Sats: What you need to know about the government's plans to fix primary assessment

30th March 2017 at 16:17
Scrapping tests for seven-year-olds is one option, but questions remain about the high-stakes tests for 11-year-olds

As soon as next year, teachers could be given more flexibility in how they assess writing at the end of primary school, the Department for Education announced today.

In the DfE's consultation on primary assessment, other proposals include: a new baseline by September 2019, and scrapping key stage 1 tests altogether after that.

There is also a parallel consultation on the assessment of children working below the level of the tests, many of whom will have special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). The consultation does not put forward any proposals but asks for views on each of the 10 recommendations of the Rochford review, which include removing the requirement to assess pupils using p scales.

The proposals: Age 4

Will this mean a return of baseline tests?

Possibly, but in a different form. The consultation gives two options: a Reception baseline – its “preferred option” – or changes to the KS1 assessments to enable them to be used as a baseline. It rules out using the current Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP).

Are there any clues on what type of Reception baseline the government would consider?

Unlike the previous baseline proposals, which collapsed last year, there is no indication that there would be more than one baseline assessment or that it would be optional.

But as before, the government expects any Reception baseline to include elements of literacy and numeracy.

The observation-based baseline assessment created by Early Excellence was taken up by 70 per cent of schools in 2015. Jan Dubiel, national director of Early Excellence, said today: “A formal test-based approach, such as using a tablet or pre-set questions, is unlikely to produce the information we need to truly understand the learning and development of children at this young age.”

Age 5

Does this mean the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile?

No. The Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP) is a “well-established, valued and respected assessment” according to the government, which confirmed the profile will remain a statutory assessment for future years. But it will seek views on how it could be improved.

Age 6

What does the government say about the phonics check?

Nothing.

Age 7

Will key stage 1 tests and assessments be scrapped?

If a Reception baseline is fully established, then the statutory tests and assessments at KS1 could be made non-statutory.

But there is an option to keep KS1 teacher assessments as a baseline measure. However, if this was done, they would need to be changed to ensure they are “sufficiently robust”, and the government does not believe this can happen. It says another alternative would be to use the data from the statutory tests taken by six and seven-year-olds, but it believes this option would prove unpopular with schools.

How would infant, junior and middle schools cope without key stage 1 tests?

The consultation suggests that KS1 measures would be kept for these schools and they would be compared with each other, rather than against all-through primaries.

Ages 9, 10, 11

So if the key stage 1 tests are scrapped, would that mean no statutory tests between Year 1 and Year 6?

Perhaps. The long-trailed times tables check will be introduced, says the consultation, and could be installed for children in Year 4. The online check is due to be trialled this summer. The national check would be introduced in the 2018-19 academic year.

Previously, the government has said these tests would be taken as part of the Sats tests at the end of Year 6 but the consultation asks whether they would be better taken at the end of Year 4, during Year 5 or during Year 6. The option of not having them is not given.

What will be done about teacher assessments of writing?

Something. The current system, known as “secure fit”, where pupils must meet every criteria to be awarded the expected standard in writing, has created huge concern among primary teachers.

But the consultation also recognises that teachers may not want more upheaval. It suggests that a “best fit” approach could be introduced next summer. In the longer term, different ways of assessing writing – including a trial of comparative judgement, a way of ranking pupils' work by comparing two pieces at a time –  will be explored.

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