Primary Assessment: Five warnings issued by MPs today

New primary tests have left schools 'confused and under pressure', a report published today by the House of Commons education committee warns

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The House of Commons education committee has today released a detailed report setting out a range of warnings over the government's reforms to primary assessment. Here are the five main findings:

1. The emphasis on the technical aspects of writing in primary school assessments is not supported by evidence

The committee felt this had led to a "diminished focus on composition and creativity at primary school". It said it was "not convinced this leads directly to improved writing" and and called for the government to make changes. It also recommended making spelling, punctuation and grammar tests non-statutory at key stage 2, but "still available for schools for internal monitoring of pupil performance".

2. Aspects of the writing assessments are unsuitable for children with special educational needs and disability (SEND)

The focus on spelling and handwriting can "disproportionately affect pupils with dyslexia or dyspraxia, and there has been criticism of the level of difficulty of the tests", the committee said. It welcomed a review of assessment for pupils working below the standard of national curriculum tests and said it looks forward to the implementation of its conclusions. The Rochford Review, published last October, recommended dropping the statutory requirement to use performance scales (p scales) to assess pupils, and called for the statutory introduction of "engagement scales" for pupils with severe learning difficulties.

3. The government needs to be "cautious" in introducing a baseline measure 

The Department for Education is consulting on two options: a Reception baseline – its “preferred option” – or changes to the KS1 assessments to enable them to be used as a baseline. The committee urged "caution" over introducing a new baseline. It said that the primary purpose of a measure of children aged 4 "should be as a diagnostic tool which helps teachers to identify individual pupil needs". This measure should only be carried out through teacher assessment, it added.

4. New primary tests have left schools feeling "confused and under pressure"

The DfE and Standards and Testing Agency did not oversee the implementation of new SATs in 2016 effectively, the report stated. Guidance was published late, "leaving little time for schools to prepare pupils for assessments". For future reforms, schools must be given at least a year to implement changes with no incremental changes within that time. The report also calls for the scrapping of publication of results from a single cohort, and suggests  that a rolling three year average of key stage 2 results should be published instead.

5. Schools' individual assessment systems have been "low quality"

National curriculum levels were removed last year as a measure of pupil performance, leaving schools with the flexibility to design their own assessment systems. However, the report found that school leaders and teachers were "not given enough advice, guidance or training to design and implement effective systems, resulting in many schools using low quality commercial solutions". The committee said the government should provide better advice and guidance.

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