'The nonsense of the interim writing assessment process will end like this...'

TES primary columnist Michael Tidd has had a vision of the report that will lay out the horror of the interim measures

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I have had a vision, reader, and I think you’ll like it. For it has provided me with a sneak preview of the report that will be published when the exam regulator finally slates the nonsense of the statutory writing assessment processes we’ve been lumbered with under the interim assessment framework. 

I can see the wording clearly: “Despite best efforts, the process of assessment against the interim framework does not deliver well enough, and some of the problems are intractable. Subjects assessed with significant proportions of controlled assessment are not providing sufficiently valid or reliable measures of achievement.”

Does that sound sufficiently damning? Rest assured, there’ll be plenty of evidence to support these claims. The problems that will doubtless be set out in the report will be manifold.

Wrong approach

For example, there’s the recognition among the profession of the challenges it presented:

“The process is not seen as an assessment that can be relied on to produce a fair representation of what students can do – that is, how they can perform on similar tasks in unsupported contexts,” the report will read. “Instead it is often treated as a hurdle that must be cleared no matter what, regardless of the student’s true level of achievement. This, in turn, affects how subjects are taught and how controlled assessment preparation is done.”

The problems will come as no surprise to the teachers who have been trying to work with the system this year. Not least because of the need to avoid falling below floor standards or coming to the attention of Ofsted or regional schools commissioners.

The consequences will be clearly laid out for all to see: “These problems are compounded by pressures on teachers that sometimes lead to over-marking and other practices that distort outcomes; and indeed teachers often find themselves in a difficult, sometimes stressful, position when marking work, on which their own performance and that of their school will be judged.”

It’s crazy to think that it could have been any other way, really, isn’t it? It must have been obvious from the start that the system would be unworkable. That’s not to say that teachers inevitably cheat; merely that the complexities of the arrangements are unfathomable.

The report will explain quite bluntly: “Schools and their teachers may not interpret or apply the department’s rules relating to the conduct of independent work consistently, and those rules cannot be made absolutely clear and unequivocal in all respects.”

Too complicated to work

It’s not that teachers are trying to trick the system; it’s that the system is inherently tricky. What’s more, it doesn’t even do its job very well. As the report will almost certainly set out: “The interim assessment framework does not always differentiate well enough between students of different abilities.”

The flaw in the system is that with such difficult-to-interpret rules about independence and support, it’s quite possible to have an incredibly able writer (who happened not to use a semi-colon between independent clauses) ending up with the same final judgement as a student who had to be coached to write a basic (if over-punctuated) narrative. It’s a disaster for measuring attainment, and the consequences for progress measures are clear.

How it is that I can foresee all these woes in advance? How is it that I’m so sure of the criticisms?

I cheated. They’re all exactly the problems that led to the demise of controlled assessments at GCSE level just in the last year or two. We’ve been here before. 

Michael Tidd is deputy headteacher at Edgewood Primary School in Nottinghamshire

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