ASCL: ‘Stop telling primary pupils they haven’t met expectations’

Schools must stop telling pupils they “didn’t meet standards” in year six, the Association of School and College Leaders has warned.

The union, which represents 19,000 heads, business managers and other leaders, has published a report criticising the way primary schools assess pupils and the way they are judged by Ofsted.
Following a consultation with assessment and primary school experts, today’s report proposes alternatives to what it calls the “high-stakes system”.

Schools Week has summed up the main recommendations.

1. Change the way schools talk to pupils

Pupils are negatively affected by being told they haven’t lived up to expectations in year six. It is particularly unhelpful, as they “prepare to leave behind the familiarity of your primary school for the unchartered waters of secondary education”.

Instead, schools should report only the child’s scores to parents, along with a teachers’ comment on their attainment and achievements.

2. Base league tables on three years’ worth of results

A small primary school can be judged on the SATs results of as few as 12 pupils, resulting in huge variations in results year on year.

ASCL says it is “patently ridiculous to suggest that a single year’s SATs results can be a reliable indicator of a school’s performance”.

Instead, performance tables should be based on a three-year rolling period, a recommendation also made by the Commons education select committee during an inquiry into primary assessment last year.

3. Focus less on English and maths

Ofsted judgments are “overly driven” by SATs results, and on outcomes in English and maths in particular, despite the fact inspectors should ensure schools provide a broad curriculum.

Inspectors focusing too much on core subjects was also a focus of the education committee inquiry.

Instead, Ofsted should ensure the importance of SATs is “kept in proportion” and inspectors should comment more on subjects other than English and maths in their reports.

4. Writing tests: change them or scrap them

There is inconsistency in marking of the key stage 2 writing test, because it is marked by teachers, where the rest of the assessments are not.

There is evidence that teachers “interpret the writing assessment differently”, the report found, and moderation by local authorities “also seems to vary”.

The government should look at how writing can be assessed more reliably, and if that isn’t possible then simply to exclude writing from performance tables.

5. Find out if academisation works

There is “no clear evidence” for whether turning struggling local authority-maintained schools into academies is improving them. The process can even put leaders off working in the most challenging schools.

The government should commission research into the effectiveness of compulsory academisation, and in the meantime, it should not be forced when local authority schools are judged ‘inadequate’.

6. Develop clear goals for primary education

Finally, the report attacks the Department for Education for having “no clear, shared vision for what we want our primary schools to achieve”, a major factor in the “inherent difficulty in saying how they should be measured.”

Singapore and Ontario, both high-performing systems, set out clearly defined goals.

To emulate this, the DfE should develop clear aims for primary education by “working with a range of experts”, and then work out how the performance of schools can be measured against those aims.

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