NATIONAL CURRICULUM TESTS
1. Current national curriculum assessment
1.1 Very close contact with schools is essential
for QCA to carry out its work effectively. QCA regularly monitors
the nature and development of curriculum and assessment in schools
in England. The outcomes of monitoring are reported annually,
and used to shape directions for the future. The key element of
this contact is regular and frequent reference on a broad range
of issues to a network of more than 1,000 schools that work in
partnership with us, and represent a cross-section of school types
nationally. The following observations are drawn by QCA on the
basis of systematic and formal consultation with this network.
The national curriculum tests do
a very good job in doing what they are designed to domeasure
pupils' performance in reading, writing, mathematics and science.
They stand comparison with any similar large-scale assessment
tool across the world for reliability and validity.
The tests provide an objective, nationally
comparable snapshot of pupil performance in key areas of learning
on an annual basis, and have been the foundation of statistical
analyses of pupil and school performance over a number of years.
The design of the tests encourages
teachers to cover a broad curriculum within the areas being tested
(for example, requiring pupils to respond to a range of different
written texts to assess their reading; to produce two different
kinds of writing without any prior notice of the form, purpose
or audience; and to apply mathematical and scientific skills and
At Key Stages 2 and 3, large groups
of markers have been trained, many of whom are practising teachers.
Marking refines their understanding of national standards, and
the insights gained from this experience are taken back into their
schools and classrooms to further improve curriculum, teaching
At Key Stage 1, where since 2004
the tests have been used more flexibly to inform teachers' overall
assessment of pupils at the age of seven, there has been a stronger
and very beneficial focus on teachers' ongoing observations and
on assessment directly influencing future planning, teaching and
The high profile of the tests has
focused the attention of schools on maximising pupil attainment
at key points in their educational progress. Evidence confirms
that they have contributed to a significant rise in pupil attainment
over the last 15 years.
Like any tests, however well designed,
they can measure only a relatively narrow range of achievement
in certain subjects on a single occasion and they cannot adequately
cover some key aspects of learning.
The focus on the core subjects leads
to comparative neglect of the full range of the national curriculum.
Ninety per cent of primary and 79% of secondary schools report
that the testing has led to pupils being offered a narrower curriculum.
Although both teacher assessment
and test outcomes are reported at Key Stages 2 and 3 it is the
test results which are given greater public attention and which
form the basis for judgements about school performance and effectiveness.
Most schools prepare pupils extensively
before they undertake the tests. To prepare for the Key Stage
2 tests, 68% of primary schools employ additional staff, 78% set
additional homework, and more than 80% have revision classes and
use commercial or QCA practice tests. In 80% of primary schools,
the amount of time spent on test preparation has increased over
the past 10 years, and in the second half of the spring term 70%
of schools spend more than three hours per week on test preparation.
There is a similar pattern of responses from secondary schools
in terms of time spent in preparing for the tests.
Ofsted reports that schools often
deploy their most effective teachers in the particular year groups
at the end of a key stage (years 2, 6 and 9), and that teachers
in other year groups feel less responsibility for assessing pupils'
Investment needs to continue to be
made into strengthening teachers' ongoing assessment skills. With
an increasing focus on personalised learning and monitoring individual
pupil progress, teachers' professional judgements about the achievements
of their pupils are the most fruitful source of information when
identifying targets for improvement and providing feedback for
pupils and their parents/carers.
Schools' perceptions of the accuracy
of teacher assessment and national curriculum tests vary between
primary and secondary schools. At Key Stage 2, 64% believe that
teacher assessments are more accurate than tests and 9% say that
teachers' judgments need to be supported by test results. At Key
Stage 3, the figures are 37% favouring teacher assessments, with
a further 41% believing that teacher assessments are as accurate
as tests. Twenty per cent see value in tests to support teacher
Schools report that they often mistrust
the results from the previous key stage and re-test using different
2. Building effective assessment
2.1 The strengths of the current arrangements
provide a sound foundation on which to build. The following graphics
show the directions of travel in supporting teachers and schools
(Graphic 1), personalising assessment (Graphic 2) and making assessment
more effective (Graphic 3).