The `teacher-led' commission with no front-line staff

13th March 2015 at 00:00
Critics `dumbfounded' by make-up of assessment panel

After deciding to scrap the use of levels, the government announced that it would be creating a "teacher-led" commission to look at ways to improve pupil assessment. It was time, school reform minister Nick Gibb said, to give schools greater flexibility and afford teachers more "discretion" in monitoring their pupils' progress.

But for many in the profession, the relief that their concerns were being taken seriously evaporated this week when it emerged that the government-appointed commission did not include any serving classroom teachers.

School leaders have also argued that the primary sector is under-represented on the eight-strong commission, despite being most affected by the move away from levels - the main criteria against which primaries have been judged.

The commission will be chaired by John McIntosh, former headteacher of the London Oratory secondary school. The group also includes high-profile figures such as Sam Freedman, director of research, evaluation and impact at Teach First, and Daisy Christodoulou, research and development manager at the Ark academy chain.

The two representatives from the primary sector are Dame Alison Peacock, executive headteacher of the Wroxham School in Hertfordshire, and Shahed Ahmed, executive headteacher of Elmhurst Primary School in East London.

Tony Draper, headteacher of Water Hall Primary School in Milton Keynes, said he was "dumbfounded" by the make-up of the panel.

"This assessment commission is chaired by a former secondary head, which makes no sense to me whatsoever," argued Mr Draper, a member of the separate assessment commission set up by the NAHT headteachers' union. "There is no NAHT representation on there.I don't see the point of it."

Hayley Earl, a Year 4 teacher and assessment leader at Beech Green Primary School in Gloucester, said the omission of front-line teachers was "another example of how those who make the decisions undermine and undervalue the experience of those who can actually make worthwhile contributions to schools".

"Teachers have been battling their way through the minefield of assessment without levels for the past six months, having received no guidance from the government," she added. "Now, six months too late, a commission has been announced to support teachers. [A genuinely] `teacher-led' commission may well have offered.guidance from those who know and understand the system best: teachers."

Michael Tidd, deputy headteacher of Edgewood Primary School in Nottinghamshire, who works as a classroom teacher for three and a half days a week, said that although he respected the people appointed to the commission, front-line staff would have made a valuable contribution to the debate.

"The priority for headteachers is tracking progress. Assessment is about knowing what children can and can't do; tracking is about knowing whether they are going to meet their targets," he added. "The problem with levels is that you ended up with a tracking regime that told you which children wouldn't meet their targets but not what you needed to do to get them there."

The commission also came under fire from Nansi Ellis, assistant general secretary of the ATL teaching union.

"Having no classroom teachers is an oversight that will affect the outcome of this commission because it's classroom teachers who will have to make this work," she said. "Headteachers and those outside of the day-to-day work of schools necessarily have a different perspective on assessment from teachers, for whom it's their daily practice.

"If the new assessments are going to be manageable and make sense for children, then they need to have classroom teachers involved."

The system of levels was devised as a way of assessing children's academic attainment against a range of criteria. It was designed so that children would progress by roughly one level every two years. A child at age 7 was expected to be at level 2 and a child at age 11 was expected to be at level 4.

The decision to remove levels was made during the national curriculum review. The expert panel overseeing the process said that the system led to pupils labelling themselves as performing at a particular level, rather than giving them an incentive to improve their attainment through hard work.

Concerns were also raised that the levels were too broad to provide a clear picture of what pupils could and couldn't do.

Schools have now been told that they can use their own assessment systems to show how children are progressing against the school's curriculum. These systems will be subject to inspection by Ofsted.

A Department for Education spokesman said any claims that the commission wasn't "teacher-led" were "misleading".

"Half the commission's members - including the chairman -are current or former headteachers, who will draw on their considerable experience of teaching," he added.

Panel show

  • The commission on assessment will be chaired by John McIntosh, former headteacher of the London Oratory School. The other panel members are:
  • Shahed Ahmed, executive headteacher of Elmhurst Primary School, East London
  • Daisy Christodoulou, research and development manager at the Ark academy chain
  • Professor Robert Coe, director of the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring at Durham University
  • Sam Freedman, director of research, evaluation and impact at Teach First
  • Mark Neild, acting headteacher of Sir Isaac Newton Sixth Form, Norwich
  • Natalie Packer, independent special educational needs consultant and author of The Perfect Senco
  • Dame Alison Peacock, executive headteacher of the Wroxham School, Hertfordshire

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