House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
TAKEN BEFORE THE
children, schools and families committee
MONDAY 14 January 2008
DR MARY BOUSTED, MICK BROOKES, BRIAN LIGHTMAN and KEITH BARTLEY
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Children, Schools and Families Committee
on Monday 14 January 2008
Fiona Mactaggart (in the Chair)
Mr. David Chaytor
Mr. John Heppell
Mrs. Sharon Hodgson
Mr. Andy Slaughter
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Dr. Mary Bousted, General Secretary, Association of Teachers and Lecturers, Mick Brookes, General Secretary, National Association of Head Teachers, Brian Lightman, President, Association of School and College Leaders, and Keith Bartley, Chief Executive, General Teaching Council for England, gave evidence.
Q128 Chairman: Good afternoon, everyone. We have a rather interesting situation here. We are missing our Chair, because this session coincides with the debate on the Education and Skills Bill in the House, so I have agreed to act as Chair. We are also missing a bunch of witnesses. I am afraid that Steve Sinnott of the National Union of Teachers and Chris Keates of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers pulled out. They would have provided two thirds of the witnesses in the second part of this evidence session, so we have decided to put together all four witnesses who are here-thank you for agreeing to this, Mary-for one slightly truncated session.
It is important that we speak to the NASUWT and the NUT, and it is striking that in its evidence the NUT specifically asked to come before the Committee to give evidence. We want to speak to senior officials, and not to junior substitutes, so we will arrange an alternative date for them to appear. In the meantime, in this session-I imagine that it will finish at about 5.15 pm if that is convenient for all our witnesses-we will look at testing and assessment as part of our inquiry.
It is usual for the Chair to offer witnesses an opportunity to make brief preliminary remarks about the issues before them, which can help the Committee to zero in on its main concerns. If any of you would like to do that, I would welcome your contribution.
Dr. Bousted: The key issue for this Committee is that proposed by Dylan Williams, who said that the challenge that we have as a country is to have tests that are worth teaching to. At present, the view of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers is that we do not have tests that are worth teaching to. The current testing system is highly unsatisfactory. Some 30% of pupils will be awarded the wrong level at key stage tests. That is an issue for standard assessment tests and GCSEs. Another issue is that, because of over-teaching to the tests, six months on from being tested at key stages 2 and 3, 25% of children do not maintain the same level. For a Government who are keenly interested in raising pupils' standards and system levels of attainment and achievement, that is not good. What is striking from the evidence that has been presented by the people representing our organisations is the degree of consensus in the submissions.
There is consensus that tests are used for too many different purposes, and because of that their value is corrupted. There is consensus on the inadequate relationship between the national curriculum and the tests. In other words, the tests cover very narrow aspects of the national curriculum, which leads to worries about validity. There is also striking evidence that because we test seven out of 11 years of compulsory schooling, there is a demotivating impact on pupils, which leads to a very instrumental view of learning. I was interested to read in The Times Higher Education Supplement that this instrumental view of learning is even affecting the most academic pupils-those who go on to higher education. They arrive at university without the necessary research skills and skills for independent learning, which then have to be taught in the first year of university. Therefore, the tests have a severe effect on all children in the curriculum. Even in the Government's own terms, the tests do not do the job and, more significantly, they militate against assessment for learning, which we need to encourage.
This is a highly significant inquiry. I am glad that the Select Committee wants to consider the matter. I know that you were going to do it and then the inquiry was halted and you will come back to it. It is highly significant, and we will await your final report with interest because you are commenting on something for which the public perception is now changing. We are coming to an interesting time in the assessment and testing debate. There is beginning to be more of a clamour to do things differently.
Mick Brookes: I am very pleased to be here as well. It is important that we get beneath the headlines of what all the associations have been saying. The impression that the teaching unions are against assessment is palpably not true. We are for assessment, but it has to be assessment for the right reasons and with the right instruments. If we do not have that, we end up, as Mary said, corrupting the curriculum. You should have received the commission on testing by the National Association of Head Teachers. In that commission, views were gathered from the wider community, and not just the teaching community. It included views from the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations and governing bodies. It was not just our association that was represented. Anthony Seldon stated: "Children are encouraged to develop an attitude that, if it is not in the exam, it doesn't matter. Intellectual curiosity is stifled and young people's deeper cultural, moral, sporting, social and spiritual faculties are marginalised by a system in which all must come second to delivering improving test and exam numbers." That is where we are. I know from my colleagues that it has altered the curriculum, particularly in the primary sector but also in the secondary sector. I am sure that Brian will say more about that in a minute. It is timely that we come to this now to look at where we go to continue to raise standards in education.
Brian Lightman: What is interesting is the degree of consensus that is already here. I have heard nothing that I disagree with and would not have wanted to say myself. That is a very important message: that we really do feel strongly about this. I want to home in on two things. The first is the examinations system, which has become so costly and complex and is at a point that is completely unsustainable in its current format. There seems to be an assumption that everything has to be externally assessed, which is having all kinds of implications in terms of what we are doing in school, what we are doing for the children, the pressure we are putting them under and the disaffection that we are causing as well as the unhappiness and stress of children.
That sounds as if I am going to speak against assessment and I am certainly not going to do that. Like the NAHT, we are far from opposed to assessment. In fact, we are saying that assessment is an integral part of the teaching and learning process. It is absolutely the bread and butter of what every teacher does. It is strange that that aspect of our work has almost been taken away from the professional skills of teachers, because it has been handed over to people outside the classroom. I want to talk about the problem with that. True assessment for learning is something that we are genuinely excited and passionate about as school leaders because, when you introduce those types of technique, you can see immediately improvements in the motivation of the students and quite enormous improvements in the quality of the learning that goes on. That is a terribly important aspect of what we are doing and we need to re-professionalise teachers and train them so that they can use those methods in their teaching. That would have an enormous impact on things like low-level disruption in the classroom, the motivation of students and the progress that they make.
ASCL is providing in its paper a proposal for chartered assessors that we see as a solution to the problem. We do not want just to talk about a problem. We are saying that we understand the need for assessment for accountability and we understand that assessment needs to be robust, valid, reliable and so on. Therefore, we propose a model whereby teachers can be trained in their skills and assessment and we can build that into our work. That would be much better value for money and a much more efficient system. I could say a lot more about that, but by way of introduction, that will do for the moment.
Keith Bartley: I became chief executive of the General Teaching Council in March this year and one of the first things that impressed me was the range and the nature of the evidence and research work with teachers and with parents that underpinned our submission to you. I hope that you have had access to that. The General Teaching Council was founded and exists in the public interest, and I share the consensus that you have heard about already. We feel strongly that this country needs an assessment system that more effectively supports learning and promotes higher achievement. We are very much here in terms of a statement of intent to help the Government to find a means by which benchmarked information about schools in the public domain is valid, reliable and illustrative of the progress made by children. I will not go through them now, but all our proposals were submitted with that objective in mind.
Q129 Chairman: Thank you all very much. It could be understood that the arguments that you have all made-I doubt that this is what you believe-are against all forms of externally moderated examinations. I would like you to talk about where you feel externally moderated examinations ought to fit into the system and why.
Mick Brookes: You are quite right; that is not that case. We think that we should place greater reliance on teacher assessments, as Mary said, but it would need to be moderated. I know, from my experiences as a head teacher, that you can have two teachers with a parallel year group, one of whose glass is half-full and the other whose glass is half-empty, and who might assess something such as writing, for instance, which has a degree of subjectivity about it, at different levels. There needs, therefore, to be something there.
The Scottish system is worth looking at. They have a bank of benchmarked tests, from which schools can draw, in order to check on the validity of teacher assessment. We are not against external assessments; in fact, it is important to have some benchmarking. Nobody in our association wants to return to the 1970s when you did not know what the school up the road was doing, let alone a school at the other end of the country. There needs to be some benchmarking and an idea of where schools should be, but we are saying that we need to test for the right purpose. The current testing regime is used for far too many purposes.
