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‘Particular weaknesses’ and feeble excuses

With primaries facing yet more changes to teacher assessment, let’s not pretend they will benefit pupils, one head says

teacher assessment

With primaries facing yet more changes to teacher assessment, let’s not pretend they will benefit pupils, one head says

Forgive me if I’ve mentioned teacher assessment in this column before, but here I go again. Moderation visits are beginning to take place in every local authority, and while some may have breathed a sigh of relief at not being selected, all schools now face the challenge of making teacher-assessed judgements for Year 2 and 6 by the end of the month.

Unfortunately, three years after the first changes to assessment, this is the one area that still hasn’t settled. For the third year running, there are slight adjustments to the way it works and, as far as I can tell, a new level of complication has been added. There is none of the confidence that teachers once had with using levels, but new layers of confusion – the particular weakness now appears to be “particular weaknesses”.

One of the key reasons given for scrapping the old system was that children could achieve a level without being able to do everything within it. And that was true. Messrs Gove and Gibb argued that parents needed to know the exact detail of what children could and couldn’t do. And so, under the new system, children had to be able to tick every box to be awarded each band.

The rules keep changing

I’m not sure how that helped, really. If a child could do nine out of 10 things in any given standard, they wouldn’t get it, and no one would know about all the things they could do. All we’ve done is swap one vague system for another. But now, the plot thickens. From this year, it’s not even necessary to tick every box when it comes to writing. The whole thing has gone out the window.

Last year, if a child failed on one element, then they couldn’t be awarded the standard: simple as that. It may have seemed harsh, but at least the rules were clear. This year, the framework has been changed to remove some of the clarity, and the new “particular weakness” element has made it little more than a lottery. When I polled teachers on Twitter at the start of the half-term break – with only weeks to go before final judgements were due – of the 1,200 or so who responded, just 45 per cent said they understood “particular weaknesses”.

How this is supposed to help parents is anybody’s guess. We’ve gone from a system that gave parents a broad description of what a child could do at each level, to a supposedly clear list of criteria, some of which can be ignored. In theory this is supposed to provide flexibility for teachers to ensure that “a particular weakness does not prevent an accurate judgement of a pupil’s attainment overall being made”. But how on earth are we meant to know what an accurate judgement looks like when the rules keep changing?

The truth is that this is nothing to do with “assessment”, and nor is it about informing parents: teachers and their reports do that. It is for the sole purpose of putting children into groups and providing data to slot into simple calculations for making judgements about schools.

I’m not averse to judgements being made. But let’s not pretend that there’s anything accurate about it.

Michael Tidd is headteacher at Medmerry Primary School in West Sussex. He tweets as @MichaelT1979

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