Schools being left in Assessment limbo

13 Apr

In September 2014, the government scrapped the use of levels, which teachers had previously used to assess the progress and achievements of pupils at Key Stage 1 and 2.  The government did so for good reason i.e. to lessen the workload of teachers.  However, parents still expect to know how well their children are doing and the education watchdog, Ofsted, requires schools to demonstrate that the quality of teaching and learning and the educational provision is impacting positively on our young folk.  So, it is now left to schools to determine what assessment system to use when judging pupils’ progress and standards.

The government began a consultation in the Autumn Term 2014 to establish tools to replace levels with something better.  It tested out the views of the professionals on introducing performance descriptors.  See also page 30 of Governors’ Agenda Issue 60.

The consultation closed in December 2014 and the government published the outcome of it.  While there was general agreement that something must replace levels, there were criticisms about the use of the performance descriptors which the government wished to introduce. 

Sadly, the government did not take the blindest bit of notice what primary teachers had to say about assessing pupils’ learning, the progress they made and their achievements.  What we are left with is a muddle and mess.   One would have thought that ministers and civil servants would have learnt from that experience.

The government invited 10 “experts to come up with a system of performance descriptors which appears to be “levels” by another name.  The commission is chaired by John McIntosh, CBE – the former headteacher of the London Oratory School – a secondary one – and includes the following members:

  • Shahed Ahmed, executive headteacher of Elmhurst Primary School in East London
  • Daisy Christodoulou, research and development manager at the Ark Academy chain
  • Professor Robert Coe, director of the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring at Durham University
  • Sam Freedman, director of research, evaluation and impact at Teach First
  • Mark Neild, acting headteacher of Sir Isaac Newton Sixth Form College, Norwich
  • Natalie Packer, independent special educational needs consultant and author of The Perfect Senco
  • Dame Alison Peacock, executive headteacher of Wroxham (Primary) School, Hertfordshire.

You will notice that while the membership of the Commission has famous and able people including two primary headteachers, not a single one of them is a primary teacher.  The odd thing is that the government trumpeted that it would be creating a “teacher-led” panel to examine ways of improving assessment.

Tony Draper, headteacher of Water Hall Primary School in Milton Keynes, was quoted in The Times Educational Supplement (TES) as being “dumbfounded”.  He remarked: “This assessment commission is chaired by a former secondary head, which makes no sense to me whatsoever…..I don’t see the point of it.”  If teachers don’t take ownership of whatever system is put in place, any scheme is likely to be undermined.  We want an assessment system which informs teachers not just about what stage pupils have reached in their learning but also what they need to do to go higher and further.  Without front-line staff we are likely to receive another “mish-mash” which provides more of the same.

Nicky Morgan, the secretary of state for education, has been keen to let teachers know, as the person who took over from Michael Gove, she would be listening carefully to what they have to say.  Well, by not having teacher representation on this commission, she has not given them any voice in assessment.

Meanwhile, the commission was due to conclude its deliberations by 31 March 2015. At the time of writing (10 April 2015) they have yet to publish their words of wisdom.  Meanwhile, school continue to be left in limbo.


Meanwhile, at the other end of the education spectrum – at Key Stage 4 – there will be a new grading structure of GCSEs. A* to G grades are being replaced with grades 9 to 1.  The value of a number increases with the grade. So, 1 will be equivalent to the former G, 2 will be the new F and so on.  The logic is that grades may well be added in the future at the top end if needs must.

This system will operate in tandem with the old one for the next three years as new qualifications are phased in.  The problems can well be compounded by the fact that there will be no direct correlation/link between the two sets of grades.  First there will be more grades – nine instead of eight – but also, the focus will be on the top end to differentiate among high-performing pupils.

The new grade 4 will be broadly in line with grade C. This means that six grades will exist at that level and above, compared with the existing four.   Grade A will be broadly in line with 7.  However, only 20% of pupils who attain grade 7 will qualify for grade 9 – reserved for the highest achievers and worth more than the current A*.  The bottom grades of 1 and (nearly) 2 will be equivalent to G and F.

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