Brian Lightman: I am sure that we would agree with that. There is certainly a place for external assessment, which will increase as you go higher up the age range. We do not suggest removing A-levels because they are important external benchmarks, but there should be an appropriate range of assessment methods. However, going further down the age range, we need to think whether it is really necessary for material at, say, key stage 3, to be marked externally, bearing in mind that it is marked by the same people as those in the school at the time. Does everything need to be externally arranged? Do we need a system by which we send things away? Given technology, should we not, as the NAHT suggested, adopt a system by which, for example, you could download assessment material? We should use new technology to download new material and use it when we are genuinely ready. That does not mean that everybody does the same test on the same day and in the same room, but that when you are ready, you draw down those resources to a certain standard.
Q130 Chairman: Sorry to interrupt you, but is that not exactly what is proposed in the single-level test?
Brian Lightman: No, I do not think that it is. At the moment, everybody across the country is doing the same test on the same day, so it is still an external test. We suggest having a bank of assessments, which the professionals should be trusted to draw down and use. When a class, or group of students within a class, is ready to be assessed, they could draw down those materials and apply the assessments to those students. We would have to ensure the appropriate external moderation. That could be helped by the model that we put forward of chartered assessors, whereby qualified people moderate both within and outside the school.
Q131 Chairman: In St. Cyres school, which you headed, did you find that occasionally you would pick different examination boards for different subjects, because of questions about whether a board is easier in some subjects than in others?
Brian Lightman: I am sure that that has happened in every school in the country.
Q132 Chairman: I am not picking you out, but just asking for your personal experiences as a head teacher.
Brian Lightman: In my experience, in all of my schools, including when I was a head of department in Surrey, we would change our syllabus, partly depending on how we felt that we could get the children through exams. That is bound to happen in a culture in which everything is looked at and accountable.
We should be choosing assessment materials that reflect the kind of teaching and learning that we want to have. Given that you mentioned St. Cyres, I should add that it is in Wales, where we do not have key stage 3 tests. Interestingly, given the changes there, there is now a genuine debate among heads of different subjects about what constitutes effective learning at a particular level within each subject. Heads of department of different schools are getting together and really thinking about that moderation process in a way that I have not seen in the past 15 years or so.
Q133 Chairman: It does not seem to be producing better results in Wales and the rest of the country, but nevertheless-
Brian Lightman: Well, I think it is.
Keith Bartley: Going back to your question about external moderation, our research tends to suggest two things. One is that we think that public exams should be more about learning, which means that what is examined needs to be broader, and that more account needs to be taken of how they represent what has been learned. The second is linked to that. At the moment, most of our public exams have extremely high stakes. They are used for many purposes-that is the point that Mary started with. An externally moderated examination tells us how well a young person has achieved, comparatively. The scores are then aggregated to give us a sense of how well a school has done, and aggregated further to give us an idea of how well young people of a particular age have done across the country. That multiplicity of uses to which a single examination is put represents stakes that are too high, and it tends to subvert part of the original purpose of evaluating learning.
Chairman: Andy, perhaps this is the moment at which you would like to come in.
Q134 Mr. Slaughter: Yes, I was very interested in what was said at the beginning about the types of test and whether they are of a good standard. I shall come to that in a second, but first I shall return to an even earlier stage and see whether I have understood what you are saying about testing in general.
From my lay understanding, you are essentially talking about two different types of testing. The first is testing that is internal to an institution-the type of testing that I remember from when I was at school, which is a tool for teachers to use on their pupils to determine whether they are progressing and learning according to the curriculum that they are being taught. I would have thought that it is also used to encourage them to learn, because it provides an incentive, rather than their staring at a blank piece of paper in a test. I assume that that still goes on; it went on a lot when I was at school. I assume that you do not object to it.
National tests-I am not so much talking about exams such as A-levels, which have been mentioned-seem to perform a wholly different function: to test whether an institution and its teachers are performing. Do you see testing as I have just explained it, and, if not, what is your analysis? Do you think that the first type is good and the second bad?
Dr. Bousted: Well-
Chairman: Sorry, do come in there.
Mick Brookes: We are very well behaved.
Dr. Bousted: Yes, we are. We are not going to speak without the teacher letting us speak.
If your statement was right and the national tests were used to decide how good an institution was, that would cut down their purpose. You might be able to look at national tests that decide how good an institution is, but that is not the case. The national tests are used to give the individual performance of each child. Our argument is that in looking at an assessment system, we must consider two things: is it valid-testing the key, essential core abilities in a subject that are defined in the national curriculum-and is it reliable? ATL's contention is that the current system is neither valid-it does not test the essential core attributes of a subject-nor reliable. I return to the fact that up to 25% of children, maybe more, get the wrong grade, which has profound consequences for them. Also, a child who only just gets a Level 4 and one who nearly gets a Level 5 might be at very different stages in their learning. It is a broad brush stroke.
The other problem is that although tests are meant to be used to give individual level data, school level data and so on, at Key Stage 2, which has one of the most pernicious stages of testing, the results are given far too late to be any good for a child. The child goes on to secondary school, and secondary schools do not believe the grades because they think that primary schools train children to take tests. Indeed, independent evidence from the QCA proves that to be true. The children are then retested at secondary school because there is no confidence in the grades given by primary schools.
The idea that the national tests are used just for the national picture is not right. The problem for children is that if you are told at seven, at 11 and then at 14 that you are not very good, it is perfectly logical to say, "Well, if I'm not very good, I won't try." If individual children are told that they are not very good and not told why they are not very good-they might actually be quite good, but they might have been given the wrong grade-that will have a profoundly pernicious effect on lots of them as individuals. So, I would contend with your outline statement that the two types of testing are for two completely different purposes. I do not think that is the case.
Q135 Chairman: How much are the figures that you are quoting a reflection of the fact that the levels and the curriculum are different at Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 2, although the assessment levels are the same?
Dr. Bousted: What, if you get a level-
Q136 Chairman: If you get a Level 4 in the Key Stage 2 test and a Level 4 in the Key Stage 3 test, you are being tested on a different curriculum, are you not?
Dr. Bousted: Yes, you are, and it does not mean the same thing. Level 4 at Key Stage 2 and Level 4 at Key Stage 3 do not mean that progress has not been made. You are being tested against a different curriculum and a different assessment framework.
Q137 Chairman: Were you quoting those figures to suggest that the original test was wrong? I was wondering whether the figures that you were quoting were a reflection of the different tests, rather than the wrongness of the first result.
Dr. Bousted: The figures that I am quoting are a measure of the confidence that you can have in the fact that pupils are getting the right grade in the tests at each level. The reason why there is such a problem in the level of confidence is this. At 11 and 14, we assess whether a child is proficient in English, maths and science through pencil-and-paper tests. That has particular problems for the science curriculum, because you can test only a very narrow element of the science curriculum with pencil and paper. There are also huge problems with the English tests at Key Stage 3. There have been problems with their validity and reliability since their inception, and there has been a lot of political fury about them.
The issue in terms of validity is whether the test actually relates to key concepts in the national curriculum. There is an argument that it does not, because what you can test with the test items is so narrow. That means that although a child might get a certain level in a test, it might not be-our argument is that, too often, it is not-reflective of their ability. That is equally damaging regardless of whether that goes up or down-whether they are assessed at too high or too low a level.
Mick Brookes: To come back to your question, some proof of the value that the profession attaches to the results of testing can be seen in the number-QCA will provide this data-of year 3, year 4 and year 5 tests that are purchased by schools to check on progress and teacher assessments at the end of the year group. The difficulty with testing is not so much with those things that are easy to test, such as mathematics and comprehension-some things are either in the story or they are not.
To pick up what Mary was saying about the validity of the tests, there can be really interesting variations, with the same teacher at the end of primary school-and perhaps all the way through-scoring something like 85% with their children in a reading test, but only 75% or less for writing. The variation in the national levels achieved in reading and in writing, which are often misunderstood by the press, is huge. Why is that if the same teacher, with the same skills, is teaching the same children for all those tests? I think that it has something to do with the assessment of writing.
