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Colin Richards: the DfE's primary accountability proposals are deeply flawed

Colin Richards, a former HMI and a primary sector specialist adviser to Ofsted, writes:

Despite warranted scepticism about the genuineness of the Department for Education's so-called “consultations”, all those who are concerned with the future of English primary education need to respond to the current proposals on primary accountability by the deadline of October 11. 

To my mind "deadline" is a particularly apt term since the proposals, if implemented, would deaden, rather than enliven, the cause of high quality primary education and of children's well-being.

The proposals are deeply flawed because they are based on a number of flawed assumptions:

(a) that tests can measure children's understanding. They cannot; at most they can indicate possibilities which need elaborating and qualifying with much more qualitative evidence of  learning provided by teachers and by the children themselves;

(b) that progress  can be measured by comparing results on one test with results taken years later on a totally different one. It cannot. Like cannot be compared with unlike in any valid way. What is possible is tentative, provisional judgement of progress by teachers informed by close working with children and by talking to parents;

(c) that revamped, strengthened test measures can raise expectations and thus performance overall. They cannot or certainly will not for the 15% of children who will not be judged as "secondary ready", nor for the vast majority of the 90% who will not be placed in the top decile;

(d) that these proposals can be implemented without distorting the “broad and balanced” curriculum the DfE and Ofsted claim to favour. They cannot. Nearly twenty years of national testing and numerous enquiries and research projects attest to the distorting effect of testing, especially towards the end of Key Stage 2.

The very first question on the DfE consultation paper asks "Will these principles underpin an effective curriculum and assessment system?  My answer is clearly "no".

But much more importantly what do TES readers think and will the DfE and ministers listen?

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