Memorandum submitted by the Department
for Education and Skills (DfES)
1. National Curriculum assessment, with
public examinations at 16-19, provides an objective and reliable
measure of the standards secured by pupils at crucial stages in
their development. The focus on English, mathematics and science
in the curriculum and assessment at Key Stages 1-3, and in future
on functional skills in the curriculum and assessment for 14-19
year olds, reflects their importance to the future prospects of
children and young people in education and the world of work beyond.
2. The system of National Curriculum assessment
was developed on the basis of expert advice at its inception to
complement arrangements already in place for public examinations
at 16 and beyond. It recognises that any assessment system makes
trade-offs between purposes, validity and reliability, and manageability.
It places greatest emphasis on securing valid and reliable data
about pupil performance, which is used for accountability, planning,
resource allocation, policy development and school improvement.
In short, it equips us with the best data possible to support
our education system.
3. The benefits brought about by this system,
compared to the time before the accountability of the National
Curriculum, have been immense. The aspirations and expectations
of pupils and their teachers have been raised. For parents, the
benefits have been much better information not only about the
progress their own child is making but also about the performance
of the school their child attends. And for the education system
as a whole, standards of achievement have been put in the spotlight,
teachers' efforts have been directed to make a difference and
performance has improved. The public has a right to demand such
transparency at a time of record investment in education.
4. The National Curriculum sets out a clear,
full and statutory entitlement to learning for all pupils, irrespective
of background or ability. It determines the content of what will
be taught, promoting continuity and coherence throughout the education
system, and defines expectations about levels of attainment and
progression throughout the years of compulsory education. It promotes
public understanding of, and confidence in, the work of schools
by establishing national standards for all pupils. It provides
a framework for the continuous monitoring of pupils' performance
which is a key feature of many successful schools' strategies
for improving teaching and learning.
5. Until end of key stage assessment arrangements
were introduced, the only measure understood and accepted by the
public was general qualifications examinations, taken by most
pupils at the end of compulsory education. There were no objective
and consistent performance measures which gave the public confidence
about expected standards in primary schools or the intermediary
Key Stage 1
6. Assessment arrangements at Key Stage
1 have, since introduction, always been more flexible than those
at other key stages, and changes in 2005 developed that approach
further. The focus on teacher assessment recognises that, at age
seven, children's performance on a specific occasion may be less
representative of what they can do, and that wider evidence of
attainment is better gathered over a longer period. Teachers make
assessments for reading, writing, speaking and listening, mathematics
and science. They administer national curriculum tasks and tests
in reading, writing and mathematics, which provide evidence to
inform their overall assessment of a child's progress. But only
the teacher assessments are reported. Teacher assessments are
moderated by local authorities to ensure that they are made on
a consistent basis and so provide a suitably reliable measure
of performance. Schools publish their Key Stage 1 performance
data. The Department publishes national summary Key Stage 1 results
but does not publish school-level data.
Key Stages 2 and 3
7. National Curriculum assessment at Key
Stages 2 and 3 comprises tests in the core subjects of English,
mathematics and science, and teacher assessments in core subjects
at Key Stage 2, and in core and foundation subjects at Key Stage
3. Schools report teacher assessments alongside test results.
There are no moderation arrangements for teacher assessments at
these key stages as externally-marked tests provide the basis
for assessing all pupils in the country on a consistent basis.
Assessment at age 16 and over: GCSE, A levels,
Diplomas and the International Baccalaureate
8. The General Certificate of Secondary
Education (GCSE) and Advanced level (A level) qualifications are
internationally respected qualifications at the heart of our assessment
system at 16 and after. We have been very clear that both are
here to stay. They are a proven and valuable method of recognising
achievement, particularly at Level 2 (GCSE)the level which
the Leitch Review recommends that 90% of the adult population
of the UK need to reach if the UK is to provide growth, productivity
and social justice in a rapidly changing global economy.
9. The GCSE is currently the principal means
of assessing standards at the end of compulsory schooling at age
16. Although it is not compulsory for pupils to be entered for
GCSEs, approximately 96% of 15 year olds are entered for one or
more full courses each year. They are assessed through a combination
of coursework and terminal examination and are graded on an eight-point
scale from A*-G. GCSE grades are awarded on a criterion-referenced
basis: to be awarded a grade C, the candidate must demonstrate
the qualities associated with that grade. The A* grade was introduced
in 1994 to recognise outstanding pupil achievement.
10. A levels are one of the main routes
into higher education and employment. They were radically changed
in 2000 when a completely revised advanced level curriculum was
introduced to increase breadth (particularly in the first year
of study) and allow students to monitor attainment and make informed
decisions about their future learning.
