One of the aspects of the new Assessment and Accountability Framework being promulgated by the government today is the idea that children will be assigned to deciles – 10% bands that will be a national comparison tool across all of England (thankfully, given my background) not in Wales. Children will be told, and parents informed, that their child is in the top or bottom 10% or the 40-50% decile or whatever. Whether this is clearer than the existing system to all parents or just middle class ones living in Surrey Heath, I do not know yet. Probably it can be explained. How it will help secondary schools is also unclear, except that there will be a new term “secondary ready” which makes me thihnk of those chickens you buy at M&S. However, philosophically and educationally, it is deeply flawed and there are at least three problems emerging that teachers and parents at Christ the Sower will need to be aware of.

  1. These are not externally referenced, so there is nothing, literally, to aim for. They are like the old 11+ where a certain percentage was creamed off for the grammar schools and there was no externally referenced pass mark. You just hit and hoped. It means that a child can learn to the same standard as a child the previous year and because of a general improvement in the whole system (which we do hope for), the child might find themselves in a lower percentile. This push to overall improvement is probably a good thing, though it is driven from false motives, as I have outlined earlier. Even the wobbly level bands of the KS2 SATSs under New Labour were nowhere near as flexible as thes things are going to be. If these guys want something to read, they could do worse than read the approach taken by Ben Levin in Ontario, or read his illuminating quote on Radio 4 last year, quoted here.
  2. There will always be a bottom 10%, and it will probably contain children that on current assessment levels attain between Level 2 and the top of Level 3. If we make the assumption that 85-90% of children attain at Level 4 or above, then the remaining 10-15% are at the levels I describe. The motivation issues for secondary schools will be phenomenal. What possible use is it for a child or a parent to know this information and be stuck with it?
  3. It will be very hard indeed to measure any kind of progress across the learning phases (key stages) from this framework. It will be possible for a child to have made accelerated progress and end up in the bottom decile. This will bring dis quiet to schools too, because you will have schools who have done fantastically well with their children but have nobody at all in the top 4 deciles, say. There will be others, coasting along, who will have the majority of their children in the top two deciles. The tool will be of little use to its makers if it is this blunt.

There is a very useful blog on this from Chris Husbands of the IOE here, pointing out that at last the purpose of primary education is now writ large – it is just a place to get ready for secondary school.  Russell Hobby from the NAHT has written a short reaction that is worth reading, as this will inform the majority of primary headteachers’ reaction to the new framework. A broader leftist view from Polly Toynbee is here.  Haven’t heard from the CPR Network yet, but they will be a key voice here, and I hope there will be a consultation meeting in the autumn at Wroxham, as there was for the curriculum. Enjoy, as they say.

It’s going to be a busy summer, policy-wise.



About Huw Humphreys

I am a headteacher in the city of Milton Keynes, where I have been since April 2011, looking to make education effective for the whole child and keeping a distant relationship with the powers that be and their narrowing approach to education... but most of all I am looking to find out what it means to be both a follower of Jesus Christ and a passionate educator in the midst of an unsettled community. I am also a part time musician, part time linguist and lover of history and literature...committed both to freedom to learn and depth of learning for all our children. The views on this blog are all my own, and not in any way those of the school I lead!

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