To take just one example, I know of an extremely good school that had very good writers, but the whole year group misunderstood the genre of the writing that they were supposed to be producing for key stage 2 SATs and none of them achieved their levels. That meant that the school was in deep trouble with the inspection system-quite unnecessarily so, given that there is over-reliance on the results of testing and not enough attention given to teachers' assessment of the actual ability of children, who, in this case, just made a mistake on a particular day.
Keith Bartley: I would like to go back to the premise about the assessment that is undertaken to inform learning and the assessment that is undertaken perhaps to give information about the effectiveness of a school. Parents told us very clearly that they felt that the information that was published about tests in a school was about the school justifying itself publicly in terms of its place in the national pecking order. Actually, the information that they valued about how well their pupils were doing was that which teachers gave them, which was very largely drawn from the teachers' own interactions with the pupil, whether that information was in written format or-most particularly-they were given the opportunity to talk to teachers about how well their children were doing. As well as questioning validity, we would question the utility of those tests in terms of the audience.
Q138 Mr. Slaughter: That was really where I wanted to go. I was a little concerned about a comment that was made about failure. Obviously, one does not want to label children as failures, but I assume that it is common ground that we regard testing as part of teaching and learning and an essential tool, and that therefore there are going to be people who succeed or fail-that is what happens as a consequence. I want further comment on that, but I would have thought that it was a starting point.
Accepting what you just said about the validity of different types of tests, do you think that there is any validity to national testing in that way, or can the positive aspects of testing simply be dealt with at school level, with the judgment with respect to institutions being dealt with in other ways, such as through Ofsted?
Brian Lightman: I think that one of the problems with national testing is that you are applying it across the board and taking a snapshot of everybody at the same time, and there are other ways of sampling what progress-what learning-has taken place, if we want to have those national benchmarks. That is one of the things that we proposed in our paper. We used to have the assessment of performance unit, which sampled children's progress in different areas and looked across the whole country at one aspect of their learning. By doing that you can really see what children have actually learned, rather than trying to test across the board by giving everybody the same test on the same day and trying to cover everything, which, of course, you cannot possibly do in an hour, or an hour and a half.
The other point I want to make is that testing is only a small part of assessment. There are other very valid and effective-and, in fact, proven-methods of assessment, like approaches to assessment such as externally moderated portfolios. Within things like BTEC at the moment there are some very successful models. The people who are doing that assessment have to be trained and accredited, and they have to meet very rigorous standards. You are then able to assess the work of students over a longer period, within that very rigorous framework, to make sure that you are not just doing a snapshot on a particular day.
There are all kinds of things that come up, and we have experienced them over the years. Every teacher will tell you about results of tests that they have been mystified about and when they just do not understand the result that a student got in the test, given what they have seen every day in the classroom, because obviously they see the child over a longer period of time. Children get nervous in tests and underperform in tests, and so on. I think that we have to be very careful about how much credence we attach to one method of assessment.
Mick Brookes: Just on the headlining of what happens, I think that children who have overcome significant special educational needs and have reached Level 2 or upper Level 3 at the end of Key Stage 2 are what we have called the invisible children. They do not appear. While people say, "Well, they are in the contextual value added tables", what newspaper picks those up? What is reported is simply those children who have achieved Level 4-plus at the end of Key Stage 2, which also gives a misleading view, so this is not just at a pupil basis, it is also at a schools basis.
I have the permission of head teacher William Ball to tell you this: New Manton primary school in Worksop, Nottinghamshire, has always been down at the bottom end of the league tables because it is norm referenced. You nevertheless get ill-informed people saying that it and others like it are failing schools. Here are three sentences from New Manton school's Ofsted report: "The excellent leadership of the head teacher is largely responsible for the good level of improvement in all areas of school life...The staff show a strong commitment to the personal development of individual pupils and, as a result, most make good progress...The very effective governing body is showing an equal determination to bring about change for the benefit of all pupils."
The school is good, but it is down at the bottom end of the league tables, so there has been a distortion of fact. There are very good schools that work against the odds to produce higher educational qualifications than they have ever had in their areas, but they are disabused of that excellent work on an annual basis.
Q139 Mr. Slaughter: I have a lot of sympathy for what you are saying-I am sure that we all know of similar schools in our constituencies. In shorthand, there are good schools that provide a good level of education, but are not in the top quarter of the tables-they might even be in the bottom quarter. I am asking about very basic stuff, and I shall shut up after this, but I want some clarity. I felt that by dissing everything about the tests-their quality, reliability and so on-you were not confronting the question of whether we should get rid of them altogether. Obviously, there must be some way in which to assess institutions; there are many ways, but there must also be some oversight-I used the example of Ofsted. What would you like to see? I would like you to confirm that there is a positive role for testing in schools, including primary schools. Are you saying that testing should be conducted entirely within an institution? What would you like to see done about external accountability, including nationally?
Chairman: Each of our witnesses would like to respond to that question, so you should all be quite brisk.
Keith Bartley: There will never be a time at which information about testing in schools is not in the public domain and viewable. We accept that and, indeed, we support it, for comparability purposes. However, the information conveyed by tests should be accurate and valid in terms of what they measure, and tests should not distort the curriculum and learning. At present, the multiplicity of uses to which a single test is put narrows the curriculum and distorts the outcome.
To pick up on the question that the Chairman asked Dr. Bousted earlier, Dylan Williams' view is that some of the fall-off between Key Stages 2 and 3 occurs because most of year 6 is spent drilling youngsters for Key Stage 2 tests, and they forget completely over the summer because they were coached only to climb that hurdle on that day. Removing the high-stakes nature of the testing will be valuable in future.
Brian Lightman: We are not arguing that you should get rid of testing. As others here have said, we are concerned about how test results are used: they produce simplistic league tables and feed misunderstanding. That has been evident in the coverage that we have seen in the past week. The publication of the league tables has been completely misleading as to the actual meaning of the tests. There should be testing. Using a model whereby people can download high-quality assessment materials and use them at the right time would measure different, important things.
Mick Brookes: I agree with my colleagues. There is already a company that does online testing. Children take the test online, and they are assessed not only at their own level, but that of the whole cohort. There is already a quick and easy expedient. There must be testing, and it must be nationally benchmarked-otherwise, schools will not know where they are-but I agree that the testing system goes wrong because of the multiplicity of purposes to which the tests are put.
Dr. Bousted: Yes, assessment including testing is a key part of the repertoire that teachers must have at their disposal, but that does not go for the tests that we have at the moment. The tests must be as valid and reliable as they can be but, at the moment, our testing system is corrupting. It does not just corrupt the results; it corrupts all the other things that teachers are trying to achieve, like a broad and balanced curriculum, a varied menu for pupils, and valid assessments of where pupils are and what they can do.
You said that pupils have to experience failure. At some point, yes, they do. At some point there has to be sifting-a proper sifting. Children and young people, no matter how they look on the outside, are fairly fragile on the inside, just like the rest of us. What is more important than failure-failure does nobody any good in the end-is that pupils need to know where they are now, and what they need to do to be better. They need to know where they are at. They do not need to know that they have failed. In the end, failure does not get anyone anywhere-they just fail. It does not teach them how to do better. What they have to know more of is why they are at a particular stage and what they need to do to get better.
I would say that the over-emphasis on testing means that where a child is now and what has to be done to enable that child to learn better is the most undeveloped aspect of our education system. It is one of the reasons why, in the PISA league tables, we are not performing as we should. We have one of the most undeveloped systems of assessment for learning among developed countries. It is parlously poor in our country. Chairman: On that note, I am going to ask David to speak.
Q140 Mr. Chaytor: May I put my first question to Keith? The chief inspector may tell us in his annual reports that we have the best generation of teachers ever and that standards of teaching are rising year on year, but what is the relationship between that and the testing regime? Since the testing regime came in and the publication of league tables became the norm, standards of teaching appear to have risen. How do you explain that relationship?
