Saturday 13 February 2016

Assessment: Primary Headteachers say “enough is enough”

This government’s chaotic changes to assessment policy have already caused growing discontent amongst teachers, especially primary headteachers. In the last few weeks, that anger has grown sharply as primary schools take in the latest changes to assessment regulations that have been announced by government.

Not only do these changes have serious workload implications, they also threaten more schools, and more children, with being unfairly labelled as ‘failures’ in the next school league tables. Of course, ‘failure’ also carries with it the risk of forced academisation as the government presses ahead with its plans to completely dismantle local authority schooling. 

Yesterday, two different NUT Headteacher members emailed me to make sure the Union understood the seriousness of the situation. One has now written me the following letter and asked me to share it on my blog: 

“As a Head, I was already finding the frequent changes and demands to assessment procedures impossible to manage.

The changing of the deadline for Key Stage 2 assessments from the end of June to the end of May has now further increased pressure and workload on teachers, as well as children. 

The latest changes that are raising the biggest concerns are the hike in expectations and the move from a ‘best fit’ judgement to a 100% pass rate. Children now have to achieve all of the statements in each standard which is an impossible situation.

It has also been announced that instead of teacher assessment being moderated for Reading, Writing and Maths at the end of Key stage 1 and writing at the end of key Stage 2, it will now be ‘validated’. This will involve Local Authority validators coming into school between 7th and 21st June and 'validating' work samples. This will come after the deadline for the submission of Key Stage 2 teacher assessment and whilst we are administering the phonic screening test, so when it is already a busy time in schools.

The workload involved in this will be immense. For example, at the end of Key Stage 1 there are 13 statements that the children have to achieve to be at the national standard in Reading. Teachers have to have evidence that children have achieved every one of these statements consistently in order to be at the national standard. If you teach a class of 30 children then you have to check 390 statements for reading alone. If, as suggested by the government, teachers make sure that the statement has been achieved 6 times to prove consistency, Year 2 teachers would have to check 2,340 statements just for reading. The Government have consistently said they wish to decrease teacher workload, but this new assessment system dramatically increases it. 

For Headteachers the situation is even worse. I have to check that all statements have been achieved in Reading, Writing and Maths for year 2 and 6 before I submit the data. As I am the Head of a large Primary school, if I were to check every statement for Reading, Writing and Maths in Years 2 and 6, then I would have to check 7,266 statements. If I checked them 6 times (the Government recommendation), I would have to check 43,596 statements! At a rate of one statement per minute that would take me 726 hours and 36 minutes!! I already work 60 hours a week. This is a completely impossible task. 

Alongside this, the expected standard is far higher than last year's levels. The expected standard at Key Stage 2 in writing last year was a 4b. This year the new national expectation is the equivalent of a 5c! A school near me that recently did really well in an Ofsted inspection, looked at the new exemplification material and had 0% of children at the expected standard. 

Many Heads and teachers in my area are saying enough is enough. We need to make a stand and protect teachers from excessive workload. In our profession we are very good at taking on board initiative after initiative and making them work. This time, that needs to stop. 

The pressure on children is also intolerable. With the constant threat of forced academisation, schools are under enormous pressure to perform. This inevitably translates into more pressure on children. Our children are the most tested in Europe. This kind of testing does not raise standards, it just produces children who can pass tests based on a very narrow curriculum. 

Now is the time to make a stand and refuse to enable a system to happen that is so fundamentally flawed. We cannot enable a system to happen that we do not agree with. We need league tables to be suspended and no floor targets this year to be set. We need a return to best fit judgements as opposed to a 100% pass rate. If the Junior Doctors can make a stand, so can we!"

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