11. A levels are modular qualifications
and are assessed as young people proceed through the course, rather
than only being examined in a single examination at the end of
a two year course. Some A levels also have a coursework element.
They are graded on a five point scale from A-E. We recently announced
the introduction of a new A* grade for A level from 2010, which
will reward excellence in a similar way to the A* at GCSE.
12. We recognise that GCSEs and A levels
are not right for every student. By 2013, every young person will
have the choice to pursue one of 14 Diplomas, which will provide
a new way of assessing standards at Levels 1, 2 and 3. And by
2010, at least one maintained institution in every local authority
(fewer in London) will be offering the International Baccalaureate.
13. Test and exam results are published
every year in the Achievement and Attainment Tables, which are
an important source of public accountability for schools and colleges.
The publication of threshold measures of performance is a strong
incentive for schools and colleges to ensure that as many pupils/students
as possible achieve the required standard, particularly, at Key
Stages 1-3, in the core subjects of English, mathematics and science.
This emphasis on the "basics" has been strengthened
beyond age 14 by the inclusion of a measure incorporating English
and mathematics in the Key Stage 4 tables.
14. The inclusion of Contextual Value Added
(CVA) in the tables provides a more sophisticated measure for
comparing the performance of schools, based on what we know about
the effect of particular pupil characteristics on attainment and
progress. CVA brings us closer to a common indicator allowing
us to contrast schools' effectiveness.
15. Used together, threshold and CVA measures
provide a powerful tool for school improvement and raising standards
across the education system, enabling us to track changes in performance
over time nationally and locally, and at school and individual
At national level, performance
data derived from tests and public exams enable Government to
develop policies and allocate resources. For example, the first
Key Stage 2 test results showed that 49% of pupils were not reaching
the standard expected for their age in English, while 48% were
failing to do so in maths. This provided the impetus for the National
Literacy and Numeracy Strategies which have done so much to raise
standards in primary schools.
At local level, performance
data have been integral to target-setting and have enabled us
to focus on areas of particular under-performance.
At school level, performance
data have provided a basis for the judgements of inspectors and
challenge from School Improvement Partners. School-level data
published in the tables and School Profile also help parents to
make informed choices about their children's education. Used in
this way, performance data is an important lever for driving school
improvement. As described below, performance data and supporting
information can also provide an important tool for schools in
devising their strategies for improvement.
At pupil level, assessment provides
clear and widely-understood measures of progress for every child,
supporting the personalisation of teaching and learning by enabling
children's future work to be planned to meet their needs and help
them to fulfil their potential.
16. The strength and validity of the accountability
regime requires us to ensure to the best of our ability that tests
and public exams measure pupil performance against standards that
are consistent over time. QCA is responsible for ensuring that
standards are maintained over time and its processes for doing
so in relation to National Curriculum Tests were found by the
independent Rose Panel (1999) to be robust and to bear comparison
with best practice in the world.
17. For public examinations, the 1996 SCAA/Ofsted
report, and subsequent follow up reports, showed that standards
at A level have been maintained for at least 20 years. These reports
concluded that the overall demand of subjects studied remained
broadly the same between 1975 and 1995, although an increase in
breadth of coverage led to a reduced emphasis on some topics.
18. The Independent Committee on Examination
Standards chaired by Dr Barry McGaw, Director for Education at
OECD, published its findings about A levels in December 2004.
The report concluded that:
no examination system at the
school or other level is so tightly or carefully managed;
strategies for maintaining comparable
examination standards across awarding bodies are adequate to the
the awarding bodies have broadly
consistent and well-regulated systems for setting question papers,
managing marking and awarding grades; and
QCA has robust systems in place
to monitor and regulate the work of the awarding bodies.
19. Schools are the point where the key
strands discussed so farend of key stage assessment, accountability
and standards over timecome together with assessment for
learning (or formative assessment) to drive improvement in the
performance of individual pupils and groups of pupils. We provide
schools with a range of tools and support to enable them to make
the most of this interface.
20. RAISEonline is a web-based data analysis
system developed jointly by the Department and Ofsted. It enables
schools to see how their pupils' performance in tests compares
with pupils in similar schools, to track the progress of individual
pupils, groups of pupils and year-groups, and to evaluate the
effectiveness of teaching. That information is a powerful tool
for planning development and improvement, and enables schools
to set challenging targets for improved future performance across
the school. RAISEonline also supports the school self-evaluation
process, which is a key element in Ofsted's school inspection
21. The value of the end of key stage assessment
(or summative) data published in the tables and in RAISEonline
can be enhanced by the quick provision of marks for each question
and sub-question to support analysis against attainment targets.
