'This is the best way to put primary assessment back in its place and allow teachers to get back to focusing on learning'

18th January 2017 at 10:52
Primary assessment
The government has a duty to ensure public money is wisely spent and parents have a right to see schools held to account. As teachers we need the most efficient and effective way of doing that, writes one deputy head

When I browse through the Assessment Review Group report, there’s part of me that reads it as a member of the panel, but there is another that tries to imagine reading it as a teacher in a school somewhere, fed up with the burden of assessment.

That’s not that hard to do, because I’m a Year 6 teacher: I spent a lot of my time fed up with the burden of assessment.

So I can imagine plenty of teachers baffled at why a group of teachers and supposed experts would come up with recommendations that not only keeps statutory tests in Year 6, but even suggests adding back in a baseline in reception.

Surely, I hear you cry, you’re just in league with the other side?

Firstly, let me say a few things that I think will help to lighten the assessment load.

The report proposes that we do away with the compulsory phonics test and don’t introduce any new mathematics tests. I think those are both positive moves – and I say that as someone who thinks we still need to do more to improve both of those areas in our schools.

It also suggests that we remove Key Stage 1 tests altogether. Not because we don’t need to assess those children, but because the high stakes nature of external assessment is an unnecessary strain on progress during the middle of the primary years.

The report also is very clear in saying that we need to find new – better – ways of assessing writing. The interim assessment frameworks have been unwieldy and unhelpful. The additional burden of work involved is of no use to teachers or children.

Why then didn’t we go further and call for the abolition of all the statutory tests?

Why introduce a new assessment? For me, there are several reasons. There is no doubting that external assessment does put an additional strain on schools; however, not all pressure is bad.

A common start and end point for primary education offers the minimum of additional work, while getting the best possible scope of schools’ work. A clear common structure that everyone can work within helps us to draw comparisons.

Some of those comparisons will be external, but we also need that information to help us to make internal judgements about how our children are doing. You only have to look at the number of schools crying out for guidance on assessment in other year groups to see that.

High stakes assessment 

We also need to be realistic. Government has a right – indeed a duty – to ensure that public money is wisely spent. Pupils have a right to be taught well, and parents have a right to see schools held to account for their work.

What we should aim for as teachers is the most efficient and effective way of doing that.

We’ve seen from this year’s debacle, and the inexplicable increase in writing results in recent years, and the troubles in infant and junior schools that teacher assessment – even when moderated – presents many problems of its own.

Straightforward tests in Year 6 help to provide some comparable information that can be used to make provisional judgements.

Perhaps the most important part of the report is one which doesn’t stand out quite so much on first reading.

The third of our guiding principles is the one that I think is most important for the DfE, Ofsted and regional schools’ commissioners to absorb: “No intervention should be triggered on the basis of test data alone.”

If we can reduce the high stakes associated with assessments, then perhaps we can put statutory assessment back in its place and get back to focusing on learning.

Michael Tidd is a TES columnist and deputy head at Edgewood Primary School in Nottinghamshire. He tweets at @MichaelT1979

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