There was a time where one of the advantages of Year 6 was that by late May, the whole high-stakes business was all but over, and you could focus on other things. There was no doubt that the statutory tests affected the curriculum, but at least you knew that you had some uninterrupted time in the final weeks to remind pupils of the breadth of the subjects on offer.
Then came high-stakes teacher assessment. There will be those that argue that we should always have prioritised teacher assessment over tests, but I can’t agree. You only have to look at the shambles of moderation and the time the whole process takes to see that.
I tried to get the measure of things this week, but even I – an ardent cynic about reliable teacher assessment judgements – underestimated the demands it places on teachers.
From over 900 responses to a survey shared on social media, nearly 60 per cent of responses said that teachers were spending more than 10 hours on reaching judgements for the Year 6 writing assessment, for just a single class. Multiply that by over 20,000 classes and you can soon see the burden it places – not to mention the cost of the moderation process itself.
On reflection, I should have put very different options in the survey (just 15 per cent of responses fell into the categories below 5 hours). But just think about that for a moment. If we cautiously assume that those who said they were spending over 10 hours spent only just over that amount, that’s the equivalent of two teaching days additional workload. Imagine what could be achieved by giving that time over to planning excellent teaching.
It’s perhaps slightly telling that the proportion spending more than 10 hours on judgements is higher among those schools who are being moderated. That’s probably not a surprise. My own school was moderated this year, and we did review every pupil, albeit briefly, in the run-up to our moderator’s visit, just to ensure that we felt confident in talking about our judgements. It means I was fairly confident that our moderators would agree with our decisions, but it doesn’t mean that I think the results we’ve got are a particularly fair representation of the attainment of our pupils.
We’re still stuck with the same issues as we had in the days of levels. Some pupils will be amazing writers but will struggle to reach Expected because of one gap in their skillset; others will be mediocre as authors, but will just about tick enough boxes to get over the line. It’s not even the case that these hours of additional work for Year 6 teachers are providing us with valuable information.
Something else rather telling that I picked up from my little unscientific poll (pun intended, as you’ll see), was the comparison with the science teacher assessment judgements. You might reasonably expect teachers to spend less time on science, where there are only two possible outcomes instead of three, but it’s worth remembering that there are 24 judgements to be made for pupils reaching the expected standard in key stage 2 science, compared to just 20 for all three standards in writing.
But it will come as no surprise to Year 6 colleagues that teachers don’t dedicate even half as much time to their science judgements. Just 4 per cent said they spent more than 10 hours on the task. The vast majority spent less than two.
The good news is that once they move to secondary schools, the results of both subjects will no doubt be treated equally: anyone with any sense will ignore the whole lot and see what the children can do. It’s almost like we’re wasting our time, really.