Do we really have to suffer this chaos for another year?

9th September 2016 at 00:00
Department for Education officials don't seem to be listening to complaints about the interim assessment framework
Last week’s Sats results show that continuing with the interim assessment framework isn’t viable

So, the cat is out of the bag: the writing results are all over the place, and consistency of assessment has gone out of the window. I don’t know about you, but I rather feel that I saw it coming. In fact, I’d go as far as to say, “Well, we did warn you.”

Unfortunately, it seems that at the moment the people at the Department for Education who need to listen must have their fingers stuck in their ears.

When the interim assessment framework was published the first time around, many of us in primary education raised our doubts about the new secure-fit model. The trouble with secure fits is that they require precision; things that are easy to measure. It’s very easy to understand the appeal of a multiplication tables test to the DfE for exactly that reason: it provides simple, easy-to-compare measurable outcomes.

Writing, on the other hand, has always been more complex. The very reason it was removed from the series of tests was because precision is hard to find when judging writing – we must rely on broader senses. Nevertheless, the plan went ahead – we just hoped for clear exemplification.

And how we hoped. For month after month, waiting to see just what it was meant to look like in practice. When it finally landed, more confusion: criteria about handwriting that we were to ignore, expectations about spelling that seemed unreasonable, and a real bemusement about just how independent this work was meant to be. It was followed by a flurry of clarification notes – presumably cobbled together when teachers collectively pointed out the flaws that the DfE hadn’t spotted.

Flawed approach

By then, there was no saving this flawed approach. It was fast becoming clear that the department hadn’t had enough time to put the necessary thought into a replacement scheme for levels (despite having plenty more warning than the rest of us had had in replacing our own systems!). The clarifications served as only to muddy the waters, as rules were introduced that allowed all sorts of support for children under the banner of “independence”. Pity the poor moderation leads at local authorities all over the country, desperately trying to interpret the new framework and make it work for their schools.

The clues were all there, but if there was any doubt about its viability, then one only needed to look on social media or the TES forums to see an array of different interpretations of the framework. Teachers were horrified that some authorities required multiple examples of each bullet point, while others would be satisfied by one. Nobody could agree on what constituted evidence for the spelling requirements, let alone myriad other bullet points – and then, in all the confusion, the DfE told us that we could ignore the exemplification altogether if we wished. The phrase “dog’s breakfast” cropped up in more than one of my conversations.

'The phrase "dog's breakfast" cropped up more than once'

The one saving grace in the debacle was the word “interim”. We knew we were only to be stuck with this awful system for a single year. Indeed, when I polled Twitter users in April, over half would have been happy to return to levels. So it was with some astonishment I read that the chaos would be drawn out for another year.

If nothing else, surely last week’s results show us that this course of action isn’t viable. Despite the DfE’s best attempts to claim otherwise, it is clear that the variation in outcomes between different local authorities is far too erratic as to be meaningful – and that’s before we even begin to look at how results of moderated schools compared with those that were not checked.

Nobody in their right mind could say that the teacher assessment of writing has been anything other than a disaster this year.

Michael Tidd is deputy head at Edgewood Primary School in Nottinghamshire @MichaelT1979


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