Finally, the Sats are over and we can talk about what was on the test papers. Except, of course, now they’re in the past, it’s half term, and we’ve all moved on to focus on other things, from residential visits to end-of-year productions. How quickly the focus changes.
I can’t help but wonder, though, whether this year might see the high point in attainment results for the next few years. After a wildly erratic start to the new-style tests in 2016 (nobody mention the warthogs milling around in bewilderment: it still brings me out in a rash), it seems that we’ve broadly got used to expectations, the test designers have settled into their groove and each cohort of children has had a longer opportunity to study the new curriculum.
Next year’s cohort will have been taught the new national curriculum right from Year 1, so we might expect the final big upward leap in achievement – and yet something stands in the way. For this year, suddenly the focus of primary schools must shift somewhat, particularly if you find yourself due an inspection.
In an ideal world, we’d all be delighted with the shift in focus of inspections to explore the full depth and breadth of the curriculum. We’d be celebrating the fact that the inspectorate is finally going to pay attention to something beyond the tested subjects of English and maths. The trouble is, we’ve all been hostage to that system for so long that we’ve become part of the problem.
The "arms race" of results has driven all but the very bravest of schools to give a weighting to the statutory assessment subjects that they might not otherwise have given. You only have to look at the decline in science attainment over the past decade to see the impact on the curriculum of whether a subject is in or out of that important tested group.
The problem with that prioritisation is that over time a new normal was set. It seems remarkable now to think that in the late 1990s it was notable that the new literacy and numeracy frameworks set out a requirement of an hour’s maths and English every day. Now it would be unheard of for any school to have anything less – and far more common to see much more.
The drive towards the narrowing of the curriculum was inexorable. As soon as one school in the area decided to focus on driving up attainment, so the others had to switch tactics to keep up. Nationally the results crept up, and so the focus narrowed yet more, as every school strove to avoid ending up at the bottom of the heap. Booster sessions, Easter revision, additional teachers for Year 6 – all sorts of strategies popped up to ensure that vital extra percentage point each year for fear of falling foul of the inspectors or whoever else chose to judge us.
But the new Ofsted inspection framework may change that. If the focus of inspections switches school leaders’ attention to the wider subjects, then perhaps we can expect to see results plateau – or maybe even dip – as time is returned (rightfully) to the foundation subjects. Perhaps it will take another year or two, as things right themselves, but wouldn’t it be great to see that recalibration?
Of course, the exception might be in the ridiculous case of historically "outstanding" schools: if the risk assessment framework for inspections still relies on published data, then the incentives there are very different indeed. Some leaders there may choose to keep the narrow focus in the hope of warding off any inspection at all.
Michael Tidd is headteacher at Medmerry Primary School in West Sussex. He tweets @MichaelT1979