The way in which children at primary school were assessed changed considerably in 2016. New tests were introduced to reflect the new national curriculum, first taught in 2014, and national curriculum levels were replaced with a new measurement of attainment. The Standards and Testing Agency did not oversee the implementation of the new assessment system in 2016 effectively, with guidance delayed and test papers leaked online. This caused significant disruption in primary schools as schools felt there was too little time to implement effective new assessment systems and prepare teachers and pupils for SATs.
The design of the new tests was also criticised, particularly the reading and writing assessments. One issue with the writing assessment is the focus on technical aspects, like grammar and spelling, over creativity and composition. We are not convinced that this leads directly to improved writing and urge the Government to reconsider this balance and make spelling, punctuation and grammar tests non-statutory at Key Stage 2. There are also questions over the appropriate role of teacher assessment within the assessment and accountability system that the Government should explore.
While the new assessments were being introduced there was little additional support offered to schools to implement new assessment systems to cope with ‘life after levels’. Primary school teachers only receive limited assessment training during initial teacher education and must have access to continuing professional development on assessment, as well as high quality advice and guidance on effective assessment systems.
Assessment is closely linked to the accountability system in primary schools, with Key Stage 2 results used to hold schools and teachers to account on the progress and attainment of pupils. However, the high stakes system can negatively impact teaching and learning, leading to narrowing of the curriculum and ‘teaching to the test’, as well as affecting teacher and pupil wellbeing.
The stakes should be lowered at primary school in order to combat some of these negative impacts. Performance tables should include a rolling three-year average of Key Stage 2 attainment and progress data to reduce the focus on an individual year’s results. Ofsted must also ensure that it inspects the whole curriculum, not just English and maths, and does not focus too heavily on Key Stage 2 data. We support the introduction of an improved progress measure, but the Government must be cautious if a baseline measurement is introduced. It should be designed as a diagnostic tool to help teachers identify pupils’ needs and must avoid shifting negative consequences of high stakes accountability to early years.
28 April 2017