Skip to main content

This panic over primary assessment is nonsense

Union fearmongers have misled teachers with warnings about unmanageable workload, insists the schools minister. In reality, staff will be given time to adjust

News article image

Over recent weeks, there have been many reports of inaccurate teaching union statements about primary assessment. I want to set the record straight, and to save primary teachers any unnecessary worry or workload before the summer term so that they can focus on what is most important – teaching.

Reform of the assessment and accountability system at primary level is crucial to achieving our aim of every child leaving school with a good standard of reading, writing and mathematics. Following the introduction of a new, more challenging curriculum we had to design a new assessment and accountability system to reflect it, to give parents confidence that their children are finishing primary school ready to succeed at secondary school and beyond.

Significant reforms like these take time and cannot be achieved in isolation. When we responded to the consultation on teacher assessment arrangements in February 2015, we made it clear that the views of teachers would be vital in shaping what came next. For this reason, the decision was made for the Standards and Testing Agency (STA) to publish interim frameworks for teacher assessment, allowing it to respond to the views of teachers this year and, where necessary, alter the approach for future years.

The STA has published exemplification materials as a guide to support teachers when making their teacher assessment judgements. These materials were developed in consultation with a number of teacher panels and are real examples of work by pupils currently in Year 2 or Year 6.

The writing materials for key stage 2 show two examples of pupils assessed as working at the expected standard: Morgan, who has met the expected standard, and Leigh, who is at the higher end of the expected standard. We have published these two different examples to show the breadth of competence covered by “meeting the expected standard”. When assessing pupils who are on the borderline for meeting or not meeting the standard, Morgan’s work, which is broadly equivalent to an old level 4b, would be the most appropriate for teachers to consider.

Further guidance will be issued to schools shortly, clarifying the arrangements for writing assessment, and all other teacher assessments, to eliminate any remaining misunderstandings.


Some unions have claimed that teachers will have to undertake more than 6,120 assessments for a class of 30 pupils. This is nonsense: teachers should not use the frameworks to assess individual pieces of work; they do not have to assess all six pieces of work individually against every “can do” statement. Teachers simply have to find evidence from the written work the pupil has produced throughout the year to demonstrate the statement being achieved. In addition, there are only 21 statements, not 34, and teachers do not have to evidence every statement for each pupil, only those that the pupil is capable of reaching.

Neither is there any requirement from the STA for tick sheets to be used, as some have claimed. The STA has informed local authorities of this, and moderators will know that it is perfectly valid for teachers to use short annotations of pupil work, or tabs, to show where evidence to support their judgement can be found.

In light of all of the changes taking place this year and following constructive conversations with the NAHT headteachers’ union, for this year only I have introduced a revised deadline of 30 June for teacher assessment submission. This is to provide teachers with more time to make their judgements.

In addition, I have instructed the regional schools commissioners to take into account the fact that schools are working to new, more rigorous standards when they consider school performance for this year.

I have also written to Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of Ofsted, to ask that his inspectors take into consideration the fact that teachers will be working with these new assessment materials when reaching their judgements.

These changes, I hope, should allay teachers’ concerns about workload and disruption and allow them to continue working towards our shared goal of the best possible education for all of our children.

Thanks to the work of dedicated teachers throughout the country, primary school standards are undoubtedly on the rise. Once bedded in, this new assessment system will ensure that such improvements are recognised and further encouraged for years to come.

Nick Gibb is the schools minister and MP for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton

This is an article from the 26 February edition of TES. This week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

Want to keep up with the latest education news and opinion? Follow TES on Twitter and like TES on Facebook

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you