Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families Minutes of Evidence




  Over the academic year 2006-07 the GTC held a series of consultative seminars in order to present its proposals for changes to the assessment system to teachers, head teachers, parents and others and to receive feedback. Events were held in Leeds, Bristol, Manchester and London as well as a national conference in March 2007. This appendix is a summary of the views expressed.


GTC's bank of tests/tasks

  Teachers welcomed the bank of tests because they felt they would free up time for teachers to enjoy teaching and pupils to enjoy learning. They wanted to know in detail how and when they would be administered, and by whom. The new tests could eliminate "teaching to the test". They could be a spur to improving the quality of teacher assessment, particularly if teachers had input into their design. The tests at primary phase would need to be matched to specific learning objectives and primary strategy materials. Teachers felt that the tests should be able to define what pupils can and cannot do rather than assigning a level. The DfES and other bodies must take time to trial new initiatives and systems before they expect teachers and schools to put them into practice. Teachers were clear that any new system that resulted in more assessment and less teaching was suspect and they sought reassurance that this was not the case with the bank of tests.


    —  Will teachers have enough time to deal with the extra workload?

    —  Who will be responsible for writing the tests?

    —  How will special needs be dealt with? If a special education needs (SEN) pupil is extremely slow to arrive at a position where they are ready to be tested they may emerge from Key Stage (KS) 4 with very few benchmarks, if any.

    —  Will the tests measure knowledge or skills?

    —  Will there be tests for the gifted and talented?

    —  Would the tests measure in levels or in standard scores?

    —  How different will the tests/tasks be to the current national tests? "We don't want SATs look-alikes".

    —  Is yearly testing effective? If more testing was more frequent it would not be realistic to test every pupil in every subject. Would a bank of tests not just allow some teachers to test even more?

    —  Can this system work in secondary education as effectively as it might in primary?


  Teachers had concerns over how well Assessment for Learning (AfL) is embedded in schools and how rigorously it is being used. Knowledge of AfL can be very mixed. It was felt that teachers' professional judgement was key to successfully implementing AfL because teachers would need a thorough and detailed knowledge of their pupils. A culture shift was necessary to dispel the sense of distrust of assessments at change of phase and explain how AfL fits into test culture. If schools adopted AfL they would need to demonstrate to pupils and parents that standards are being assured and that the process is transparent.

  Teachers also felt there was insufficient knowledge and recognition of pupils' learning speeds and styles. Many questioned the wisdom of a knowledge-based, rather than learning-based, curriculum.

  Teachers and teaching assistants need support and opportunities to raise their skills in using AfL and the GTC's bank of tests. A useful tool for teachers and others would be the networks of teachers within local authorities to further assessment and help develop teacher confidence. This would ensure that what is done in each school is comparable and consistent.

  Formative assessment is the bedrock because it is the tool for taking pupil learning forward. The process should be about achievable tasks which show where pupils' difficulties are for their future benefit. Over-assessment will alienate certain pupils. We should not forget the case for creativity and children's enjoyment of learning. We should be aiming to make each pupil aware and responsible for their learning, for instance through self-assessment.

    "Assessment should be about finding out what the children know so we can move them forward. It's not about a single test result, so stop national testing ands trust in teachers' assessment".

Personalised learning

  Teachers were curious about how personalised learning, with its emphasis on progression and assessment at the pupil's own pace could be translated to the secondary model. Assessment for pupils with SEN or disabilities should be a particular focus. Teachers expressed a wish for less emphasis on national testing and more faith in personalised learning and formative assessment.

The current testing regime

  Teachers questioned the value of Primary KS tests which, they said, distort teaching and are not effective in helping pupils to learn. Teachers also thought the marking scheme for national KS tests is too prescriptive and narrowly based on key words, with no scope for pupil creativity. They considered the system impersonal and that it inhibits curriculum enrichment. The outcomes of the tests, particularly at KS3 carry so much weight that teachers are increasingly teaching to the test, making them feel like trainers, not teachers.