These data can be analysed in RAISEonline to identify the curriculum
areas where pupils performed better or worse than the national
22. Test scripts are returned to schools
and they use evidence from them to identify strengths and weaknesses
in individuals, teaching groups and subject teaching. This summative
evidence at the end of each key stage should complement continuous
teacher assessment. Pupils should be tracked against attainment
targets and progressively achieve individual learning goals which
relate explicitly to National Curriculum levels.
23. Teachers can use a number of tools to
support their summative assessment judgements, such as tasks provided
through the Assessing Pupil Performance (APP) materials, optional
tests and `P scales' for SEN pupils working towards Level 1 of
the National Curriculum. Summative assessment is in turn a key
piece of evidence for effective assessment for learning (AfL).
Effective AfL is about teachers working with pupils and their
parents/carers, using a range of evidence to establish where pupils
are in their learning, where they need to go and how they get
there. Where this is effective, the pupil and their teachers share
an understanding of the progress they have made and their objectives
for moving forward.
24. To help schools deliver AfL in the round,
the APP materials are supported by guidance on the techniques
that support AfL (for example setting targets with pupils or supporting
peer and self-assessment). We have also developed more tailored
Intervention materials and "Progression Maps" designed
for use with pupils who are under-achieving. The Intervention
materials and maps enable teachers to refine their summative judgements
of pupils below expectations to pinpoint specific weaknesses and
then plan teaching that will tackle those issues. APP, AfL and
Intervention materials are all delivered through the National
Strategies, who develop the materials in partnership with the
QCA. AfL guidance has been available in Secondary Schools since
2004, APP materials for English and maths are available in Secondary
Schools and will be released in primary schools in 2007-08. Intervention
materials were rolled out in 2006.
25. There are three criticisms which are
most often levied by public commentators at the current approach
to assessment and accountability. The first is that it leads some
teachers to teach to the test. The second is that it causes schools
to narrow the curriculum. The third is about the burden testing
places on schools and pupils.
Teaching to the test
26. The best preparation for any test is
to ensure a pupil has the deep knowledge and understanding of
a concept, or the extended experience of practising a skill, which
permits them to demonstrate that knowledge, understanding or skill
proficiency and in response to a variety of possible test items.
27. At the same time, and as with any exam
based around set criteria, it is certainly the case that a child
who is helped to understand what the markers are looking for and
how to present answers accordingly is likely to do better than
a child who faces the test unprepared. Preparation for assessment
should be wholly integrated into the classroom experience for
pupils and not at the expense of teaching the wider curriculum.
Teachers should agree with pupils their targets for the next stage
of progress, discuss with pupils what they need to do to reach
the next stage and constantly reflect that progress in their teaching.
There should be continual pupil tracking based on such assessment,
benchmarked periodically by formal tests such as the optional
tests provided by the QCA. There should then be no "mad dash"
to the tests in year 6 and year 9 to make up for lost time. Pupils
know what they can achieve and have the right teaching and support
to achieve it in the statutory assessment.
28. The teacher who prepares pupils for
a test without developing the deeper understanding or more extended
experience required may be fortunate enough to enjoy some short-term
success, but will not be likely to maintain that performance over
Tests and the curriculum
29. Within the assessment regime, we make
no apology for the focus on the core subjects of English, maths
and science, which encourages schools to prioritise these subjects,
because they hold the key to children's future success in the
classroom and in the world of work beyond. For example, pupils
going to secondary school at the age of 11 can be seriously disadvantaged
if they lack secure standards (Level 4 or better) in English and
maths. It is not simply a matter of the value of these subjects
for their own sake. Pupils' study of subjects like history and
geography, for example, will be hampered if they cannot "show
understanding of significant ideas, themes, events and characters"
through reading or "develop their own strategies for solving
problems and use these strategies both in working within mathematics
and in applying mathematics to practical contexts" (as set
out in the English and maths Level 4 descriptions). There is nothing
that narrows a pupil's experience of the curriculum so quickly
as a poor preparation for the level of literacy and numeracy that
the subject demands.
30. Science should be maintained as the
third national priority. It helps pupils to explore the world
around them and understand many things that have relevance to
daily life. It is a key element of preparation for life in modern
society and is essential to our future economic prosperity.
The burden of assessment
31. The statutory assessment system demands
comparatively little of the child in the 11 years of compulsory
schooling. Assessment at KS1 should be carried out as part of
normal lessons. The child will not necessarily recognise a difference
between the formal tests and tasks s/he completes for other classroom
exercises. The tests can be taken at any time throughout the year
and just to the extent necessary to enable the teachers to be
secure in the judgement of which level the child has reached.
