The government are proposing to make SATs for 7 year-olds optional and bring back the reception test. So far, so exciting.
But there are a few other nuggets in the consultation document, out today, which are worth exploring. These are the ones not likely to make headlines on their own.
1. A shift away from publishing school-level data
The document specifically says that if new tests are brought in for reception pupils, then an individual school’s performance on the tests will not be published. Nor will the data be passed to the regional schools commissioner, or Ofsted, or the council. National data will be published – say, how many pupils met a certain standard across the country – but that’s it.
This is a welcome change. Indeed, I made a similar suggestion a year ago. It should ease the knife-edge humiliation whacking-people-around-the-head feel of testing in primaries.
2. A nod towards ‘comparative judgements’ (not to be confused with ‘comparable outcomes’)
One of the issues for assessing primary pupils’ writing is that it’s really hard and laborious to do. The child who, to one teacher’s mind, writes like a Poet Laureate, may in another’s mind write utter bilge.
Comparative judgement – a process of comparing writing side-by-side – has shown promise as a quicker, smarter and generally better system for marking than the marking criteria teachers currently use.
The consultation recognises this, and also asks if there are any other “robust alternative” approaches. (If you know of cheap ones, I reckon they’ll be particularly interested).
3. Peer-to-peer moderation of teacher assessments, rather than local authorities doing it
How the government can check the teacher-assessed components of primary testing has been a proper puzzler over the past few years. Moderation has so far been completed by councils. But it has been lumpy and there’s evidence some councils are harsher than others.
Hence, the consultation asks about other forms of moderation. Most intriguingly, it says there will be a pilot of a “peer-to-peer” approach this year “in which teachers from different schools will share their teacher assessment judgements and supporting evidence in local groups, overseen by a moderator”. One to keep an eye on, then.
4. The dreaded ‘times-table check’
Back in 2015 the Conservative manifesto promised that all children would be required to take tests of their multiplication skills before they left primary school. This is now proving to be a bit of a pain to deliver.
A trial is going ahead over the next year or so, but the consultation wants views on whether it’s a good idea and when it should happen. (End of primary school seems a bit late given kids are actually supposed to learn their tables by the end of year 4).
The withering way it is written about in the document suggests no one would be too sad if everyone who wrote in had a pop at it and the whole thing got canned.
5. And finally, a slightly cheeky one… Buried in notes sent to the press it says that the primary SATs tests this year will start with slightly easier questions in order to ensure “children are not discouraged”
Last year, children were reportedly bursting into tears because questions were so hard.
The note says that children will still be expected to reach the same standards in their tests, so presumably will be marked equally stringently, but it’s a symbol of recognition that, probably, last year was a bit too rough on the kids. Kudos the compassionate civil servant who managed to get that one through.