Assessment frameworks are a paradox, not plain sailing

The Standards and Testing Agency and the Ship of Theseus appear to have something in common

News article image

I’ve always been a fan of a good paradox. Some are quite complex, but others become the stuff of family jokes and dinner party chat. A particular favourite in my family is rooted in Theseus’s paradox – although it’s often equally known as Trigger’s Broom – from the gag in Only Fools and Horses, in which Trigger claims to have had the same broom for many years – although it has had many new heads and many new handles. The joke stems from the work of Plutarch – the Greek philosopher – who raised a question about the Ship of Theseus. If a ship is regularly repaired and improved, such that over time all of its wooden parts are replaced with newer ones, does it remain the same ship?

This paradox was brought to mind when I began to look at the interim assessment framework. Although the word “interim” has been dropped – despite the fact that the frameworks state they are for use this year only. Who knows what is to follow?

The statement that sticks out somewhat is the claim that – despite the changes – “the overall standard of attainment, set by the ‘pupil can’ statements, remains the same”.

I have a few problems with this claim. For a start, there is no “overall standard of attainment”. The whole point of the change from the old best-fit levels to this new secure-fit model was to drop the attempt to make an overall judgement in lieu of making lots of smaller more precise ones. The premise is the atomisation of content into easily-tickable boxes.

For the past two years, we have been repeatedly told that it is not a best-fit process and that teachers shouldn’t take the overall quality of work into account, but should only check that all of the required features are present. It’s madness, but that’s the principle. It’s not possible to say that the overall standard has remained the same.

Atomised and altered

This is even more the case this year, when the atomised statements have been so altered. Before we even talk about the challenge of “particular weakness”, that have added such confusion, there is the content of the framework statements themselves.

Until this year, a child who failed to show evidence of adverbials for cohesion, or did not demonstrate use of the passive voice, or for whom there was too little evidence of semi-colon use, was destined to fail. They would not meet the expected standard. That same child this year might comfortably meet all the new requirements and sail through. How can that possibly be the same standard?

Equally, last year, poor handwriting could be disregarded at the expected standard, yet now legible joined handwriting is a minimum requirement. It also seems, from the additional documents tucked away on the NCA tools website, that schools must now show evidence of pupils’ spelling of the additional word lists.

Perhaps, like the Ship of Theseus, the Standards and Testing Agency believes that replacing the passive voice with neat handwriting maintains the same standard overall. I’m not convinced that I agree – and it certainly doesn’t seem to have helped the confusion in the profession. When I asked nearly 1,000 teachers last week, almost half thought the new writing standard was easier to achieve, yet a fifth thought it had got harder.

No wonder that my latest Twitter poll shows that 84 per cent of teachers think that the current system won’t lead to honest and accurate results this year. Surely it’s time for this nonsense to stop?

Michael Tidd is headteacher at Medmerry Primary School in West Sussex. He tweets @MichaelT1979

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Latest stories

Make a good first impression at interview

WATCH: How to make your application form stand out

Standing out on your application form is crucial for teachers keen to get an interview for their dream job. Grainne Hallahan speaks to some experts to get their top tips on how to get yourself top of the shortlist

Grainne Hallahan 27 Feb 2020