Assessment at KS2 involves one week of tests in May, most lasting
45 minutes and in total amounting to less than six hours of tests
under secure examination conditions. Assessment at KS3 is similar,
involving one week of tests normally an hour in length and amounting
to less than eight hours. Although most children take the tests
in the years they turn 11 and 14, the requirement is that they
are assessed at the end of the completion of the programmes of
study in the key stage. That means that schools can enter children
for tests at an early or later age depending on their development.
32. We know that some children can find
examinations stressful, as with many other aspects of school life.
All effective schools will help anxious children to address the
demands of expectations of performance in tests.
33. Throughout the evolution of the assessment
system we have kept in balance the costs of assessment and the
workload expectations on schools and teachers. Parents have a
right to expect that the standards of their children and the school
are assessed in an objective way, free from bias or influence.
External assessment minimises the workload demands on classroom
teachers. Other approaches to ensure objectivity and reliability
introduce workload burdens.
34. At GCSE level, we are responding to
criticisms that coursework is often repetitive and burdensome,
does not add educational value, is open to cheating and is difficult
to verify. As there have been changes in education and technology
since GCSE was introduced, QCA has assessed each subject to determine
whether coursework is the best way to assess the learning outcomes.
In the future we intend to assess some subjects purely through
external examinations, and develop controlled assessments in other
subjects. QCA will be consulting with key stakeholders on what
controlled assessment will look like, and will be consulting more
widely on the GCSE criteria this summer.
35. We are also taking steps to reduce the
burden of assessment at A level on students and on teachers, without
compromising the standards of the qualifications. Now that early
concerns about the impact of Curriculum 2000 have subsided as
the modular approach has bedded down, we are reducing the number
of units for A levels from six to four in the majority of subjects.
This will reduce the assessment burden by a third, reduce costs
and address exam timetabling difficulties: but the reduction is
only in assessment, not in content or standard. QCA has also considered
the burden of coursework in individual subjects and the cumulative
effect across A-level programmes. From 2008 only those subjects
containing particular skills and subject knowledge that can not
be assessed through an examination will continue to be internally
36. As our response to criticisms about
GCSE and A-level assessment shows, the system has constantly evolved
to meet changing needs and it will continue to do so. The two
key areas of development at present focus on progression and on
further strengthening of 16-19 assessment.
Evolving assessment policy to drive progression
37. At present our assessment and accountability
system is largely based around the achievement of thresholds.
While we will continue to look for improved performance at threshold
levels, our increased emphasis on a personalised approach to learning
and on ensuring that every child progresses well in their education
suggests we should also hold schools accountable for the rate
at which pupils progress. The Making Good Progress pilot,
which will begin in nearly 500 schools in September, will look
at how we best we can do this. An important part of the pilot
will be to investigate whether different approaches to assessment
and testing can encourage sharper use of assessment, better pupil
tracking leading to better planning by schools, and improved progression
to the next key stage. At the same time it will need to maintain
the accountability, consistency and reliability of the current
38. In pilot schools, Key Stage 2 and Key
Stage 3 English and mathematics teachers will be able to enter
children for an externally written and marked test as soon as
they are confident (through their own systematic assessment) that
the pupil has progressed to the next national curriculum level.
The tests will be available twice a year at all levels to pupils
in all year groups so, for example, an exceptional pupil in year
4 could be entered for a Level 5 test, whilst for a small minority
of pupils in year 6 a Level 3 test would be appropriate. The tests
will be shorter than the existing end of Key Stage tests because
they are confirming whether a pupil has reached a specific level
rather than testing across a range of levels.
39. A key feature of the pilot will be to
improve the way teachers track and assess pupils' progress. It
provides a valuable opportunity to explore how we can make formal
testing arrangements work together even more effectively than
at present with assessment for learning by looking at how we can
better exploit the formative potential of tests. The pilot tests
will be taken only when a teacher assesses a pupil as ready to
achieve the next national curriculum level, placing the emphasis
on where a pupil is throughout a key stage, rather than the end
of the key stage. The tests should become part of a continual
learning process, engaging parents, pupils and teachers in focusing
on the next steps learning. An important area we will be looking
at in monitoring and evaluating the pilot is how close teachers'
judgements about the level a pupil has reached are to the test
results. In principle, if teachers' assessments are accurate,
and if they are only entering pupils when they are ready, pupils
are much more likely to experience success in the tests.
40. At a national level, the model being
piloted will generate rich data about pupil and school performance.
