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'Ministers must remember that while the potential of every child is indeed limitless, curriculum time is not'

The new primary assessments – and the clarifications that have followed – fail to grasp certain basic fundamentals of the nature of teaching

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The new primary assessments – and the clarifications that have followed – fail to grasp certain basic fundamentals of the nature of teaching

The government has now issued an official clarification on the exemplification for the interim primary assessment frameworks. Just in case you weren’t clear about what was going on.

The writing assessment for Year 6 children is particularly important because it is one of the assessments which will be used to judge whether a school is below the floor target – and thus subject to academisation – or not.

But, say primary teachers as they bang their head on the desks, there are still questions about the clarification. Chief among them is how independent does independent writing need to be? And when Ofsted says it will take account of the fact that this is the first year of the assessments, how much account will be taken?

It is important because teachers want to make sure that they are fairly assessing children’s work and for that to happen all Year 2 and Year 6 teachers need to agree on what counts as the expected level across the country.

In terms of writing, is a child working at the expected level if they can create atmosphere and integrate dialogue to convey character and advance action, but they can’t spell "potatoes" consistently? And what if they can spell "potatoes" but have never knowingly used a semi-colon?

Teachers want children to do well. That is why they have gone into teaching. But they also know that not every child will get prizes, and so above all, they must be fair. They need to know that when they say a child is working towards the expected standard, they are not unjustly marking down a child who would be assessed as having reached the standard in another school.

But politicians do not seem to be listening. They accuse unions and teachers of “scaremongering”, insisting that the new system has simply been introduced to raise standards in primary schools.

'Missing the point'

Nicky Morgan reinforced this point when she spoke to teachers directly, saying that not knowing what exactly is expected “does not – and should not – affect this raising of the bar because each child should be supported to reach their full potential regardless of where the final standard is set”.  

But she missed the central concern of teachers.

The problem is not that primary schools can’t do this. The problem is that they can.

As Pie Corbett, the respected primary literacy expert, told TES this week: “Primary schools are good at rising to the occasion.”

The issue is, as teachers repeatedly say, while they are pushing each child to get that one or two extra marks for using semi-colons correctly in a list, those children are not doing something else: art, science, PE, playing with friends at lunchtime, listening to a class book or just relaxing.

And what the government needs to remember is that when it says it wants every child is to reach their “full potential”, it should listen to teachers who are telling them that children’s potential is limitless. But curriculum time is not.

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