Primaries fear endless league tables if key stage is split apart
The recommendation that the new national curriculum should be accompanied by more statutory assessment and additional league tables has, unsurprisingly, triggered anxiety across England's primary sector.
Indeed, widespread support for the idea of a less prescriptive curriculum has been tempered by concerns about the assessment proposals, which can be found in the latest report from the expert panel overseeing the Government's national curriculum review.
The group has recommended that the current four-year key stage 2 is split into a lower KS2 and an upper KS2, to overcome "a lack of pace and ambition" in Years 4 and 5.
The lower KS2, which covers Years 3 and 4, could then gain its own programme of study, attainment targets, statutory teacher assessment and performance tables. It is this last suggestion that particularly worries heads and teachers.
In addition, the panel - which is chaired by Tim Oates, director of assessment research at Cambridge Assessment - has also recommended that these tables should be based on a new measure in English, maths and science called "ready to progress".
This will allow schools to move away from a dependency on "levels", which according to the report "undermines learning", particularly in the primary sector where many pupils use them to measure themselves. Instead, teachers should track which elements of the curriculum pupils have achieved. This would mean a more detailed, wide-ranging assessment similar to that completed in the early years foundation stage at age five.
There is widespread alarm about these proposals, especially the proposed proliferation of league tables.
"I have no problem with children being assessed; they should be assessed at the end of every term, even at the end of every week. That is what many good schools do," said Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT. "But if that data becomes another league table for key stage 2-and-a-half, then I'm quite certain there would be little appetite for that."
He added that any changes to assessments must support high expectations of pupils and that he was not sure a "ready to progress" measure would do this. "This year's results show that the proportion of pupils at level 5 (the higher level for Year 6) went down, while the level 4s went up. It shows what threshold measures can do. There is a danger that people focus on the threshold and don't push excellence further," he said.
Heads echo these worries. "What we need to avoid is creating a mini Year 6, where in many schools the curriculum narrows," said David Mitchell, acting headteacher of Heathfield primary in Bolton. "Assessment goes on every year anyway. I don't see the benefit to children of splitting key stage 2 and publicising the data from Year 4.
"With the new assessment for reading in Year 1, it means children will have assessments from Year 1, Year 2, Year 4 and Year 6 publicised."