  The end of KS2 and KS3 tests do not, the teachers said, provide realistic information about children. These tests are demoralising for children who do not have strengths in the core areas but may have skills and talents in non-tested curricular areas. For special schools, tests are a mere paper exercise and do not show multi-sensory, multiple intelligence learning.

  Teachers supported the new style KS1 SAT/assessment system because of the greater emphasis on teacher assessment and would support its extension to other year groups.

    "If I could change one thing about assessment it would be abolish KS2 tests. This would alleviate pressure on children and staff. It would also allow upper KS2 children to enjoy learning and explore their natural curiosity".

Teacher professional judgement and resources for continuing professional development

  It was felt that teacher confidence had been eroded over time and that the GTC's proposals would help to restore it. Trust in professionalism should extend to teaching assistants and other school staff as well as teachers. Teachers also pointed out that many teachers had only ever known national tests for teacher assessment, so training in new ways of working was crucial.

  Teachers identified the need for moderation training, and the time to do it, as necessary for an effective rebalancing of assessment; along with more input on AfL in initial teacher training as newly qualified teachers' (NQTs) understanding can be limited.


School level accountability

  The majority of teachers who attended the GTC events thought that league tables were flawed and that they distorted teaching. The levels within the key stages did not work. Without performance tables, teachers thought it would be possible to network more effectively between schools, eliminate divisive competition between schools and develop better collaboration between primary and secondary schools.

  While teachers recognised that performance tables can have a role in focusing on school improvement and in parents' choice of school, it was also felt that a wider variety of information should be available. Ofsted inspections, local knowledge, cultural considerations and proximity are also factors influencing parents. Some teachers favoured the use of portfolios of evidence of pupils' achievements to confirm teacher judgements. The development of IT-based "Learning Platforms" would give parents the ability to access pupil reports and assessment records. The School Profile was seen as an effective accountability mechanism that should be more widely promoted.

  Teachers felt that the system is currently very accountable but meaningful information is not communicated well to parents. A more personalised approach was needed. It was noted that the independent sector is skilled in communicating with parents and engaging them in dialogue and could offer lessons to be learnt by the maintained sectors.

    "Parents should be entitled to access any information about the school when they need it".

    "Schools need to be able, without risk, to be honest about when things are not going well. They also need to have access to data that helps them work on a level playing field and fee part of a local community".


  Teachers felt that they are sufficiently accountable in terms of the quality of information; it is the quality and nature of the information that needs to be addressed. Teachers are adept at assessment because they know their pupils well, but are judged on external test results. It was suggested that schools could be paired nationally to moderate each other and exploit the on-line facilities available.

    "The teacher and the school are best placed to know their children through using their professional judgement. Children are not commodities or `raw material'".


  Teachers thought a culture is growing in which all children are expected to be above average. This pressure is unrealistic and not helpful to pupils and teaching.

  It was felt that an appropriate accountability model would be strengthened and supported school self-evaluation, validated by Ofsted. There was a general desire that Ofsted be more supportive and consistent but frustration that performance tables—offered little of practical diagnostic use to schools.

    "Data to compare schools is valued by heads and local authorities in managing their own specific systems. This data should be preserved but not necessarily in the form of league tables".


  Teachers were curious about how cohort sampling would work—how pupils would be selected, how frequently they would be sampled and on what criteria. It was observed that universities self-moderate and regulate the awarding of degrees and it could be that they offer elements which could be incorporated into the cohort model used.

  Some teachers were concerned about the time and cost involved in cohort sampling. They wanted to know how school effectiveness would be judged in the absence of school standards data. They were also concerned about sampling pupils with special needs. Others welcomed the proposal on the basis that it could provide comparative data to moderate each pupil against a range of curricular areas, skills and understanding of aspects of development not currently able to be assessed such as pupil attitudes, aspects of Every Child Matters and citizenship.

    "We are enthusiastic that this system may enable a broader, more accurate assessment base across the whole curriculum".

    "This potentially sounds better, cheaper, less stressful".


    "These proposals would lead to a more creative curriculum".

    "Wonderful idea—this will make teaching more enjoyable".

    "How can we persuade the Government?"

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