'Science is so often forgotten at primary – many assume computing is the third core subject instead'

TES primary columnist Michael Tidd argues that science is the forgotten subject at primary and that it highlights issues between teacher assessment and testable attainment

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Year 2 and Year 6 teachers will this week be submitting their final teacher assessment judgements to the Department for Education in the core subjects. The past few weeks will have focused on the writing assessment, while Year 2 teachers will have also scoured maths books and reading records for evidence in those areas.

But that’s not the entirety of the core. Let’s not forget science.

Science is so often forgotten. Indeed, many teachers presume that it has been replaced in the core by computing. So it may come as a shock to some to see that a teacher assessment judgement must be provided for science this year.

And what a mess it looks likely to be. With teachers distracted by everything else, few have given much thought to the interim assessment framework for science – but when they do, they’re in for a shock.

Work to be done

At key stage 1 there are 17 bullet-point statements to be ticked off for a child to reach the expected standard. At key stage 2 that rises to 24 – with plenty of multi-part criteria to boot. There’s no "working towards" or partial credit. Either you can do it all – or you can’t.

The big question is: how many children will be able to do it all?

There’s no test, no exemplification to judge against – just the list of bullet points and teachers’ best guesses.

One resource we could fall back on is the old key stage 2 science test. It’s seven years since the compulsory test was withdrawn, but much of the curriculum content remains the same – much more so than in other subjects. A comparison of the old tests against the new framework would at least give teachers an indication, wouldn’t it?

Mixed messages

Once again, it doesn’t make for pretty reading. A quick scan through the old national curriculum level descriptors suggests that what appears in the new interim framework matches up pretty well with the old Level 5 criteria – a level that only 43 per cent of pupils reached in 2009.

Looking through the test, it would be easy to argue that a child who can do everything on the new framework should be able to score full marks on the test, or at least, not far short of it. Certainly, you’d expect them to merit four-fifths of them – again, enough to reach Level 5. So can we expect 43 per cent of children to reach the new expected standard?

Maybe even that is too optimistic. After the scrapping of the compulsory test, sampling tests were introduced. The last series, administered in 2014, showed that just 11 per cent of children reached Level 5. In the same year, teacher assessment judgments claimed that the figure was more than three times higher.

Perhaps we have all given up any pretence that teacher assessment bares any resemblance to testable attainment.

The question is, how long will the Department for Education tolerate the difference?

Michael Tidd is deputy headteacher at Edgewood Primary School in Nottinghamshire.

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