Primary chaos: 12 reasons why the teaching unions want tests to be suspended
Teaching unions will gather tomorrow to discuss what action can be taken about what they are calling the “mess” of primary assessment.
The National Union of Teachers (NUT) has called for the SATs to be suspended this year and tomorrow afternoon they will meet with other unions to organise a joint response.
The main protaganists in this story are the NUT and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), who are leading the charge ahead of tomorrow’s meeting.
NUT deputy general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “The government’s badly thought-out and damaging process must be halted immediately. If KS1 and KS2 assessments go ahead this year, they will lack all credibility.”
And speaking to Schools Week, ATL general secretary Mary Bousted said: “Primary teachers are extremely angry and are looking to their unions to co-ordinate a response.”
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said the union was in discussions with the government about possible solutions to the “significant concerns” raised by teachers and leaders. The NAHT has launched a pledge to gauge the strength of feeling among its members.
The Association of School and College Leaders will not be involved in tomorrow’s discussions. Julie McCulloch primary leadership specialist for the union said it did not support suggestions to withdraw the tests.
She said: “I think there is a recognition [from the government] that the situation isn’t perfect and we are trying to work with the department and civil servants around the issues.”
Schools Week recaps on our stories that lead the way in unravelling the mess:
1. This is the first year after the removal of “levels”
A Commission on Assessment Without Levels was ordered by the government last year in response to concerns that teachers were struggling to prepare for the abolition of levels.
But that was published seven weeks later than expected.
2. The teacher-marked part of this year’s key stage 2 assessments is based on an “interim” framework. Next year will bring about more change
The Department for Education (DfE) notes in its guidance on the interim frameworks (published in September) that: “Following the removal of teacher assessment levels, these interim frameworks are to support teachers in making robust and accurate judgements for pupils at the end of key stage 2 in 2016.
“The interim teacher assessment frameworks are for 2015 to 2016 only. The Department for Education is evaluating options for future years.”
3. Primary schools were not being offered much support from their local authorities in transitioning to life after levels
The majority of primary schools are still local authority-maintained. Yet, Schools Week discovered only a quarter of local authorities were offering suggested frameworks to their schools.
This had left many trying to navigate the new world alone.
4. Continuing with levels, the changes have also resulted in complications around measuring the ability of children working below the expected standard
In December, the government published the Rochford Review. This was meant to explain assessment methods for those children.
But it was hard to access. So, one school leader created this table in a bid to help other primary teachers understand what it meant.
5. Writing assessments have been brought forward by a month
It means teachers have to finalise the teacher assessments much sooner than expected.
(UPDATE: the government has now u-turned and restored the original date).
6. In two weeks alone, more than 30 amendments were made to primary assessment documentation
The majority of these were very minor – typo and formatting changes – but each change came with an alert to anyone signed up to receive alerts from the DfE.
This caused the changes to be described as a “dog’s breakfast”.
7. At the same time, schools were informed all pupils would be expected to use a comma as a thousand separator
In an email sent to schools last month, the Standards and Testing Agency (STA) said key stage 2 pupils should use it when writing numbers higher than a thousand (i.e. 12,345 rather than 12345).
Schools minister Nick Gibb said (two weeks later) that schools were informed of this change last summer. But admitted that it had to make this change clear to schools after “a number of calls to its [the STA’s] helpline”.
Professionals were more concerned, though, about the impact on pupils with English as an additional language (EAL). No other European country uses a comma in this way and international recommendations are that a space is used rather than a comma for consistency across the world.
Mr Gibb said: “Our schools should prepare children for life in the Britain that does exist, not what Britain has been advised to become.”
8. Changes in the written assessment are also adding to teachers’ burdens
Schools Week reported yesterday that teacher’s were angry about what they say is a change to what was published in the interim frameworks.
Writing for the paper, Ben Fuller, lead assessment adviser at Herts for Learning Ltd, explained what this meant for pupils, and teachers, and described it as “farcical” and said the style was like going back to the 19th Century.
9. Nick Gibb has made his views on the subject clear
Writing in Schools Week, the schools minister said: “I am entirely aware that in the short term changes to the national curriculum and testing arrangements are disruptive for teachers, but in the long term we will have a far more sophisticated system for reporting assessment results that will allow for year-on-year consistency.”
10. A boycott hasn’t specifically been mentioned, yet, but teachers took action in 2010 in response to concerns about the SATs
Twenty-five per cent of pupils were affected and Schools Week has reported concerns about the impact this decision had on this year’s GCSE results.
Ofsted inspectors have been told to take this into account during inspections of secondary schools, and this year’s performance data included extra information about progress measures.
It might be worth remembering the implications further down the line for those pupils and their schools.
11. And while not specifically related to KS1 and KS2 tests, primary schools are also dealing with the introduction of baseline assessments
Introduced in September, these tests are designed to “improve” how primary schools assess progression.
Unions aren’t happy about them, either. Last week, NUT and ATL said they were “inaccurate, invalid and unreliable”.
12. The DfE believes the unions’ approach thus far is “disappointing”
A spokesperson said: “It is disappointing to see that the NUT and ATL are taking this approach, which would disrupt children’s education, rather than working with us constructively as other unions have.
“The assessment framework for Key Stage 2 was published in September 2015 – the beginning of the academic year in which these assessments are due to be made. We have been clear that the exemplification materials published recently are intended to be a guide against which to assess a pupil’s standard.”