Keith Bartley: First, I do not think that it is a causal relationship. Secondly, I observe that the implementation of the national curriculum in the late 1980s had a significant wash-back effect on initial teacher training. There is no doubt in my mind that teachers who are moving through into qualified teacher status now have a higher level of teaching proficiency within that curriculum because the curriculum is now much more closely defined than ever before. Year on year, we have seen a rise in the quality of the training experience. Running alongside that, we are also seeing a rise in the levels of qualification of teachers. Last year's cohort of qualified teachers was the highest qualified that we had ever seen in our schools.
As for the question of why those higher standards of teaching and better qualified teachers are not manifesting themselves in improved levels of achievement, I would argue that during that period we saw a significant increase in the value placed on the tests. At the same time as we have a curriculum-indeed, there is a very high level of encouragement from Government through their curriculum policies to broaden and experiment with that curriculum-all the time, and particularly at the ages of 11 and 14, youngsters are being narrowed down by a very narrow system of testing. That is the bit where we are not unlocking the achievable.
Q141 Mr. Chaytor: Why do you assume that an improved quality of teaching is not leading to improved levels of achievement? Formal evidence from league tables, key stage tests, GCSE and A-level results, and vocational qualifications suggests the opposite.
Keith Bartley: What we have seen, all the way through, is that shortly after testing has been introduced, there is an increase in standards. Typically, in the first few years after the implementation of testing for a key stage, we see a steady increase in achievement and standards, and then we see it tail off. That is very much the case with any performance measure, whether it is to do with schools, or with the punctuality of trains. What happens is that people work towards a performance measure, and it quickly plateaus. That is why you need to have a much broader band of assessments that can be used.
Mick Brookes: The performance at the end of key stage 2 has been largely stuck for about five years, and until we start to do things differently, it will remain stuck. That is not to say that there have not been improvements, not only in children's knowledge and understanding, but in teaching. We must be careful not to polarise the issue. Going from the 1970s and 1980s, there was, indeed, a need for much greater veracity of thought and practice in our schools. Although that might have been a painful process for schools to go through, we have gone beyond it. We now have sophisticated systems of assessment, which we should use, and, according to Ofsted, we have better standards of teaching in our schools. That worked then, but we must consider where we go next.
Mr. Chaytor: Mary wants to come in.
Dr. Bousted: I should like to answer the question directly. Ofsted does not investigate the quality of the tests. It takes the test level data and says that they indicate a rise in standards. If you examine the recent research by Peter Timms, which was in the Robin Alexander review, he undertook a long inquiry into how difficult it is to measure standards longitudinally. In fact, two years ago, ATL published, "Standards in English Primary Schools: are they rising?" by Colin Richards, which also examined the issue. Timms and Richards said that standards in reading had risen marginally, but nothing like what the tests state. Timms makes it quite clear that when the key stage 2 reading tests started, for the first four years they found it very difficult to get a foundation level. The baseline against which they tested whether standards had gone up or down changed.
It is also clear from a paper by Mary Hilton, on English in education, that three years into the Key Stage 2 tests, the level of questions that asked for an inferential response-not, "Did this happen in the passage?" but, "Why did it happen; what were the motivations?", which is a much harder question-went down. Timms argues that only since 2000 has the baseline level against which you measure year on year, by each cohort, become steady. If you consider the rise since 2000, it is nothing like as great as in the first four years, so Ofsted will say that standards have risen dramatically because it does not question the evidence base. The question that we must ask is, "What is the validity of the evidence base?"
Q142 Mr. Chaytor: May I link that to the point that you made earlier about 25% of pupils not getting the grade that their ability merits at the key stage test? Surely the question is, who defines what their ability merits? It must be true in any form of testing of assessment that the subjective judgment of the tester comes into it. There are bound to be errors, surely?
Dr. Bousted: There are, but you must consider the level of confidence error that is acceptable. Part of the problem that we have with the tests is that they test a very narrow range, so it is particularly difficult in science to get a valid pencil and paper written test that tests the key concepts in science. They are taken on a certain day, at a certain time, and you can have only very narrow test items. You could have tests with different test items that tested other parts of the syllabus, and they would be equally valid but give a completely different result. In other words, our system has gone for high reliability: it is likely as not-we will put a lot of effort into it, and be as sure as we can-that the kids who take the test will get similar grades if they have a similar level of ability. We have problems with that, but they are also highly invalid.
Q143 Mr. Chaytor: May I move on to the question of the role of teacher assessment? Perhaps the question is directed to Brian. What does the evidence say about the relationship between teachers' judgment of ability and the key stages 2 or 3 results? Would it be possible to abandon completely external testing and replace it with an entirely teacher-assessed system?
Mick Brookes: Certainly, by moderated or accredited teacher assessment, but I think using-
Q144 Mr. Chaytor: Sorry, what do you mean by accredited?
Mick Brookes: Accredited would mean using a bank of tests, so that if a teacher said, "I think 80% of children in my class have got Level 4, but how come the test doesn't say the same thing?", you then have that professional conversation with your member of staff, not about those who scored the same, who are easy, but about those who scored differently. You must ask, "What's happened here? Is it your assessment? Is it that they were sitting next to Fiona, and that is why they got a higher mark?" It needs to be brought back into the school and done in an atmosphere where professional integrity is encouraged. If we could do that-we clearly need to go there-we would have a system that is fit for our children and does not completely subvert the year 6 curriculum, for example. I could take you to a school where they cancelled Christmas for year 6 kids because they were so worried about-
Q145 Mr. Chaytor: You have not told the Daily Mail this?
Mick Brookes: They want to know where it is, but I have not told them.
Brian Lightman: I absolutely agree. You have to have a clear definition of the standard that makes a Level 4 or level 5. That is a problem: there is a big discussion about what constitutes a Level 4. You can test a little bit of it or you can do an overall assessment. To do that, you need to be able to draw down appropriate, high-quality materials that can be used to assess reliably where the students are. That sort of thing needs to take place. That professional conversation has been missing over the years, because people have relied almost entirely on external tests, rather than sitting down together as groups of teachers and saying, "In geography, which is my subject, a Level 4 is x, y or z; this is what constitutes it, and we need this evidence and that evidence to see that." Part of that will be a test and other parts will involve looking at students' written work and, perhaps, using oral assessments. There will be a whole bank of things. All of that put together and properly moderated will lead to a much more robust assessment, which will go back to the formative side of things-we can then advise students about how to improve.
Chairman: David, a last one.
Q146 Mr. Chaytor: Finally, in terms of high-stakes testing and the publication of league tables, if there were a movement towards the greater involvement of teacher assessment, should that information be published in the league table list, or are you saying that they should be taken out completely?
Brian Lightman: The results of all that assessment?
Mr. Chaytor: Yes.
Brian Lightman: I think we have to ask how much we need to publish in the form of league tables.
Mr. Chaytor: I am asking you how much you think we should be-
Brian Lightman: My argument would be that there is far too much going into the league table. We are adding more and more. Parents need and have a right to an overall picture of how the school is doing and how their child is doing individually. The move towards real-time reporting, where parents can see how their child is doing individually, is exciting and positive. At the other end, the whole school accountability side of assessment-which is a completely different purpose-could be published in much more effective ways than league tables, which often do not compare like with like, talk about the context of the school or look at raw data.
Chairman: I know that you all want to answer, but if you have anything to say that is different from what Brian said, that would be the most useful.
Dr. Bousted: I want to go back to the issue of teacher assessment. Part of this discussion is predicated-or, rather, most discussions are, but not this-on the idea that teacher assessment is unreliable and invalid and that test assessment is good. Currently, at key stages 1, 2 and 3, you have teacher assessment scores against test scores. The issue is that teacher assessment scores count for nothing: they are not used by Ofsted and are not in the performance league tables. Teacher assessment is, however, usually significantly and consistently lower by 2 or 3 percentage points, so there is no reason to believe that teachers would make things up in a properly trained and moderated system.
Mick Brookes: May I say an unequivocal no from the NAHT? That information should not be published in the league tables that we have now. It simply tells you where rich people live and, sadly, where poor people live as well. It is deeply undermining for those communities, teachers and children. I cannot understand why a Labour Government have allowed this to go on for 10 years.