It will provide a much clearer picture than at present about how
pupils progress through key stages, including which groups of
pupils fall behind at which points. For schools, the combination
of termly teacher assessments, and the opportunity to have those
assessments confirmed by tests as pupils progress through levels,
will be a valuable means of tracking and improving the progress
of individual pupils.
41. From this September, we will be piloting
new GCSEs in English, maths and ICT which include functional skills
in these areas: once these are rolled out from 2010 it will not
be possible to achieve a grade C grade or above in English, maths
or ICT GCSE without demonstrating the relevant functional skills.
This will mean some significant changes in assessment techniques
and we have a programme of activity in hand to ensure that the
workforce is appropriately trained. Both assessment and workforce
development will be developed further as part of the pilot, taking
into account the burdens on learners and teachers.
42. Around 4% of the age cohort achieves
three or more A grades at A-level. We believe that more can be
done to stretch and challenge A-level students, particularly our
brightest students, and to provide greater differentiation for
universities which have large numbers of applicants for popular
courses. Following consultation with HE representatives, QCA began
pilots of tougher questions from September 2006. QCA has revised
its A-level criteria to require more open-ended questions and
reduce atomistic assessment, and is currently in the process of
accrediting new specifications against these criteria. The standard
required to obtain an A grade will remain the same but the strongest
performers against the new assessment will be rewarded through
the introduction of the A* grade.
43. The phased introduction of Diplomas
will begin in 2008 and will offer greater choice to learners by
providing a strong focus on applied learning within a broad educational
programme. They are designed to improve both participation and
attainment at Levels 1, 2 and 3 with clear progression routes
through these levels and beyond into employment and higher education.
44. Diplomas will require innovative forms
of assessment to reflect the blend of practical and theoretical
learning within them while ensuring the rigorous standards expected
of a national qualification. Assessment will be a combination
of locally determined and standardised external assessment that
will provide formative and summative data to inform the progress
of individuals and the performance of educational institutions.
Diplomas will be graded on the same scale as GCSE and A levels.
The extended project
45. QCA has developed, in consultation with
HE institutions and employers, the criteria for models for an
extended project which will both form part of the new Diplomas
and be a free-standing qualification which can be taken alongside
A levels. The extended project will be in an area of the student's
choice and will have the potential to stretch all young people
and to test a wider range of higher levels skills, such as independent
research, study and planning. It is currently being piloted and
will be available nationally from 2008.
46. We do not want the extended project
to add to the assessment burden on students and institutions and
it is our expectation that students pursuing an A level programme
of study will normally complete an extended project instead of
a fourth or fifth AS level and not in addition. For Diplomas,
the project will form an integral part of the programme of study.
We will review assessment and grading of the extended project
as part of the evaluation of the pilots to ensure that burdens
are minimised and the assessment and grading arrangements are
fair and robust.
Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA)
47. The QCA is a Non-Departmental Public
Body (NDPB), with a Board appointed by and accountable to the
Secretary of State for Education and Skills. The Secretary of
State sends an annual remit letter specifying his priorities for
the QCA and setting out its budget, and holds the QCA to account
for delivery of these priorities and QCA's statutory functions.
This accountability works differently for different areas of QCA's
work: the Authority has statutory responsibility for regulation
of qualifications, so it would be inappropriate for the Department
to intervene in that; but in other areas, such as the 14-19 reform
programme, the QCA is implementing Government policy, and the
Department and QCA work closely together on delivery.
48. We believe that the accountability works
well, striking a balance between respecting QCA's arm's length
status and ensuring it makes its contribution to delivering the
Government's education priorities and provides good value for
the public funds it receives.
49. Separately from its formal accountability,
QCA also has to maintain its credibility with the wider education
sector, particularly the learners, employers and others who rely
on the qualifications it regulates and the curriculum materials
and tests it produces.
The respective roles of the QCA and Awarding Bodies
50. QCA is responsible for the standards
of National Curriculum assessment and for the delivery of National
Curriculum tests through its National Assessment Agency (NAA),
which contracts with external providers for the various stages
of the process, eg test development, external marking, data collection.
The QCA regulates the tests to ensure that standards are maintained
and that assessments are fair and effective.
51. Different arrangements apply in relation
to external qualifications, such as GCSEs, A levels and the new
Diplomas. In those cases, a range of awarding bodies develops
the qualifications, organise assessments and make awards, regulated
by the QCA.
52. This difference properly reflects the
different nature and purpose of tests and qualifications: QCA
has to secure provision of statutory tests in core subjects linked
to the National Curriculum; but for qualifications, we need to
have a range of different options available, offered by credible,
independent awarding bodies with assessment expertise, to reflect
the needs and aptitudes of learners of all ages, including those
outside the state sector.