Dear Mr Gibb,
Many thanks for your letter dated 22 March 2016 in which you discuss the current situation in primary assessment, in response to my letter to Nicky Morgan (dated 20 February 2016).
There are some issues in your letter that I would very much appreciate further clarification on, which I will outline below:
“It is worth noting that changes were first announced in March 2014.”
The main issue I have with the current assessment arrangements is not concerned with how long ago we were told about them. It is, more crucially, to do with the discrepancy between the standards now expected and the "mastery of the basics" that you and your department repeatedly refer to. The samples that were published in 2014 have also been substantially changed (eg, the grammar test has changed a great deal from the sample, removing the proofreading element).
Setting the scaled score:
“It would not be fair or accurate to set the new scale using data from pupils who studied the old national curriculum.”
My response to this would be: why are we testing this cohort at all? Is it not rather like assessing a child for GCSE before they have studied the entire curriculum? The raw scores gleaned from this first cohort are, in your own words, unreliable and unfair. This lack of clarity and transparency is impossible for teachers and parents to accept.
“Research shows that explicit teaching of grammar in the context of reading and writing enables pupils to understand and apply the rules of Standard English.”
I agree with you wholeheartedly that a focus on grammar as a means of developing a child’s grasp of Standard English is vital and indeed the old grammar test was helpful in this regard. However, the current test is only fleetingly concerned with Standard English and more with metalinguistics, requiring children to master and analyse concepts often seen at degree level. One major problem with assessing these concepts in a test is that often a grammatical "problem" can have one or more solutions (eg, whether a fronted adverbial is also a relative clause or expanded noun phrase). I would be extremely interested to read this research that has helped to inform the new curriculum.
Pupils with dyslexia
The assessments apply to all children, “including those with dyslexia, as it is important to accurately assess what they can or cannot do”.
I am afraid that the accuracy aimed for here will not be reached as judging a child as "working towards the expected standard" when they are fluent, skilled writers but cannot spell will do nothing to help inform their future teachers or parents.
“Y7 resits will ensure children have mastered the basics.”
I appreciate that there is a robust link between key stage 2 results and GCSE results. However, I do not accept that retaking these tests in Y7 will help. The resits will cause great anxiety for children at a time of huge change in their lives. It will also possibly create a "remedial class" model at a time when pupils are trying to establish themselves in a new school community and when self-esteem can be precarious. If children have not managed to meet the expected standard (whatever that may be), simply requiring resits will do nothing to help this. Instead, these children should be nurtured and supported to develop their vocabularies and a lifelong love of reading through the excellent work done by so many of our secondary schools currently.
You state that “teachers do not have to provide evidence for every statement for every pupil, only those that the pupil is capable of reaching.”
I would really appreciate some further clarification on this, as I do not really understand what you mean. Surely, by definition, we cannot provide evidence of something the children cannot do (eg, I cannot give any evidence that I speak French because I can’t).
You state that “schools play a vital role in supporting the resilience and mental health of children” and that we should “provide a thorough mental health education”. This is, of course, something that we teachers endeavour to do but putting huge amounts of pressure on children and then asking us to build up their resilience is just not realistic. Your suggestion that “children should speak to school counsellors” is sound but unfortunately unfeasible. Current funding restrictions mean that school counsellors (if indeed a school is lucky enough to have one) are working with very small numbers of children.
I understand that you will have a lot of correspondence to answer but would very much appreciate further clarification on the points above.