Q147 Adam Afriyie: Thank you, Chairman-or acting Chairman. This is my first official outing on the DCSF Committee, and I am delighted to be here. My background is that I come from the Science and Technology Committee, so I have been fascinated to hear some of the comments about how assessment works, the baselines, the changes over time, and whether things can be compared.
I want to concentrate my two questions on the single level tests, to examine them as briskly as possible, and to obtain your views on the proposed progression tests and the league tables that they will be placed in. Is it a good thing to use single level tests, or is it better to stick with the key stages or take another route for assessment?
Brian Lightman: The first thing is that placing single level tests in league tables implies that everyone will have to do them at the same time, which flies in the face of personalised learning. If we are talking about personalised learning, we must be able to apply those tests at the right time. Trying to force the entire cohort through that at a certain time makes nonsense of the idea.
The other thing is that we can use new technology for genuine testing when ready, which we must do, and we then return to the idea of downloading a bank of tools.
Q148 Adam Afriyie: It is interesting that you have made the point about testing when ready several times, and I have heard it loud and clear. Would you propose something more along the lines of allowing pupils to progress when they are ready or hit a key stage, or move on fast when they are ready, or is that just purely the testing format rather than what happens with pupils in the year in which they sit in school?
Brian Lightman: The only thing I have an issue with in the way you expressed that would be if you are saying that they should be allowed to progress when ready. We, as teachers, want to ensure as much challenge as possible, so we do not want to tell children that they can take as long as they like. We want them to progress. That is one of our issues about two levels of progress within a key stage, because that is an arbitrary decision. Key stages are different lengths. For example, there is no comparison between Key Stages 2 and 3 in length and time, so why talk about two levels? Some students could progress three levels, but it would be unreasonable to expect others to do so. Also, the levels are not equal. The idea is not as simplistic as the music grade analogy that is sometimes used.
Dr. Bousted: Briefly, we think that making good progress is fraught with difficulties, and we do not think that the Government have thought through the matter.
The single level test, taken up to four times a year, could lead to a huge proliferation of the test, and all the issues arising from that-narrowing of the curriculum and teaching to the test-could be ratcheted up to four times the present level.
Q149 Adam Afriyie: So you think the Government are just plain wrong.
Dr. Bousted: Yes, just plain wrong.
There is also a question about the validity of the levels. If a single level test is shorter, how valid is it and how worth while is the information that it provides?
We agree absolutely with the Association of School and College Leaders. We all know that a less able child will find it far more difficult than a more able child to move two levels. That has been shown already in the current progression rates. Schools where less able children congregate are often in more challenging areas or where children have English as their second language. They would be penalised by a progression measure that they could never achieve. In schools where children arrive with Level 5 they are much more likely to be able to move two levels than those in schools where the majority of children arrive with Level 3. It is much more difficult for them to make that progress because they learn more slowly. Yet that school might be doing an equally good job, but be penalised by a completely inappropriate progression measure. That has been scientifically determined by the levels, so why the Government have chosen this measure, I do not know.
Finally, a system of repeated and proliferation of testing is like excellence and enjoyment. The Government think that you can put in excellence and enjoyment, and have a high testing regime and a broad curriculum, and that just by putting them in the same title it will happen. They also think that as long as assessment for learning and progression level testing are in the same document, that is all right. You will not get assessment for learning in the system. They could have done so many things, but this is not the right thing for them to be doing.
Q150 Adam Afriyie: Thank you. And Mick, do you agree with that view?
Mick Brookes: I would like to encourage the Government to move on from where they are. The concept of having a bank of tests that are appropriate for a single level is right, but it is the way in which it is being rolled out. To do the right deed for the wrong reason is the greatest treason. The tests genuinely have to be for schools' use in assessing their children. That assessment is then reported to the right people: the parents, the children themselves and, of course, the governing body. The problem is trying to use the same tests to judge the performance of schools. I think that we have made that point.
Q151 Adam Afriyie: I hear your point. You are arguing for separate tests or assessments for teachers, for the school and for the pupil-they are not necessarily the same thing.
Keith Bartley: May I just put a slightly different take on that? At the moment, our reading of the "Making Good Progress" pilots is that they are still about testing when the system, rather than the child, is ready. Actually, if you were to place a greater emphasis on the validity of teacher assessment, and if you were to provide teachers with a bank of tests that they can draw on at an appropriate stage to confirm their judgment of where a child is in a particular aspect of his or her learning, you would change the system. The learners' needs would drive the assessment and, therefore, the subsequent teaching. "Making Good Progress" is a step in the right direction, but we would particularly like a robust evaluation of its impact and the possibilities that it is beginning to open up.
Q152 Adam Afriyie: I think we already had the answer to my final question in previous answers. Do you consider that it is in any way possible to disconnect summative assessment of the children from the monitoring and performance of the school or the teacher? Is that possible?
Mick Brookes: Yes, I think it is, by sampling. Of course, we must retain some idea of national benchmarking to see where things are. That is important because this is part of the public purse and therefore the public need to know how well education is faring across the country, but that could be done with sampling rather than going to every school.
Going back to the previous question, I think an analogy with the driving test is a good one. Some people might need five lessons before they are ready to take the test; others will need 20 and some might need 120.
Brian Lightman: I would agree with that.
Q153 Lynda Waltho: My feeling is that testing and assessment is coming out as, "Yes, we need it, but perhaps not in the way we are doing it." I do not get the same glowing feeling about league tables. Without league tables and other value-added measures, can you suggest a measure of school performance that can be used by the Government for accountability but also by parents for their decision making? Does that exist? Is it possible?
Mick Brookes: I think that parents are being grossly misled by raw, or league table, data, and, indeed, by some Ofsted assessments that are driven by exactly the same set of figures. That creates polarisation. When it comes to admissions, people will travel and do all sorts of strange things to get their child into the school of their choice because of that polarisation. Actually, their local school may be very good, but the only way they can find that out is by going there and having a look. We think there should be an emphasis on parents, who should make sure that they visit their local school and see the work that it is doing. As an experienced head teacher, I could walk into any school and within five minutes tell you whether it is a good school.
Parents then need to look at the results, but they need to look at them in the context of their community. That is not necessarily about poverty. It is also about the expectations of the community in terms of education qualifications, which is something that Ofsted does not take into account. The level of higher education qualifications in the community is a key factor in whether the children will expect to progress in education. We are doing the job of moving those expectations on, and we need to keep doing it. Parents must go and see.
Brian Lightman: What are the criteria for a good school, and what are the criteria that parents look for? I show parents around the school. I strongly encourage all parents to come round to our school before they make their decision about whether to send their child there. They want to know whether they are going to be happy, safe and encouraged to make the best progress they can. It is those types of things that they want to know.
Over and above that, parents look at our school prospectus. They read the school prospectus, which contains, by statute, a whole range of indicators against the school's performance and they can see a detailed account of the school's performance. I know I am talking from a different context, where I work, but that is a much more valid approach than putting the information up, as it was done in the paper last week, where the top 10 schools in any authority-the best 10, they were called-were published, whether it was an authority with 100 schools or one with 10 schools. That is the way they published the league tables last week. That does not tell you which ones are the best schools. Looking at the broad picture of a school is the way in which you can judge its quality-and I think there are plenty.
There is also the Osfted report-I hope you know-and all the information in the public domain. There is a vast amount of information enabling a parent to see what a school is like.
Q154 Lynda Waltho: So we are never going to be able to do it with a league table. Is that the feeling?
Brian Lightman: I do not think that we are going to have the sort of accurate information, which gives a true picture, with league tables the way they are.
Dr. Bousted: The problem with league tables is that you can write whatever you want, but in the end the drop-down system for league tables is so pernicious in other respects. Let us consider a school in a challenging area that is working hard and making the good progress that we know a school can make. Variation between schools is much less than variation within schools. We know a school can make about 14% of the difference; the rest of the determining factors on a child's achievement come from their background, actually. And 14% is a lot; I am not undermining what a school can do. However, that means that schools in the most challenging areas have to work extremely hard to get the results that they do. It is up to Ofsted to go into that school.
