Primary assessment: Five reasons teachers are calling for reforms to the system

14th December 2016 at 14:46
Primary testing
Heads leader warns that this year's reforms were 'the worst' he had ever seen

Primary school teachers, leaders and associations representing the sector outlined their concerns about primary assessment to the Commons education select committee this morning.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the heads’ union NAHT, said the implementation of reforms to primary assessment and the curriculum this year were "the worst I have ever seen".

Meanwhile, Binks Neate-Evans, from the Headteachers’ Roundtable, said communication from the Department for Education over changes had been “diabolical" and "unacceptable”.

Here are five of the key reasons why they want things to change:

1. Sats have not helped children with special educational needs (SEN)

Both Michael Tidd, deputy head of Edgewood Primary School, in Nottinghamshire, and heads' union leader Mr Hobby said they felt that SEN had been treated as an “afterthought”.

Meanwhile, Juliet Nickels, a year six teacher at Coten End Primary School in Warwick, said the new pass /fail system had been "very demotivating" for SEN children. 

She told MPs about a child she knew, who had a very high standard of English but couldn’t spell, who gave up because of the focus on the spelling criteria.

Meanwhile, John Coe, from the National Association for Primary Education, warned that SEN children could become "casualties of the rat race" to get academic success.

2. Tests have affected pupils’ wellbeing – but schools should not be blamed

The experts giving evidence said they had seen an impact on pupils' wellbeing. Ms Nickels told MPs: “It is very stressful for them. I think they may be taking it as a very serious and sensitive issue.”

But a number of the professionals stressed that there are a number of factors that have played a part. 

Ms Neate-Evans, a headteacher at a Norwich primary school, said: “The government should be held to account for the wellbeing of children, rather than schools.”

3. Children struggling with basic skills are worse off because of new tests

During the committee, MP Suella Fernandes urged the professionals not to forget that many pupils were leaving primary school with high levels of "functional illiteracy and innumeracy".

But Mr Tidd challenged Ms Fernandes on her claim. “The new tests have made it worse," he said. "Those children who were really struggling are now on the radar of actually they are never going to make it, they are not going to count for my school accountability, that had made that problem worse.”

He added: “We now undervalue those children at that end of the scale particulary because of the way we are testing them."

4. Subjects have been side-lined in the curriculum because of assessment

Ms Nickels told MPs that it was “unavoidable” that the pressures of high stakes assessment on teachers has influenced what is being taught in the classroom.

She said: “Even with the best of intentions I think the other subjects are side-lined. You are going to drop art, music, D&T. It has had a dramatic impact even with schools trying to do their best.

Alex Gingell, deputy head at Marlborough Primary School, in Chelsea, said that it was sad that that the focus on maths and English had taken time away time from science, history and geography.

He said: “If you speak to children they will say those are the subjects they enjoy the most. It’s a shame that we don’t feel like we are able to spend more time on those areas.”

5. Linking high stakes accountability to teacher assessment has a negative impact

"When it comes to statutory accountability it is bonkers. It is absolutely nonsense," Mr Tidd said.

The deputy head said: “The ticklist I've got to go through to give my school’s data, which is then how our school will be judged, is massively influencing the way I teach. And I will teach to that ticklist.

“It affects the way I teach things in a negative way. It makes me teach the wrong things.”

Ms Nickels added: “You are basically judging yourself. But even with the best will in the world, you cannot have reliability in that system and that is simply not fair to anybody."

Mr Hobby that the "biggest flaw" in the KS2 assessment was the writing teacher assessment - and he suggested comparative judgement could be better. 

"We are not looking at the overall quality of the piece of work. [Instead we] reward quite mediocre and pedestrian pieces of writing," the NAHT leader said.  

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