Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families Minutes of Evidence

Letter to the Chairman from Jim Knight MP, Minister of State for Schools and Learners, Department for Children, Schools and Families


  I would like to take this opportunity to update you on the Making Good Progress pilot which started in September last year.

  The Making Good Progress pilot is testing new ways to measure, assess, report and stimulate progress in our schools. It involves pupils in Key Stage 2 and 3 and is running between September 2007 and July 2009 in 455 schools. We are providing more than £20m for the pilot in the academic year 2007-08.

  The cornerstone of the Making Good Progress pilot is developing and improving teachers' assessment skills to focus on moving children on in their learning. Sharper use of assessment, better pupil tracking and better planning by schools to help each child to progress perfectly illustrates assessment for learning, which is central to our drive to raise standards for all children. We are investing a substantial amount in this, £150 million will be spent on improving assessment for learning practice in all schools between 2008-09 and 2010-11.

  The main focus is on assessment for learning. Other elements of the pilot are:

    —  one-to-one tuition of up to 20 hours in English and/or maths to pupils behind national expectations who are still making slow progress;

    —  the introduction of single-level tests which pupils can take "when ready";

    —  school progression targets; and

    —  a payment for schools which make outstanding progress with those children who entered the key stage behind expectations.

  This combination of measures is intended to ensure that all pupils, from the very brightest, to those who enter school below the expected standard for their age, are making the progress they should. It should encourage regular and better use of assessment to identify what each child needs to move on. Schools can call on extra support for those who need it, through one-to-one tuition, and there are incentives to schools to keep every child progressing to the next level throughout the key stage.

  The pilot provides an important opportunity to make sure that all children, no matter what their starting point or background, progress as they should in our schools. Our strategy is to continue to raise standards for all while ensuring those who have the furthest to go, or those who are struggling, get the support they need, when they need it. The focus on progression will help all pupils, regardless of background or circumstance, to achieve their potential. It is crucial that we ensure more pupils make the expected progress through the key stages at school, especially pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds who have not kept pace with their peers.


  Single level tests are only one part of a coherent package of progression activity, though much of the attention on the pilot has focused on the new tests. As you know we committed in the Children's Plan to roll out single level tests nationally, subject to positive evidence from the pilot and to endorsement of this approach from the regulator.

  The tests are part of a personalised approach to learning to ensure every child progresses at their own rate, rather than having a snapshot of attainment at the end of a key stage. They are used to confirm teachers' assessment, when they judge a child is working at the next level. We've just finished the first round of tests and, as with any new assessment, the QCA is reviewing the outcomes to refine the model.

  Local Authorities and schools are positive about the principle of Single Level Tests. But the pilot is crucial to enable us to get the model and delivery of it right—this is only the first of four test windows in the pilot.


  The first round of tests took place in December. 22,543 pupils took 42,833 new tests at Levels 3-6. There have been some unexpected patterns in the results which we needed to investigate. This is not unusual in piloting new tests, but it did mean a short delay in releasing their results to participating schools whilst the National Assessment Agency (NAA) reviewed the outcomes.

  The results were made available to schools on 7 February, together with some explanation of the factors that may have caused unusual patterns of performance. Although we do not at this stage have a full explanation for this we are clearer about what the likely factors are. NAA are doing further work to feed lessons learnt into the next round of tests.

  NAA's investigation found that a number of factors are likely to have combined to produce unusual outcomes, with variations in performance between KS2 and KS3 pupils taking the same test and at some of the levels tested:

    —  inappropriate entry, with a number of pupils entered who had a teacher assessment that was lower than would have been expected if the pupil was secure within the level being entered for;

    —  the new style of test with questions pitched at a single level, rather than a range of three levels, will have been unfamiliar both to pupils and to markers; It may be that pupils perceived the test as harder without the initial "warm up" questions to ease them into the tests, as they are used to in National Curriculum tests;

    —  pupils may have been less motivated—research suggests that pupil motivation for new tests taken in a pilot may be lower than for National Curriculum statutory tests, and that this factor may be more marked for pupils in Key Stage 3 than in Key Stage 2;

    —  a number of pupils did not get to the end of their papers, particularly on higher level papers; we are mindful that this is the first time pupils would have experienced national tests of this type and this could have had an impact on their performance; and

    —  markers are unaccustomed to marking scripts at a single level from pupils in two key stages.


  Of course, one of the main purposes of this first round of single level tests was to test the tests. It is not unusual for early trials of new tests to show unexpected results and inconsistencies.

  It is important to recognise that NAA developed these tests on a much shorter timescale than is typical for test development, and that this did not allow for the usual pre-testing that would take place. Nor did they have the benefit of data from previous tests of this kind. The test development process for the June tests, whilst still on shorter timescales, will more closely match that for National Curriculum tests.

  We are also working with participating schools and Local Authority pilot leaders to learn from their experience, and in particular to understand more fully issues related to teacher assessment judgements and test entry decisions.

  As the two-year pilot develops schools, markers and all those involved in the administration of these tests will become more familiar with their use. There are four rounds of single level tests. Each of them will provide evidence on which to base an analysis of their effectiveness, and each may be used to improve and refine the test model. With the June tests we expect to establish better comparability with the end of Key Stage tests. At the same time, we are developing assessment for learning to support teachers in making sound judgements, and in entering pupils for the tests when they are truly ready. We intend to publish an interim report on the assessment model in the autumn, reflecting the experience of schools over the first year of the pilot, and after two rounds of tests.

February 2008

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