We have one of the most accountable systems in the world. Ofsted goes in and looks at whether the school has sufficiently challenging targets for pupils-whether it is sufficiently demanding of their progress, whether the behaviour in school is appropriate and whether the teachers are working well enough. Ofsted looks at a range of issues to do with the performance of that school. But if you are in that challenging school, doing very good work and adding clear value to the children's lives in that school and you are still, because of the nature of your intake, going to be at the bottom of your local authority league table, that is not a good thing. I will tell you another thing: it is not just not good for the teachers, but it is not good for the pupils going to that school, who need to feel good about themselves.
Keith Bartley: May I share some of the research that has been commissioned from parents? MORI, in 2005, discovered that parents attributed very low value to league tables in assisting them to determine their choice of school. That was partly because they felt that the information that they portrayed was to some extent confusing. For others, it did not match what parents saw as being the really important things about schools. The list that Brian gave captured those things.
We undertook some further research through the British Market Research Bureau about what parents found most helpful in determining the quality of a school. They looked for a much broader range, particularly in respect of contextual factors: the nature of the young people that the school educated, the kinds of aspirations it set out for those young people and the way in which it delivered against those. That wider bank and portfolio is what parents said they would find most useful.
League tables, parents tell us, are questionable in terms of their value. The further dimension is that as our 14-to-19 curriculum unfolds, and particularly as we seek to offer young people a much broader range of both education and training opportunities through to the age of 18 or 19, the influence of an individual institution is going to be much harder to measure through league tables, because young people will have been involved in several institutions-maybe a college, maybe two schools or maybe a training provider-so their validity will become even less as our system better meets the needs of that older group of pupils.
Q155 Lynda Waltho: In light of that, although it is slightly unfair to mention this because possibly only one of you may have read The Western Mail today-[Interruption.] Okay. Actually, it refers to Wales. It published comments by Professor David Hopkins, who has said that school tests and league tables should be brought back. In fact, it said that, "Statistics show children in England, where testing the two ages and league tables remain in place, performed better last summer in key exams like GCSEs and A-levels." Professor Hopkins said, "We very much know that the performance at seven correlates to success at 16...The previous system was too harsh but Wales went too far the other way." That is also backed up, to a certain extent, by Professor David Reynolds, who described Wales's PISA-programme for international student assessment-ratings as "awful" and said they are falling behind England.
I am sorry to zero in on you, Brian, but obviously I know that you have a more direct experience of this subject. In the light of that report and bearing in mind your comments earlier, what would you say in response to that?
Brian Lightman: I have not seen that article this morning. However, one of the big discussions that I have had with the Welsh Assembly Government about the way that they have published the results this year is that I discovered a few weeks ago that what they understand as five As to C and what the English league tables describe as five As to C are completely different measures. That is an example of the type of thing that happens. In England, there are all kinds of qualifications that count towards the Level 2 qualification and in Wales they have not got round to including those qualifications. So, for example, my school does the DiDA qualification-diploma in digital applications-that counts as four GCSEs here in England, but in Wales it does not count.
So you have to be very careful about how you produce these figures and let them mean what you want them to mean after one year. This is one year's results and one indicator and we must be very careful about the way that we read things into those results. Obviously, in Wales as in England, we want our children to achieve the best possible standards. So we must look at a range of measures and not just one thing. At the moment, it is not possible to compare England and Wales. It is not possible to compare national curriculum tests or assessments in England and Wales, because the national curriculum for each country is different. So there is a real danger that things will be misinterpreted in order to put forward a particular point of view. I would be very careful about that.
Mick Brookes: Of course, the mechanics of this system are bound to want to defend it; David Hopkins was one of those. But I think that he is absolutely wrong. I think that it is absolutely right to say that comparability between England and Wales is very difficult, but those mechanics need to look at other things. For instance, they need to look at the UNICEF report about the happiness of children in this country. They need to look at all the work that has been done by Robin Alexander on the primary curriculum. There is a lot of evidence now that says that we are simply focusing on too narrow an area and it is having an effect on children's lives and it is certainly having an effect on the curriculum. We must try to measure the things that we value, rather than valuing the things that we measure; that is an old cliché, but I think that it is true.
Q156 Lynda Waltho: You talked there about the comparison between England and Wales, but the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development tests-
Brian Lightman: Sorry, which tests?
Q157 Lynda Waltho: Some 400,000 15-year-olds across 57 countries were tested for the first time in 2007. Wales came bottom in the UK for maths, reading and science, and trailed at 33rd place for maths, beneath Latvia and Lithuania. That is obviously a wider comparison, across a wider set of nations, in which England was rated along the same lines. I am just wondering about that test.
Brian Lightman: But, you know, you get those results and you then have to start asking questions. At the moment, there has not been time in Wales for anybody to analyse the evidence base of that test. There will be questions asked about that test, but I cannot draw a conclusion about the results until we see the evidence base. It is the first time that those assessments were used in Wales and we need to look at the evidence base now and ask questions about it. I do not think that it would be fair to draw on the results of that one test for the first time and come to some conclusion that is perhaps making two and two into five before we have analysed what the evidence base is and what those results are saying.
Mick Brookes: And I could direct you to Jersey, which has no SATs, no league tables and a totally different inspection system and which would be top of that league. I do not know whether it is in it, but the results from schools in Jersey and staying-on rates in Jersey are much, much higher and it does not have the same system as we have, so it depends where you look.
Chairman: Indeed, and Jersey does not have the variety of population. These tests are exactly the kind of tests that I have heard you arguing for. They are like the APU-assessment of performance unit-tests. They are internationally moderated. Anyway, we will leave it there and I will give Sharon a chance to ask her questions.
Q158 Mrs. Hodgson: One question sprang to mind on the back of the decision-making that parents go through and how they use the league tables to make that decision when perhaps they should be visiting the school and making the decision on a whole host of other things, one of which I believe should be the distance that the child would have to travel. My daughter has just started secondary school and is within walking distance of the school. It is a good walk, but it helps to keep her fit and she and my son do the walk together.
One of my daughter's friends is late about twice a week because she has a horrendous journey. She probably passes between six and 10 other high schools to go to that one. Obviously, her parents have chosen the school for a whole host of reasons, but the experience that that girl-and probably many other children throughout the country-is going through must be affecting her learning in negative ways. I am thinking of the stress of constantly worrying whether she will catch the bus and getting into trouble when she gets to school late. Eventually that might affect her whole learning experience at school. My children were in school in London for a while and some children commute to school from outside London. They have a commuting distance that an adult would consider a chore. What are your comments on that?
Dr. Bousted: In London that is endemic. I get on the train every morning and my carriage is delightfully shared with schoolchildren commuting from one area to another. A long commute to and from school must affect the learning ability of children, notwithstanding what it is doing to the environment and everything else, and of course that relates to the school run as well. This is often about the parents' perceptions of a good school, and the perception of a good school is often based on the class of the intake.
Mick Brookes: I was going to say the same thing. Rather than being based on the quality of teaching and learning, the decision is sometimes based on the fact that the school is full of the children of "people like us".
Dr. Bousted: It nearly always is.
Q159 Mrs. Hodgson: So there are parents who want to get their children into the school for that reason?
Dr. Bousted: That is right.
Chairman: You wanted to ask about making good progress.
Q160 Mrs. Hodgson: Yes. I am very interested in the move towards personalised learning and then equally, hopefully, towards specialist teachers, especially with regard to SEN. I know we are not talking specifically about SEN, but you might be aware that I have a private Member's Bill about SEN statistics and information gathering that will be hitting the House on 1 February. The crux of what I want to get to is this. Witnesses have pointed to a contradiction between personalised learning, which recognises that all children learn in different ways and have different abilities and needs, and the systematic targets that assume that children develop at the same rate. The NUT, for instance, is critical of the current practice of diverting resources towards teaching children at the margins of the level. Again, that is to get the best league table results for the school.
