Remove incentives to 'depress or inflate' early years outcomes, Ofqual urges DfE

Ministers must review the way they present data on the performance of reception children to remove the incentives for schools to “depress or inflate outcomes”, the exams regulator has said.

Ofqual has published its response to a government consultation on reforms to the early years foundation stage.

The Department for Education has proposed a number of changes to the early years foundation stage profile, which is used to measure pupils’ abilities when they are in reception.

The consultation proposes changes to educational programmes and early learning goals, and a shake-up of the assessment and moderation process, which is blamed for unnecessary teacher workload.

The proposals on assessment are meant to “streamline” the process and to reinforce the message “that teachers are not required to collect unnecessary evidence in order to assess children”, but use their knowledge to make a “professional judgement on how each child should be assessed”.

In its response, Ofqual said it welcomed the “clear statement” in the consultation “that outcomes of this teacher assessment should not be used for accountability purposes”.

But the regulator said more needed to be done to maintain the “low-stakes purpose and design” of the tests.

“The EYFSP, both currently and as revised, is not designed to be capable of withstanding the pressure of high-stakes use.

“Nonetheless, pressures may be placed on the revised (and current) profile assessment through other means; there may be incentives to depress or inflate outcomes through informal or internal mechanisms.”

To avoid these incentives, the government should review how it uses and presents school-level EYFSP data “to ensure this is always consistent with its low-stakes purpose and design”, Ofqual said.

The regulator also wants¬†very clear communications and guidance to schools, governing boards and other key stakeholders on “how data from the EYFSP assessment should and should not be used”.

“Finally, we would also recommend ongoing monitoring of how EYFSP data is used in practice. Such measures should help minimise the risk that the assessment is used for purposes for which it was not designed and should support greater validity.”

Ministers are also considering removing a duty currently placed on local authorities to moderate EYFSP judgments in 25 per cent of local schools every year.

But Ofqual said this presents “risks to the validity of outcomes” if the duty is not replaced with “other mechanisms for supporting consistency”.

“Whether or not local authority moderation remains, we would recommend further consideration of the support for teachers that may be proportionate to achieve sufficient consistency in interpreting the criteria, thus securing a sufficiently valid national and local dataset.”