Primary assessment in England under review

24 Jul

By Ian Toone, Director of Policy and Research Services

Voice recently responded to government consultations on the assessment system in primary schools and plans for implementing the recommendations of the Rochford Review (into assessment of pupils performing below National Curriculum expectations)

The consultation on primary school assessment set out the following proposals:

  • retaining a modified form of the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP);
  • introducing a new reception baseline assessment;
  • making Key Stage 1 tests and assessments non-statutory (optional) for all-through primary schools (once the new baseline assessment is established);
  • making changes to the assessment and accountability arrangements for infant, junior and middle schools;
  • removing the requirement for teacher assessment in English, reading and maths at the end of Key Stage 2;
  • retaining the Key Stage 1 grammar, punctuation and spelling test as a non-statutory test; and
  • introducing a times tables test from 2018-19.

The consultation on the Rochford Review sought views on the following recommendations:

  • removing statutory assessment using the current ‘P-scales’;
  • making the current interim pre-Key Stage standards permanent and using them to assess all pupils engaged in subject-specific learning but working below the level of National Curriculum tests; and
  • assessing those not engaged in subject-specific learning by focusing on seven aspects of cognition and learning (responsiveness, curiosity, discovery, anticipation, persistence, initiation and investigation).

In our response, we questioned whether many of the proposed assessments can ever claim to be sufficiently valid and reliable for them to be used as robust measures in a high-stakes accountability system. 

Learning factors

Children’s learning rarely develops in a linear fashion.  It is common for individual children to coast or even regress at times, often because of events occurring outside of school which impact on their attention and motivation.  Most children demonstrate a ‘spiky’ profile of development and progress, and often develop as much laterally as linearly.  Whilst this is true of children in general, it applies especially to the early years and to children with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND). 

There are also other critical factors which can affect performance.  For example, some of our members have observed that children who join a class with their friends are better able to demonstrate learning than those who do not know anyone at the school.  This factor acknowledges that children can often be inhibited if they do not have a sense of belonging, Making social connections may therefore be the uppermost priority for children starting a new school (or new class), providing part of the critical foundation for learning to take place. 

This could impact perversely on a baseline assessment, resulting in children being mislabelled, and this, especially at such an early age, could have a deleterious effect on their subsequent development.

As far as statutory tests are concerned, some children become very stressed in a test situation.  In some cases, this might enable them to perform better, although, in most cases, performance is likely to be worse.  Other children may just have an ‘off-day’ or, if they emerge as exceeding expectations, this could be due to superb parental support or because they are subjected to greater pressure to perform. 

Other distortions can arise because of the presence of SEND or EAL (English as an additional language) pupils.  Often, EAL children will develop quickly (once their initial communication difficulties are resolved) whereas SEND children may require very finely calibrated scales to detect significant progress. 

Now is the time for schools accountability to be divorced from assessment of individual children.  Not only would this be a fairer approach, it would also reduce the workload and stress of school staff.

[Article written for August 2017 Your Voice.]


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