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End tests for seven-year-olds and bring back Reception baseline assessment, say heads

NAHT review group calls for single baseline assessment in Reception and an end to tests at key stage 1

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NAHT review group calls for single baseline assessment in Reception and an end to tests at key stage 1

Tests for seven-year-olds should be abolished and baseline assessment reintroduced in Reception class, a review of primary assessment published by the NAHT headteachers' union has recommended.

It argues there is no need for two sets of official assessments so early on in school. 

“In the proposed model there would be two statutory assessment points one at the start of a child’s time in primary school and one at the end," the report says.

"The key measure arising from statutory assessment should be the progress children make between these two points therefore end of key stage 1 assessments should be removed as a statutory requirement."

The highly controversial Reception year baseline – introduced in 2015 – was scrapped in April last year, after the government found that the three approved assessments were not sufficiently compatible.

The baseline had been opposed by the ATL and NUT teaching unionswhich argued it created unnecessary workload and risked damaging pupils. Research commissioned by the unions found that some pupils were being put into ability groups at the age of 4, based on the results.

Making progress

But the Assessment Review Group, set up by the NAHT, argues that progress is the fairest way to measure school performance – and suggests that there should be a single, national assessment based on observations rather than tests, which is carried out in the second half of the autumn term, after children had settled in. Its final report, Redressing the Balance, also says that floor targets should not be used as a trigger for intervention in schools.

“The group was largely supportive of the concept that a start of school baseline would be collected and ‘black-boxed’ until end of primary school assessments have taken place (seven years later), in order to calculate a cohort progress measure,” the review published this morning states.

The review was launched last summer following the chaotic introduction of the new primary Sats, when the government published repeated clarification on how to assess writing, test papers were leaked and concerns raised about variation in moderation of writing.

The review group consisted of school leaders, teachers, academics and other experts on assessment. It looked at evidence on assessment and invited expert witnesses to debate the issues.

In his foreword to the review, Dave Ellison – deputy head of the Foxfield Primary, Greenwich, and chair of the assessment review group – said the current system has now got "incredibly high stakes" and that the system has been "stretched to breaking point".

“We know schools need to be accountable, but they should not operate in fear and uncertainty,” he said. “The balance has been lost within current arrangements. It is time to redress that balance.”

The review’s alternative model for statutory assessment includes:

  • Have two statutory assessment points for primary pupils, at Reception and Year 6.
  • At key stage 2, continue with externally set and marked tests for reading and maths and teacher assessment for writing but focus on the overall quality or writing rather than parts. There is no mention of spelling, grammar and punctuation (Spag) tests.
  • Make statutory tests accessible to more pupils – consider having more flexible time limits, particularly in reading.
  • Introduce national sampling and assessment banks – these could be used for the phonics check and the proposed times tables check. In the long term, national sampling could replace the current model of every pupil taking every test in Year 6.
  • Report pupil scores and ditch terms such as “working within the expected standard”.
  • Schools should not be held to account on the basis of data alone. All data should be considered over a three-year period. Floor and coasting standards should not be used as a way of deciding when to intervene in a school.

'Expectation of support'

“Poor test results can trigger an avalanche of interventions, based on a presumption of school failure, which are distracting at best and career ending at worst,” said Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of the NAHT. “It is easy to understand why schools in this shadow struggle to recruit teachers and leaders…we need to replace the presumption of failure with an expectation of support.”

There were 665 primary schools that fell below the floor target this year, and 477 schools were also deemed as "coasting".

The government has announced that it will introduce no new tests or assessments until 2018-19, and that it will review primary assessment early this year.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The education secretary has already underlined that she wants a period of stability so teachers can do what they do best – teach. We are continuing to listen to the sector and this review group, led by the NAHT, has made a number of valuable and interesting points to help move the agenda forward.

"We have already committed to consult on a number of key, long-term issues, such as the best starting point from which to measure progress in primary school and the role of teacher assessment. We will announce more details in due course.”

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