Primary assessment Contents


1.In 2016, primary schools faced a challenging year as new national curriculum assessments were rolled out across all state schools and ‘expected standards’ were raised.1 It was the first year that national curriculum levels were no longer used to measure progress and attainment of pupils, and schools were given the autonomy to design their own assessment systems. Statutory assessment was introduced in primary schools in England in 1991 following the introduction of the first national curriculum, and has been a consistently debated area of education policy since. While there is widespread consensus that assessment is an essential part of the education system, through this inquiry we have heard of flaws in the implementation and design of the current assessment system, and negative consequences on teaching and learning.

2.We were focused on assessment in primary schools, but inevitably the wider question of school accountability arose throughout the course of our inquiry. It is clear to us that statutory assessment is inherently linked to school accountability, and many of the consequences of assessment on teaching and learning are in fact a result of how schools are held to account; a systemic issue rather than the effects of individual tests.

3.Teachers carry out formative assessment throughout their teaching practice, as well as internal summative assessment to inform teaching of individual pupils. In this inquiry we have focused on statutory summative assessment, as well as the support and structures that need to be in place for effective assessment to occur.

4.During our inquiry the Government launched two consultations into aspects of the primary assessment system.2 The publication of this report is during the consultation period. Our recommendations are aimed at improving a system that currently puts great strain on the primary sector. We know that more change could cause further upheaval in the system and while we do not want to cause more pressure for schools, we feel there are important areas that could be improved.

5.Throughout the inquiry we have benefited from the expertise of our standing specialist adviser on education, Professor Jo-Anne Baird. Her knowledge and guidance has proven invaluable, and we record our gratitude for her assistance.3

Our inquiry

6.Following the launch of the inquiry on 23 September 2016, we received 393 submissions of written evidence from a wide range of sources including teachers, unions, research organisations and assessment providers. We also received written evidence from the Department for Education (DfE). We held a series of oral evidence sessions to hear from a range of experts and stakeholders.4 Our oral evidence sessions covered a number of areas related to primary assessment, including implementation of the new assessment system, design of the tests, impacts on teaching and learning and priorities for the Government.

7.In addition to our formal evidence sessions, we visited Eastbrook Primary Academy to discuss how the new assessment system had affected teaching and learning, and held an engagement event with a group of year 6 pupils from West Denton Primary School.5 We would like to take this opportunity to thank all our formal witnesses, Eastbrook Academy and West Denton Primary School who gave their time to contribute to our inquiry.

1 Expected standards are set by the Government and are what pupils are expected to achieve at Key Stage 2. A score of 100 is the expected standard.

2 Department for Education and Standards & Testing Agency, Primary assessment in England Government consultation, launch date 30 March 2017, closing date 22 June 2017. Department for Education and Standards & Testing Agency, Primary school pupil assessment: Rochford review recommendations Government consultation, launch date 30 March 2017, closing date 22 June 2017.

3 Professor Baird, Director of Oxford University Centre for Educational Assessment, declared interests as Pearson Professor of Educational Assessment, Professor II of Psychology at the University of Bergen, Member of the Ofqual Standards Advisory Group, Member of the AQA Research Committee, and Member of the Welsh Government Advisory Group on Curriculum and Assessment.

4 See Witnesses and Published written evidence for further details.

5 We visited Eastbrook Primary Academy on 1 November 2016 and met with pupils from West Denton Primary School on 2 February 2017.

28 April 2017