Wednesday 17 February 2016

Primary Assessment: How Has It Come To This?

Today, in between writing reports I discovered a couple of polls going around Twitter. Both were about what to do about the current assessment arrangements for KS1 and KS2.  One asked whether we should strike or not. The other asked whether it would be more effective to strike or to boycott the assessments.  My question is: how has it come to this?

After a widespread questionnaire last year, a seemingly-serious announcement about tackling teacher workload and the promise of having a year to implement new changes, teachers are now left with mere months to start collecting mountains of evidence and ticking off assessment criteria.  It will take many, many hours and will have close-to-zero positive impact on children's learning.  Talk about hypocrisy.  I recently heard the fact that Jeremy Hunt is investigating the low morale among junior doctors being compared to "Harold Shipman launching an enquiry into patient mortality rates" (Adam Hills on The Last Leg). Would it be criminal to suggest the same comparison with Nicky Morgan investigating teachers' workloads? 

As I see it, there are a few options for assessment arrangements this year.  None of which I wholly agree with but all of which are possible:

1) Teachers go on strike.
Potentially, the government listen and change things, perhaps abolishing national tests or teacher assessments this year.  This is hugely unlikely.

2) School leaders, supported by their governors, decide to boycott the assessments.  
They submit no data or put all children as working below expected standard.  If a record number of schools don't reach the floor standard then the government must stop lying about the fact that education has improved under the Tories.  It would leave OfSTED in a complete mess because there would be too many schools to inspect and many would become RI or below. The problem with this option is that it takes a great deal of confidence for a Headteacher to support a boycott. Also, it would only work if it were widespread enough, covering all authorities.  I'm not sure how parents would react if their children have been working towards the new SATs all year.  

3) School leaders put pressure on Year 6 and Year 2 teachers to reach or exceed the floor standards.  
This is the most dangerous but, sadly, the most likely.  If we all bow down to the expectations required of Year 6 now it means one thing: lots of cheating.  Teachers will be sat by children telling them what to write to ensure they have the evidence for working at the expected standard.  High expectations are important but Year 6 teachers have exclaimed online that this is what they are going to have to do to meet the floor standards.  This then leaves secondary teachers with no idea of children's true ability and means the government can bleat on and on about how they've raised standards with no mention of the broken teachers, anxious children and foul play which has been created in the process.  And, worse still, this relentless rate of change and ridiculousness imposed on us from the government continues. 

I am not a parent but I have a huge amount of sympathy for those parents of primary-aged children.  There is no certainty about their school future except that it will be tough.  Tougher than before in terms of content but even more so because of the unknowns. Their headteachers, teachers and parents have no clue how things will look for them in the next couple of years and I can't imagine that's been the situation for many years in primary schools. 

I always like this blog to be about solutions and ideas for primary classrooms.  Recently, it has had to take a much more negative tone because the government has completely lost sight of the children at the heart of why we do our job.  Their best interests have taken a backseat to political agenda and media image.  I have no solution for this except that teachers have got to have a voice.  This is mine. What is yours going to be?  Get on Twitter, write a blog, write a letter, sign a petition, join a union, email your headteacher, follow the NAHT, speak to parents, talk to friends; just do something.  It's time for teachers to take back the classroom. That is the only solution I can see making any positive difference. 

Teachers quitting, cheating or boycotting: how has it come to this?


  1. Hi Jo

    Certainly food for thought. Sadly, I see the only reality being a group of professionals being pushed to the maximum for what?... Meaningless targets.

    There are so many examples of good practice around Europe, like Denmark for example, where children enter formal schooling much later than in the UK but, by the age of 11, (nice embedded clause) exceed the attainment of our Year 6s.

    What's it all about? It's the world we live in but regrettably, I'm not sure what we can do about it.

  2. As a current Year 6 teacher, I’m going to see how the rest of this year pans out, but am certainly considering my career options.

    This post sums up everything that is wrong with this assessment system/government. Three brilliantly analysed options have been discussed, yet I suspect no thought was given to just doing the tests and teacher assessment for writing honestly and not worrying about the consequences. How sad that we have all become so worried by the possibility of the children not meeting this expected standard. The KS2 SATs are just a stick for the government to beat schools with, and make themselves look good in the process. They have no impact on learning whatsoever. Surely the point of Year 6, as Nicky Morgan said in her hostage-style video, is to prepare children of for the next stage of their education? Well spending the entire year working towards these standards is having no positive effect for the children in September. It’s not like the data is going to be reliable anyway, as you said, because schools are so fearful of being below the floor targets. In my opinion, three things need to happen:

    1. Scrap the writing assessment for this year. It’s a glorified SPaG test, anyway, and we already have one of those.
    2. Keep the other tests as they are, but scrap these ridiculous floor and progress targets which are causing such stress and anxiety.
    3. Next year, bring back the teacher assessed writing, but don’t ‘double-test’ the children on punctuation and spelling. Instead make it a best fit model so that both creative and technical writers can succeed. Oh, and perhaps release the exemplification materials and deadlines before the start of the school year; September 1st will be fine.

    This would ease so many of the current issues. You could still have your up-levelled curriculum, and make yourselves look great as more and more children reach the expected standard in the run-up to the next election, schools will be far more honest as the fear of accountability will be reduced, teachers will be able to do a better job TEACHING, rather than ticking boxes, and general workloads will be eased.


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