Primary schools must not let assessment system 'fragment', heads warn

13th February 2014 at 00:00

Primary schools must work together to develop a consistent way of assessing children after the abolition of the current system of national curriculum levels, heads’ union the NAHT has said.

The Department for Education has announced that the levels presently used to grade pupils will be phased out, describing them as complicated for parents to understand.

Schools will be able to introduce their own assessment systems, which the DfE says should “support pupil attainment and progression”.

But Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT, said that it was crucial for schools to devise a common means of judging pupil performance.

“The idea of 20,000 different models of assessment is not a good one,” he said. “We want schools to use broadly similar systems. Although levels weren’t brilliant, complete fragmentation is not good either.”

The NAHT has today published the results of its commission into assessment, chaired by Lord Sutherland, a former chief inspector of schools. The report states that the prospect of the removal of the common language of levels caused “widespread consternation” among teachers.

At the end of primary school, 11-year-olds take externally marked tests in reading and maths, with writing assessed by teachers. The children’s results in these tests are reported in terms of levels – where level 4 is what is expected at age 11.

Tony Draper, head of Walter Hall primary, Milton Keynes, and a member of the NAHT commission, welcomed the opportunity to be give children more rounded assessments, but said a common language remained important.

“The system of levels gave you a starting point,” he said. “Obviously we do our own baseline testing but to have some idea of where the child is starting from as soon as they arrive is useful.

“If someone said ‘level 3’, you understood what they were talking about. It was a common starting point– rather than trying to get to grips with potentially thousands of different methods of assessment.”

The commission has made 21 recommendations, which include children being judged against objective criteria, rather than being ranked against each other.

It also wants pupil achievement to be described, rather than given a number. And the commission is calling for a system-wide review of assessment covering ages two to 19.

The government’s own plans, which were consulted upon last year, are due to be published shortly.

Mr Hobby said: “We have not gone as far as devising an actual system but we do have a broad checklist to allow people to create assessment systems and to judge other systems.

“There will be hundreds of people going into schools with bright ideas for assessment – but they won’t always be good ideas. This will give heads a way of quality assuring those systems.”

The report also points out that the introduction of a revised National Curriculum and assessment system before the next election risks overloading schools. 

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary at the ATL union, said: “We welcome the NAHT report. Many primary teachers are concerned about the demise of the national curriculum levels.

“Without any national guidance about what should replace levels, there is a danger that primary staff will spend a great deal of time devising their own assessment schemes, which risks inconsistency, or spend public money buying in commercial alternatives.”

Education Secretary Michael Gove said: “The NAHT’s report gives practical, helpful ideas to schools preparing for the removal of levels. It also encourages them to make the most of the freedom they now have to develop innovative approaches to assessment that meet the needs of pupils and give far more useful information to parents.”


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