Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families Minutes of Evidence

Paper 2




1.  Current national curriculum assessment arrangements

  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 do—measure 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 knowledge).

    —  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 and assessment.

    —  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 learning.

    —  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' progress.

    —  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 judgement.

    —  Schools report that they often mistrust the results from the previous key stage and re-test using different measures.

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).

June 2007

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