Assessment and accountability: no change… for a change!

Stephen Anwyll

What’s going ahead and what’s not

The statement to Parliament by Justine Greening and the publication of the final report of the Rochford Review on October 19th, and the appearance of the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP) results one day later mean that we now have clarity on two fronts. Firstly, we now know all the national assessment outcomes and accountability measures for 2016. Secondly, with the assurance that there will be no new national tests or assessments until 2018-19 at the earliest, we know, for the first time for many years, the statutory arrangements for both next year and the summer of 2018.

Quite a number of previous Government announcements and decisions have been reversed:

  • The Interim Frameworks for Teacher Assessment will not be ‘for use in 2016 only’ but will be used again in 2017 and 2018 (and it would be very odd if they changed after that)
  • The EYFSP will not cease to become statutory and will in fact continue to be mandatory in 2017 and 2018
  • There will be no additional ‘times-tables test’ in the assessment of KS2 mathematics for at least two years
  • Pupils who fail to attain the expected standard at the end of Year 6 will not have to be re-tested in Year 7 (just as well since this would have involved roughly half the national cohort had it been introduced in 2016-17!)
  • There will be no attempt to introduce a revised Reception Baseline Assessment model until autumn 2018 at the earliest, which effectively means that pupil progress will continue to be calculated from the end of KS1 to the end of KS2 for the next decade

Some of the Secretary of State’s announcements would have been more appropriate if they’d been made by her predecessor a year ago. School leaders would have been a lot less anxious if they had been explicitly reassured at that point that no major decisions would be made on the basis of the 2016 results. That would have felt like common sense given that 2016 outcomes would be founded on new tests and new assessment criteria, would rely on a new approach to teacher assessment and would be based on a completely new set of standards. It would also have been helpful if we’d all known that the new system would have a three-year period to settle down. Interestingly, this year’s EYFSP results provide a really clear justification for such an approach.

The Early Years precedent

One of the first acts of the coalition government in 2010 was to set up a review of the Early Years Foundation Stage. That led to a new curriculum, redefined and ‘tougher’ Early Learning Goals (the criteria for statutory assessment at the end of the Reception year) and a different, ‘best-fit’ approach to reaching EYFSP judgements. The new arrangements came into force in 2013. As expected, national attainment dropped, with the percentage of children reaching a ‘Good Level of Development’ down from 64% in 2012 to 52% in 2013. At local authority level, there was considerable turbulence, with some areas seeing a much greater decline than seen nationally and others a much smaller drop. Since then, national attainment has gone up each year so that it’s now well above the levels seen in the final year of the old system in 2012. Local variation has also diminished; thanks to greater familiarity with the curriculum and the impact of national exemplification material and external moderation, relative outcomes in different local areas are now very similar to the position four years ago.
It’s very likely that we’ll see a similar pattern emerge at Key Stages 1 and 2 over the next couple of years. As pupils and teachers cover more of the new curriculum, as schools become familiar with the new tests and teacher assessment criteria and as external moderation becomes more consistent and covers more schools, we will see attainment rise and local variability of outcomes decline.

Getting it right

There’s been a lot of grumbling about the new assessment arrangements, both about the tests and the new approach to teacher assessment. Well, there are three truths about national assessment systems. The first is that that there’s no perfect form of summative assessment. Any test, however well designed, can only provide a snapshot of attainment in a small sample of the curriculum (the shorter the test, the smaller the sample) on a single occasion. Equally, no system of teacher judgement will be absolutely free from subjectivity and some degree of inconsistency, particularly across more than 16,000 primary schools. The second truth is that, if you introduce a new curriculum, new assessment arrangements and new standards, you have to give the system time to settle and for results to become more reliable. The third is that if you raise the stakes of school accountability and link it to assessment outcomes, you risk distorting the accuracy of the assessments themselves. It’s the relationship between pupil assessment and school accountability which needs to be reviewed in the new national consultation on primary assessment and accountability which the Secretary of State announced will be launched early next year.

Tests or teacher assessment?

After the delays and confusion of 2016, some commentators have started to question whether teacher assessment should continue to feature in statutory assessment arrangements. I believe it would be a big mistake to move in this direction. In terms of the positive impact on teaching and learning, teacher assessment makes a far greater contribution than testing. Test scores tell you little about pupils’ overall strengths and weaknesses and their key targets for improvement whereas effective teacher assessment, based on observations, conversations and marking of work over a period of time and across the whole curriculum is the basis for meaningful feedback to pupils and parents and provides a clear view of next steps. One of the issues over the last decade has been the relative underinvestment in teacher assessment (high-quality national exemplification, funded opportunities for standardisation and internal moderation, accredited national training for external moderators etc.) compared to the very large annual sums invested in test development, printing, distribution, marker training, marking and marking reviews.

A Guide to AssessmentStephen Anwyll is the co-author of ‘A Guide to Assessment: Tools and support for primary schools in England’. The guide is for primary teachers, but will be of particular interest to Senior Leadership Teams (SLTs), including headteachers and middle leaders with responsibility for school assessment arrangements, tracking progress and accountability measures. Register free on Oxford Owl for School to read ‘A Guide to Assessment: Tools and support for primary schools in England’ now.

You can also find more support from Stephen, including Professional Development videos, on Oxford Owl for School, where you can also try out the Assessment for Learning School Improvement Pathway for free!

Stephen Anwyll has almost 40 years’ experience in education, starting as a primary teacher and then moving into advisory work. He was appointed as a regional director for the National Literacy Strategy and later became its national director. He worked on improving teacher assessment with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority for several years and at the end of 2010 was appointed Head of the National Assessment team at Ofqual, leading the work on reviewing statutory assessment arrangements. He now works as an independent consultant.