Skip to main content

'Performance descriptor' criticism prompts government rethink of primary school assessment


Teachers have forced the government into rethinking its proposals on assessment at ages 7 and 11 after overwhelmingly rejecting its proposals on how to describe children’s performance.

Almost three-quarters of respondents to a government consultation on "performance descriptors" said they were unclear and difficult to understand. The descriptors were also criticised for being too vague, labelling children and potentially leading to extra teacher workload.

The proposals were published earlier this year as part of reforms to primary school assessment. Under the system, children would be marked according to five standards: mastery; above national standard; national standard; working towards national standard; and below national standard.

Each standard was also accompanied by a long checklist, with more than 40 criteria in some cases, prompting concerns that they were confusing.

“Many of the issues raised by respondents…amount to a request for greater simplicity, clarity and consistency to support teachers in applying performance descriptors and to help parents understand their meaning,” the government response says. “We will work with relevant experts to determine the most appropriate course of action to address the concerns raised and will inform schools of the agreed approach.”

As well as sitting tests, children are assessed by teachers at the end of Year 2 and Year 6 in maths, reading, writing and science.

In Year 2, only teacher assessment results are reported. In Year 6, teacher assessments are published alongside the test results for all subjects apart from writing, where the test was dropped in 2012.

With the changes to the national curriculum and the scrapping of the level system, the performance descriptors are intended to be used in teacher assessments. A final decision on the details is due to be made by September 2015.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers' union, said: "It is ironic that one of the government's major criticisms of levels was that they were opaque and hard to understand, then they come up with something even more complicated to replace them.

"But if you reflect on how this relates to the Workload Challenge and the need to give schools sufficient notice to implement changes, this looks at risk of running out of time.

"They say September, but it might be the end of the year. And then we don't know what quality it will be. It would have been better to get it right the first time – if they had bothered to consult more rather than producing it in-house they might have done that."

Michael Tidd, deputy headteacher of Edgewood Primary in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire, took to Twitter to urge people to respond to the consultation.

“I am heartened to hear they have paid attention to the responses," he said. "But I will be keeping a close eye on any new proposals. They obviously realised that the original idea was not going to be an option – the biggest problem was that it was just like levels again.” 

Related stories

Commission created to help schools assess without levels 25 Feb 2015

Are ‘performance descriptors’ levels by another name? 30 Nov 2014

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