'Our opposition to government has to be smarter than calling for a blanket ban on tests'

A petition to scrap Key Stage assessments plays into government hands, says Michael Tidd, a primary deputy head.

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There can be no denying that the roll-out of new assessment processes for primary schools has been a disaster: too little information, delivered too late, has left schools and teachers in the dark; hasty changes cobbled together have made for a more confusing interim system; and the expectations of the new writing assessment framework are beyond a nonsense.

The temptation to demand the ditching of the whole lot is very tempting. But I can’t bring myself to sign the petition calling for the scrapping of key stage assessment in its entirety this year.

We need to be cleverer than this; we need to make clear exactly where our concerns lie.

By demanding that the whole thing be thrown out, we risk the profession being seen as petulant and we open ourselves up to accusations of trying to avoid accountability. It’s too easy to portray the opposition to the key stage assessment as an overreaction driven by “the blob”, demonstrating our “soft bigotry of low expectations”. We need to fight smarter.

Valid objections

It’s not enough to object to the fact that tests are hard. There are still children this year who will score 100 per cent on each test, and so it’s perfectly reasonable to include every question. Every child up and down the country will face the same tests, so the outcomes will still be equitable, if not necessarily meeting our own definitions of "fair". And although the lack of a clear "expected standard" measure is frustrating for teachers, it does at least mean that it would be perfectly possible to set thresholds that give pupils fair recognition of their attainment.

This does not mean I’m happy about everything. I still think primary assessment will be a disaster this year. It will be a disaster for secondary schools receiving data from their primaries that is confusing and tells little of pupils’ abilities. It will be a disaster for primary schools, which will be held accountable for attainment under a system of which we have no understanding. But perhaps most importantly, it will be a disaster for parents, who will be presented with complex and confusing information about their child’s attainment for which there is little explanation and even less justification.

The power of parents

If we are really serious about getting the government to see the light, then we need to harness the support of parents – the most important stakeholders in the whole system – to make our arguments clear. Simply demanding that everything be scrapped won’t achieve that. Parents value information about their children’s attainment and progress, including against national norms. The problem we have is that the new systems simply won’t help with that.

Confusing labels (after all, who can explain why “growing development of the expected standard” is worse than “working towards” it?), different approaches in each subject, and narrow unhelpful markers in teacher assessment will give parents and teachers nothing but problems this summer. It’s the statutory teacher assessment processes that are at the centre of this and that’s where our efforts should be focussed.

Teachers may not like the tests, but many parents value them. They might not be so keen on the unworkable teacher assessment structures, and nor should we be.

Michael Tidd writes weekly for TES. He is deputy headteacher at Edgewood Primary School in Nottinghamshire

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