I want to talk about what I feel we should be doing in going down the route of a more personalised learning agenda. The assessment for learning is the crux of all this; what we need to be getting to. That is what the test is all about and that would then identify the gifted child right the way down to the child with a special educational need. You use that as a tool for a teaching assessment or assessment for learning. That should be, in my opinion, the whole basis of these tests. I would imagine from things I have picked up today that you agree with that, rather than trying to produce a form of league tables that are then used for all sorts of other reasons.
Is an increased emphasis on personalised learning, combined with single-level tests, likely to effect real change in the classroom? In particular, is it likely to lead to pupils being treated equally, so that each is enabled to achieve to the best of his or her ability?
Brian Lightman: Personalised learning will enable each child to be treated equally. However, the issue is about the targets set, not the personalised learning and single level testing. For example, if your target focuses on five grades A* to C, inevitably, the focus will be on those with four and who are nearly heading towards the fifth. You will concentrate on giving those children the extra help. If you are talking about children who have made two levels of progress through the national curriculum, you will focus on those heading towards that, but not quite there. The children who you are talking about-the others-who do not quite fit into those categories, will be left out. That has been one of the major shortcomings of this target-setting culture over many years. For example, the focus of GCSEs has been very heavily on the C-D border line, and not, for example, on students underachieving by getting a grade A, but who could hopefully get an A*, or on those getting a B, but who could be helped to get an A. Genuine personalised learning does not focus on such perverse indicators that make us concentrate on those who will help us meet the target, rather than on ensuring that all children in our schools learn effectively.
Dr. Bousted: The question is very interesting. I return to my previous point: too often, the Government believe that you can place contradictory things in a policy document and that they will happen. Personalised learning will not take root in the current system and is unlikely to do so with single level testing on the same days. In order for it to take root, teachers must be confident in their ability to assess where a child is at. In our system, that is one of the things that they are weakest at and least confident on. I was at a conference at which two head teachers said to me, "The teachers in our schools do not have the confidence in their own assessments, because the system is so geared towards exams that the professional competence has not been built up." It needs to be rebuilt, because it is the essence of personalisation-you know where a child is at and what you need to do to take them further. We do not know enough, in anything like enough detail, about where children are at in the system. Interestingly, we surveyed our members on assessment recently and got quite a big response-from about 400 members. They were asked whether the national system of external assessments supports a range of things, one of which was personalised learning. Some 83% of the 400 correspondents either disagreed or strongly disagreed that the current system provides the bedrock and foundation in which personalised learning can take place. The danger for Governments of all persuasions is that, although a policy document might sound and look wonderful, and be full of high-minded ideas, it will have no real effect in the system. That is the danger with personalised learning.
Q161 Chairman: But, Keith, did you not say earlier that teachers are better at assessments now?
Keith Bartley: No, I said that teachers are more adept at teaching the curriculum, because of the way in which it has developed, which means that they are also trained in assessing within that curriculum. My reservation was about the narrowness of the elements in the curriculum that are tested. I was separating testing and assessment.
May I respond more generally to the point about assessment for learning and personalisation? That is at the heart of the matter. Teachers and children exploring what they have learned, and what they need to learn next, is absolutely central to taking forward an examination system that examines us according to outcomes and products-if you like-including whether we use the OECD and other measures such as the programme for international student assessment. However, that requires considerable investment in teachers' continuing professional development, because of the issue about what they have been trained to do thus far in their teacher training. Teachers tell us that they would love to be able to explore more, with other teachers and their own pupils, ways in which they can better understand what pupils have learned, to be able to draw down tests to confirm that, and to help them set targets for what they need to learn next.
On your starting point, about special educational needs, one of the greatest concerns that we have is that we are now losing that generation of teachers that were trained as specialists in special educational needs. We are also concerned that many of the skills and talents of our teachers who spend most of their time teaching children with special educational needs-things like the use of P levels and very fine graduations of understanding of learning-are in danger of being lost to the training element of the system and being compressed into a narrow population, when actually they are skills that all teachers need.
Mrs. Hodgson: Mick wanted to speak.
Chairman: I am worried about the time; I know that some of our witnesses have to leave and I am trying to get us going.
Mick Brookes: I would like to say a little about target-setting and how important that is, and what a precise science it is for an individual child. If you set targets too high, the child cannot do it, becomes frustrated and disconnects. If you set that target too low, the child becomes bored and disconnects; they then leave school as soon as they can-24% of them. So target-setting is a very individual and personalised event. I would suggest that it cannot be done from the building just down the road here.
Q162 Mrs. Hodgson: The Government signalled a formal change in approach, which is what we are discussing here, such as personal learning and teacher assessment. Without some form of league table, how can the standards of teaching effectively be monitored? What, in your opinion, can be done to monitor the effectiveness? You have already sort of answered that question because you have said that we cannot do personalised learning under the current regime with league tables.
Dr. Bousted: We have one of the most monitored systems in the world, but we do not monitor in very clever ways. Going back to what all of the witnesses said, we need far more about cohort sampling. If you do enough cohort sampling in the key subjects, you can test much more of the curriculum because not every child needs to do the same test. They can do the tests at the same level, but they can test different items. If the tests are statistically significant, you can get a much wider range of test items, which is much more valid. We need to do much more of that. We have been very poor in doing cohort sampling which monitors standards over time. In fact, when we moved to national curriculum tests, we packed up the assessment of performance unit and cohort monitoring over periods of time. We have lost a rich vein of data that used to give us really interesting reports, such as the National Foundation for Educational Research survey about standards in reading over 20 years and whether they had risen or not, with really fine, detailed information about in what types of school standards of reading had risen and in what types of school they had not. We have lost the ability to make that fine, detailed monitoring of the system.
Q163 Mrs. Hodgson: My last question about that matter is, to touch on the stress and demotivation that Mick mentioned, will the single-level tests address the problems experienced by pupils under the current regime? To give one example-I am terrible for giving personal, real-life examples-my daughter has just gone to high school. She got very good SATs and now that she is in high school she is in all the top sets. She never was stressed going through her SATs and I kept saying to her every day, "Are you okay? Are you okay?" Every day now she comes in stressed because, "I can't cope, Mum-I'm in the top set, I don't think I should be in the top sets." Now she is stressed, and I think that she was obviously hot-housed, got through the SATs, got really good results and has now been thrown in the deep end in this high school where she feels that she cannot cope.
Mick Brookes: That is a good example.
Dr. Bousted: Yes.
Q164 Mrs. Hodgson: So, do you think that level tests will help?
Dr. Bousted: Not necessarily, they might compound the problem. What you would then get at key stage 2 is a quadrupling-of four times a year going in for your test again. Because your test is coming up and tests are coming up so much more often, all the other aspects of the curriculum may be equally neglected. With single-level tests four times a year, in the way that they are currently being done in the pilots, I would be interested to see whether there is a narrowing of the curriculum and whether it compounds the problem of teaching to the test.
Mr. Heppell: Very quickly, are we sticking to the time?
Chairman: I am trying to, but failing. This is an inexperienced Chair not managing.
Q165 Mr. Heppell: I have a question about the new approach in schools. Like you, I have been around a long time, and I was a school governor for nearly 30 years-indeed, I was chairman of the school governors-so I feel that I can walk into a school and see whether it is a good school in half an hour, and I do that on visits now. Sometimes, schools will have had good SATs, sometimes Ofsted and others will have got it wrong and sometimes the SATs will have been wrong. The real problem, however, is that schools change; schools are not static-they can better and they can get worse.
I recently went to a school with bad SATS, and the school next door, with pupils from the same sort of area, had good SATs, so it is not about the rich in one area and the poor in another area. When I questioned the school about its SATs, the answer I got was, "We're not interested in SATs. We don't really bother with them at all." In fact, I got so anxious, I actually went and told local councillors about it. The school also told me, "We're involved in making sure that we have personalised learning for everybody and we're assessing everybody's progress as they go along." That actually sounded like a great idea, until I asked to see some of the assessments for the children, but there were none; in fact, I am fairly certain that the bloke I was talking to was giving me a load of bullshit. That is my worry. If there is no outside testing, how do I know whether things are going wrong, as they clearly were in that school? How do I know that there is not a problem that has not been identified?
