This is my response to the NAHT response to the government’s response to the response of the public consultation held in response to its new Primary Assessment proposals last Spring. The consultation finished on June 22, and last week the DfE gave its response to the consultation. That’s a lot of responding. Democracy in action, huh?

So, to recap…the government, last week, published its responses to its own consultation last week on primary assessment. The NAHT, whose own contribution to the initial proposals was very significant, has published its own responses to both that and to the government’s responses to the Rochford review. The overall picture is much healthier now and countenances changes that cannot have been imagined by the DfE when Gove was in charge of education. Ideology is slowly giving way to a pragmatism as the DfE looks out at the broader picture of diminishing resources and fewer committed teachers in the profession.

This is all to be welcomed, though some problems still remain.

The government seems unwilling to let go the idea of a times tables test in Year 4, and this, I suspect, will eventually get the same exalted role as the Y1 phonics check – distracting teachers, not contributing to accountability in the long term, but getting in the way of the need for more focused thinking on the development of maths and not contributing one whit to greater fluency and reasoning. It looks like another great idea from the mind of Nick Gibb, the brains behind the Y1 phonics check.

Another problem is the abandonment of statutory teacher assessment at the end of KS2. My union supports this and I think they are dead wrong to do so. For us as a school, it is a critical reportable measure that has some significance simply because it is reported. This year, for instance, we were disappointed by the number of children who reached the expected standard in the KS2 reading test. However, an accurate, properly reported teacher assessment percentage has been very useful: when we add to the number of children who reached the standard those whose scaled score was 99, we reach the teacher assessment percentage, affirming the accuracy of the teacher assessment within statistically acceptable limits. The same applied in mathematics, and we find that we have an arguable case in both subjects. This becomes very important when explaining the apparent gap between test and TA scores – and is far more intellectually valid when it is considered that the test and the TA are measuring substantially different things and using different approaches.

Secondly, all teachers are assessing children in Year 6 all the time anyway. We know these children intimately as learners and we have a great story to tell. Removing the statutory requirement does nothing to reduce workload – we were doing the assessing anyway – at best it reduces the time spent in front of a computer by 30-40 minutes.

Thirdly, we need to know that whilst the DfE, OFSTED and RSCs may not choose to use the teacher assessment data, they could have done so because we reported it to them. It puts the onus on them to say why they are using less valid data (tests) when better, more rigorous data (teacher assessment) is easily available. After all, they believe us for writing!

These are all familiar problems for primary school leaders and need a lot more thought. I do not particularly want, nor do I think it is just, to be judged on a test that children do on a single day. Many of us have long believed that. By taking away the teacher assessments in reading and maths, we downgrade the importance of assessment and make schools actually less accountable, denying the role and judgment of the teacher and submitting all of their professionalism and knowledge of children to the setter of the tests.

If I were to suggest one thing here, it would be to use the tests as a support for teacher assessment, not as a substitute for them. In much the same way as we sample children’s attainment at 11 in science, could we not do the same in reading and maths, whilst using existing moderation systems, and the tests (which more from being high-stakes to low-stakes at a stroke) to give support and credence to teacher assessment? I know there would be cheating. You think there isn’t cheating already?

Assessment of writing will be one of the most significant changes, and this is to be welcomed. Best fit will slowly replace secure fit, as the NAHT has argued for, and a range of assessment approaches will support this. There will be a move away from SPAG in the actual writing descriptors because these have already been assessed with the ridiculous (but apparently immovable) test. But the government still needs further pressure on this, although they have said that a “more flexible approach to the assessment of writing will be introduced in 2017-18.”

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About Huw Humphreys

I am a headteacher by profession, now working as an educational researcher, in the city of Milton Keynes, where I have been since April 2011. My work looks to make education effective for the whole child and keeps 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, amateur printmaker, part time linguist and lover of history and literature...committed both to freedom to learn and depth of learning for children. The views on this blog are all my own.

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