I’ve had a too many restless nights lately, waking up in the morning in fear of what I’ll find. This week, it is the turn of the Department for Education to upset my routine with the publication of the new key stage 2 Sats results.
We were pre-warned by Nicky Morgan that we ought not to compare this year’s results to last year’s because of the changes in curriculum and tests. Of course, people inevitably will do – especially when it looks like the new tests have moved a third of children from working at the old expected standard to working below the new one.
But the DfE are not solely responsible for trashing children’s learning this year. That responsibility lies in part with you, dear teacher.
Because there is one little bar on the DfE chart which stands out from the other three: the bar that shows that just short of three-quarters of pupils have met the new expected standard in writing.
Jumping through hoops
I remember the uproar when the interim assessment framework first came out – I was there, leading a charge. We all railed about the insurmountable expectations. We all argued that they were much closer to a Level 5 than the old 4b we’d been promised. We all accused the department of setting impossible hoops for us to jump through.
And yet somehow, magically, jump we did. We managed to turn an impossible hurdle into a mere bump in the road. And now we have gone from writing being the weakest area in the KS2 results to being the strongest, at a time when we were all arguing that it couldn’t be done.
There are two possibilities here, of course, and both of them paint teachers in a bad light. Either we were all complaining unnecessarily in the first place or we’ve somehow found a way to cheat the system. And I rather suspect it’s the latter.
Whether it’s been through overly-structured tasks, repeated redrafting and guidance, or further stretching of the rules around independence, it seems that teachers have not only found ways to overcome their original understanding of what it is possible for the children to achieve in the time given, they have found a way to force the results upwards as well.
Who is assessment for?
There will be excuses, of course. For some it will be the guidance they were given by the local authority. For others, it will be pressure exerted by a headteacher. Indeed, in some cases teachers tell me that the results submitted bear no resemblance to the judgements they reached. For many, staying within the letter of the guidance – if not its spirit – has been a good way of overriding any moral compulsion to do the right thing. Some will even say that they’ve forced semi-colons into work for the benefit of the children.
But if we’re honest, we’ve complained loud and clear about the inadequacies of the system and then colluded with those in charge to cover it up. Whether it’s because of the pressure placed on us by leaders; whether it’s a misguided belief that driving up results artificially is good for the children; or whether it’s simply a recognition that teachers have conceded that assessment is no longer about the children at all, it’s a sad indictment of the profession that we have ended up in this situation, and that now we will have to maintain this preposterous pretence.
Well, colleagues – we’ve made our bed, now we all must lie in it.
Michael Tidd is deputy headteacher at Edgewood Primary School in Nottinghamshire