximately
two years' worth of progress. Pressure on schools to account for
progress more regularly has led them to invent criteria to describe
progress within NC levels. There is little agreement regarding
these `sub-levels' and QCA and The National Strategies have been
reluctant to support their use. Nevertheless a notion of progress
(and teachers' performance) is predicated upon these somewhat
2. Testing at Key Stages 1, 2 and 3
At Key Stage (KS) 1 the new
assessment arrangements (from 2004) have encouraged a more flexible
approach to combining externally set tests with teachers' professional
judgements. National and Hampshire LA Evaluations of this approach
have been very positive. In particular, stress on pupils has diminished
and teachers have found the system to be more professionally rewarding.
In Hampshire, the changes have triggered effective procedures
for year 2 and 3 teachers to work together systematically and
regularly to discuss standards and moderate their judgements.
National Evaluation findings were also encouraging in respect
of workload issues.
At the end of KS2, tests can
serve a useful function in contributing to the pupil information
for secondary schools; but at present these tests drive the whole
assessment system. The majority of children sit at least one externally
devised set of tests each year during KS2. Practice tests for
the so-called "optional" QCA year 3,4 and 5 tests are
common. The system is underpinned by a target setting culture
for schools, teachers and children and this has become increasingly
Value added measurement from
KS2 to KS3 is insecure since local decisions about when pupils
take the "end of KS3" test (Year 8 or 9) are leading
to incompatible measurements of progress.
For many schools the threshold
indicator of level 5 presents little challenge as many pupils
are already at this point when they join the secondary school
at year 7.
The vast majority of secondary
schools see the five year measure of progress as one of the most
useful indicators since, unlike KS2 to KS3, it does measure the
totality of performance at KS4 compared with core subject performance
Any assessment at or during
KS3 should therefore be for formative purposes and as a professional
tool for teachers rather than as an accountability and performance
3. Impact on teaching, learning and the curriculum
LA monitoring has identified
widespread teaching to the test and practising of tests especially,
but not exclusively, in the final years of each KS.
This seriously detracts from
time spent exploring more imaginative and creative aspects of
the curriculum and skews teaching.The emphasis is on short-term
commitment to memory and `test tactics' rather than deeper learning
The perceived status of those
areas of the curriculum not formally tested (eg: the arts and
humanities at KS1-3) is diminished as a consequence.
It is misleading to claim (as
the DfES Making Good Progress pilot does) that tests can support
personalised learning. So much of individual pupils' experiences
are narrowed because of the tests and tests can reflect only a
small part of a pupil's skills, abilities and understanding.
It is disingenuous to argue
that teacher assessment (TA) provides a counterbalance to test
results. TA appears to have very little status in the world of
the School Improvement Partner (SIP), Ofsted or the reporting
of end of KS results to parents.
External tests detract from
the development of a strong, well-informed professional teaching
force. The implication is that external "objective"
test markers know better or that teachers cannot be trusted to
make and agree (moderate) their own judgements.
A vast body of research into
assessment suggests that students make best progress when assessment
information can be used by their teachers and by the students
themselves in a formative way ie: through response to feedback
which is specific and close to the point of learning. Externally
marked tests do not serve this purpose and we should not pretend
that they make a significant contribution to the progress of individuals.
4. The effects on the people involved
The high stakes involved have
an observable effect on the behaviours of teachers, children and
parents. There are ambivalent attitudes here since all involved
have a natural desire to do well in a competitive business. In
addition there are many students who find tests an interesting
and enjoyable challenge. Equally though, many students fail to
do their best under test conditions and suffer considerably at
examination time. It is widely claimed that English pupils are
more tested than any pupils in other nations in Europe. It is
probably no coincidence that a recent survey also found they are
the least happy!
5. The financial cost of testing
Tests are now part of a huge
and very expensive industry including:
commercially produced practice tests,
external markers, reviewers and checkers
for statutory tests,
LA monitoring of tests at KS 1, 2
monitoring of special arrangements
to deal with applications eg: for additional time for pupils with
special educational needs (SEN),
exam board bureaucracy on a grand
National Assessment Agency (NAA)
and LA test maladministration investigations.
Much of the funding and energy involved might
be better directed at further improving the quality of day-to-day
teaching and learning.
Tests have a place and value in schools. For
pupils and teachers they can provide evaluative information about
what students can achieve independently under restricted conditions.
However their increasingly extensive use for the purposes of accountability
has now become a distraction for teachers, headteachers and governing
bodies in their core purpose of educating pupils.
If tests did not exist, schools
would feel they had to invent some, at least for internal use.
The materials produced and extensively trialled over the years
by QCA, the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER)
and others are of high quality. Schools would welcome banks of
such tests they could use to support their internal monitoring
of progress and the processes of self- evaluation.
This is different from the shorter
"when ready" testing proposed in the current DfES pilot
(Making Good Progress). The latter is likely to lead to more tests
whose results are even less reliable and valid as an overall picture
of a child's progress than at present.
The QCA (KS2) Monitoring Children's
Progress pilot (and a similar pilot for KS3 English) offers better
opportunity for the formative use of a wider range of information
about children's skills and abilities. It promotes good professional
development for teachers and more immediate feedback for their
Investment in the development
and trialling of rigorous moderation of teacher assessment processes
at KS 2 and 3 is long overdue. A variety of approaches might be
examined. Key Stage 1 assessment arrangements provide one model.
A number of LAs (eg: Oxfordshire and Birmingham working in partnership)
have examined other approaches at KS 2.
It might then be possible to
develop a system of national teacher assessment at end of K S
1, 2 and 3, supported by a method of whole school or pupil sampling
of national externally set tests. The APU (Assessment of Performance
Unit) model, for instance, provided useful national information
without a hugely expensive bureaucracy.
Schools readily acknowledge the need to monitor
pupil progress, provide regular information to parents and use
assessment information evaluatively for school improvement. The
key issue now is how to balance the need for accountability with
the urgent need to develop a fairer and more humane assessment
system that genuinely supports good learning and teaching.