Sats analysis: five ways for ministers to prove they are really listening to primary teachers on assessment

19th October 2016 at 19:20
primary assessment what next?
With education secretary Justine Greening announcing a new consultation on primary assessment, here are five things that she should include on the agenda

Justine Greening today announced that she would scrap the proposed Year 7 Sats resits and launch a major consultation on primary assessment in the new year. TES primary expert Helen Ward explains what the education secretary will have to do to convince primary teachers she is really listening.

1. Consider major changes to writing assessments 

The variation in the way that Year 6 writing was being moderated caused concern before the regional results were published. Mandatory training for all local authority moderators on writing moderation proposed for this year will help reduce variations. But that does not address the central concern that a "secure fit" model, in which children must meet all the given criteria, unfairly penalises children with dyslexia or special needs. This was one of the three key issues (along with the Year 7 resits and the high demand of the reading test) that the NAHT wanted to see addressed to avert a potential boycott of Sats in 2017.

2. Rewrite the reading test

Nothing in Ms Greening's statement today addressed concerns over the reading test, which teachers said was so difficult this year that it left some children in tears. The demand of the test was such that fewer children passed reading than writing – something that has not happened before. Test developers will have to consider how this can be addressed in 2017.

3. Listen…no really listen

The written statement today can certainly be read as a victory for the unions, perhaps seeing off the immediate push for a boycott. But the anger over primary assessment should not be underestimated. Today, the NAHT and ATL unions both gave the proposals a cautious welcome and said that they would be consulting members over them. And a boycott of next year's Sats now looks much less likely. But Ms Greening will need to be as good as her word and convince the profession that she is genuinely listening to their concerns.

4. Take a different approach to the early years

The government introduced baseline assessments – based on the type of the maths-and-English-focused approach usually applied to older primary pupils – after a consultation in 2013. The decision provoked widespread opposition, but the government introduced it anyway. That did not work out well. The baseline assessment was scrapped in April, after an evaluation found that the three approved assessments being used were not comparable.

Ms Greening has said that the best starting point to measure the progress that children make in primary school will be part of the consultation. But it's how, not when, children are assessed that is the key point. The early years foundation stage profile is popular for a reason.

5. Include everything

A review "in the round" should look at all aspects of primary assessment. Will the phonics check be up for review? The proportion of children passing the phonics check has risen since it was introduced, but there has been little evidence to date of a wider impact on reading. A major study out earlier this year concluded that the effect of phonics teaching on the literacy ability of children from disadvantaged backgrounds was “impressive” and enough to justify the cost of a year’s intensive training to support teachers.

By contrast, the official evaluation of the phonics check found that although the cost was "very low" – around £10 to £12 per pupil – there was no clear evidence of improvements in pupils’ literacy performance, and it was not possible to estimate the value for money of the check. Looking at how reading is assessed without considering the phonics check would seem to amount to just the kind of "piecemeal change" that Ms Greening has said she wants to avoid.

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