Mick Brookes: That is why, in response to David, I said that there needs to be accreditation and moderation, but not what we have at the minute, so that there is some external view of how accurate assessments are. It is a question of adjusting the system, not throwing it out.
Keith Bartley: There are two aspects to that for us. One is that what we measure needs to be more valid-in other words, we need to measure things that tell us something about what children are doing-and the way in which we measure things has to illustrate the progress that they have made. We are not in any sense saying that there should be no form of public accountability; it is just that the measures used need to be much more informed than the ones we have at the moment.
Q166 Mr. Heppell: Okay. What progress have schools made already in terms of personalised learning? Who is actually doing things now, unlike the school that I mentioned? How far have people got in terms of assessment for learning? Can we point to excellence or good examples in schools?
Dr. Bousted: We ran our fringes on the curriculum at the party conferences last year and we got in head teachers who were adopting innovative approaches to the curriculum. We have just done a book on the curriculum and we have clear examples of schools that are starting to integrate subjects, to use literacy and numeracy across the curriculum, and to integrate curriculum development and assessment.
There is beginning to be more confidence in schools that that is a legitimate thing for them to do. We went through a period when the national strategy was so rigid-you teach reading like this and numeracy like that-that schools lost the confidence to think that they had any professional expertise to bring to the party. The Government have moved from the idea that everything can be done from Whitehall, and that is a significant shift. They have a lot further to go, but my experience is that schools are beginning to re-engage with the issues of what is an appropriate curriculum, what decisions should be made at school level, how they can more effectively assess their pupils, how they offer curriculum that meets pupil needs, and what forms of pedagogy are most suitable for pupils.
However, the profession needs more support in that, and that is really key. Over the past 10 years, nearly all the CPD has been offered through the strategies. Subject-specific CPD has virtually withered on the vine, and teachers regularly report that the CPD they are offered is not suitable for them or for what they want. Teachers are moving down the long road towards regaining control of those aspects of the learning and teaching process that they should be in control of, but we need to go a lot further and we need support to do so.
Q167 Chairman: By CPD, you mean continuous professional development?
Dr. Bousted: Yes.
Brian Lightman: Our school has been doing a great deal of work with the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust on this, and we have seen an enormous amount of good practice developing over the country. It is not embedded yet and it is not everywhere, because it is in a stage of development. We are seeing real enthusiasm because people are seeing the benefits of these approaches in the classroom. We need to continue to support and motivate people and encourage them to develop it further. There is a vast amount of good practice going on around the country. We need to build on that and encourage it to develop further.
Mick Brookes: It goes back to this: people will do what they are expected to do. If they are told what they shortly will do with Fischer Family Trust and other measures, why will they do it themselves? We need to remove that, encourage schools to develop their own systems within the national framework, and acknowledge that the vast majority of head teachers, teachers and all the people who turn up to school have a passion for children's learning. We need to harness that passion, rather than dumbing it down.
Q168 Mr. Heppell: You have already described some of your reservations about the single-level test. You might have some more. We were talking about staggering them even more than having a situation of individuals being able to take individual tests. Does that then start to create a problem with resources because you are not doing one test a year, but are having to organise various tests?
Dr. Bousted: That is the system in Scotland at the moment, and it works.
Keith Bartley: When that kind of testing, which is about confirming teachers' assessments, and those assessments, which are more and more being built around assessment for learning practices, become more mainstream, we get very much back to the kind of situation that was described earlier. Testing was a regular part of my primary and secondary schooling, on a daily and weekly basis. It is about putting those tests back in a functional, useful way into schools. The level of resource would be different. The amount of money that is spent nationally on the external administration and validation of our current testing system nowhere near justifies some of the benefits and disbenefits that it generates.
Chairman: I see nodding heads from your colleagues, so I will not go to them, if that is all right. I will invite Annette to ask the last group of questions.
Q169 Annette Brooke: I shall be very brief. You mentioned bringing back passion into teaching. Is it impossible to do that within the present system? Is it inevitable that there will be teaching to the test and narrowing on the national curriculum unless we scrap the current system?
Mick Brookes: Yes, I believe that that is absolutely true. I do not want to overstate the case, but a system of fear has been inculcated throughout education, particularly if you are a young head, or a young deputy, with a young family and a mortgage. You do not want to go to headship because you know that you will carry that can. Unfair and unfounded decisions are made on the performance of schools because Ofsted is now relying far too heavily on the data that we have discredited during this presentation. It is having a profound effect not only on the curriculum, but on the recruitment and retention of head teachers, in particular, who carry this can and do not survive being put into a category, on many occasions quite unfairly.
Q170 Annette Brooke: Can I follow up on the personalised learning test? Personalised learning seems to equate with goodness, but under the current system will it just be booster classes and personal intervention plans? Will it be centrally directed, almost?
Dr. Bousted: It is likely to be highly bureaucratic and it should be very simple. The issue about personalised learning should be at the heart of good teaching. What is it that I know a child can do? What is it with which they need my help, or the help of other pupils in the class-their more able peers? What help can I use from another pedagogue that will enable them to learn? The danger is that at the moment something that should be right at the heart of teachers' instinctive professional practice is being formalised into a whole range of other structures.
Mick Brookes: The other problem is that we need to move from norm-referencing to criterion-referencing pupils' progress, and that makes it individual. It is not necessarily how Sally compares with Fred, but the progress that Sally has made, and has made despite the fact that she might have quite severe special educational needs.
Q171 Annette Brooke: Could that be introduced alongside the present system, or do we really need to scrap that totally? Obviously, it is of great importance to value every child's achievement, which we are not doing at the moment.
Mick Brookes: Our clear view is that the current system is not helpful to children or to the curriculum, and it is certainly not helpful to my colleagues in schools.
Annette Brooke: May I just run through-
Chairman: Keith is desperate to answer these questions, and I want to give him a chance to do so.
Annette Brooke: I am sorry.
Keith Bartley: I want to come back to your original question. You asked whether it was impossible. I do not think that it is impossible; I just think that teachers have to be absolutely exceptional to be able to flourish in our current system. There can be an effect on motivation and retention. However, equally, I want to be clear that we see, through our teacher learning academy, some amazingly innovative examples of teachers innovating in their own classrooms and feeling that they have permission to do so. That is not impossible; it is just very difficult.
Q172 Annette Brooke: Finally, throughout this sitting, we have had the impression that the current system is demotivating for children, teachers and, as we have just heard, head teachers. Could each person give me what to them is an important factor around the demotivation of children and teachers-just one?
Dr. Bousted: For children it is if they do not get their Level 4. That is hugely demotivating if you are going into secondary school. You feel yourself a failure. It is interesting to note that that is particularly a problem for boys. Boys react very badly, gentlemen. It happens to you throughout life-you react very badly to failure.
Adam Afriyie: How dare you say that? [Laughter.]
Mick Brookes: I would say it is the idea that we will continue having meetings until morale improves. If we continue doing things the way we are doing, we will not improve the morale of our children or teaching staff in schools, so we have to do things differently. We have to broaden the curriculum and give children those experiences of delight in other areas. We can teach English and literacy through other curriculum areas. Schools need to be encouraged and empowered to do so.
Brian Lightman: I think that the biggest thing is the fear of failure, coupled with not knowing what to do about it. We know that there are things that students will find difficult-that is part of learning. It is an important part of the learning process that we get things wrong and have to correct them, but it is not being able to do anything about it that causes problems. Students think, "Oh dear, I am going to take this test and I am going to fail and be labelled a failure," at the age of 11, 14 or whatever, and then we wonder why we have problems with motivation.
Keith Bartley: We need to give our schools and our teachers permission to innovate and permission to fail. They need to be confident about giving children permission to explore by learning.
Chairman: As we have overrun our time, that was a good line to end on. You have all had your opportunity to summarise what you feel about the matter. I am sorry that I did not manage the time as well as I had hoped. Next time, if I am ever in this Chair again, I will. Thank you very much for your time.