Gearing up for the primary school testing season, 2016 – Key Stage 1

Stephen Anwyll

With Easter fast approaching, teachers with Y2 classes will be increasingly conscious of the National Curriculum tests which their pupils will be taking in the summer term. Parents will also be anxious to know what’s changed under the revised curriculum and how they can best support their children over the statutory assessment period. Although the arrangements are not radically different from last year, there are changes which will make the experience a little different for this year’s Y2s, the first to be formally assessed under the 2014 National Curriculum.  Here’s what you need to know so that you can help ensure that the experience is as stress-free as possible for you, for your pupils and for their parents.

At the end of Key Stage 1, the key thing to remember is that the status of the tests hasn’t changed; they remain a statutory requirement in all schools but, as has been the case for the previous decade, they are there to provide additional evidence and to help inform teacher assessment judgements in reading, writing and mathematics. It’s the teacher judgements, made in relation to nationally devised assessment criteria (found in the Interim Teacher Assessment Frameworks), which are then formally reported to parents and collected nationally. The tests are designed to provide a useful snapshot of pupils’ performance across a sample of the curriculum on a particular occasion, whereas teacher assessment can draw on a much broader range of pupils’ learning over time.

If you’ve taught in Y2 before, you’ll know that, for almost a decade, there haven’t been new tests each year; tests from previous years have been ‘recycled’ and used flexibly in the classroom. Indeed, where teachers administered them with small groups in the course of normal classroom routines, many children may not even have been aware that they were being formally tested. From 2016, we are returning to the days of new tests every year and this is likely to give them an aura of greater formality. For example, the test papers will be delivered in April and must be kept in a secure place, unopened, until they are to be used. The tests have to be taken during May; because of holidays, that means within a window of 19 working days for most schools.

Once they’ve been taken, the tests are marked in the school in line with the nationally developed mark-schemes and also kept securely. Teachers are being warned not to discuss the content of the tests on social media until after the end of May. Because these are new tests, the ‘national expected standard’ can only be set once they have been administered. This will happen in May and a table will be published on 3 June which will tell all schools which mark, in each of the three subjects, represents the national standard. Another innovation this year is the introduction of ‘scaled scores’ to report test outcomes. The raw mark which is set as the threshold for the expected standard will be converted to 100 and all other marks will be translated onto a scale on either side of 100. So instead of getting a ‘level’, which represented performance within a range of marks, pupils will have a more precise scaled score. It’s really important to recognise that this does not mean the tests are themselves more accurate – scaled scores are just a different way of reporting the outcomes. It’s also worth keeping in mind that the difference between scores of 99 and 100 is unlikely to be statistically significant, even though it suggests that one pupil is below the expected standard and one has reached it.

The most important thing to remember, however, is that the test results simply represent evidence to be taken into account when making final teacher assessments; these have to be submitted to the Local Authority responsible for moderation by 30th June (it was originally 13th June but the DfE has recently changed its mind). There is no requirement for schools to report test outcomes to parents unless the parents make a specific request for them. If your school is selected for external moderation this year (you have a one in four chance that it will be), you will have to make test results available to the moderators alongside pupils’ ongoing books and records.

There are six tests in all; two for reading, two for mathematics and two for grammar, punctuation and spelling (GPS). Although the new ‘expected standard’ will be higher than it was under the previous National Curriculum, the easiest questions in the tests will be at the same level as before so the vast majority of pupils should be able to have a go at them. GPS is a completely new test area at Key Stage 1 and will consist of a conventional, 20-word spelling test and a second test with questions on parts of speech and basic punctuation. Obviously this only covers some of the more technical aspects of writing; you will be taking a lot more into account when you judge pupils’ writing through teacher assessment.

The tests are not strictly timed but none of them should last for more than about 40 minutes. For pupils with special needs, the support that is normally available for them in the classroom can be provided to ensure that they have appropriate access. There are no tests in science and only one defined standard for teacher assessment – the expected standard – so teachers simply have to make a yes/no judgement on whether the pupil meets all the ‘can-do’ statements.

Sample tests were made available last summer and you’ll almost certainly have used these materials to familiarise pupils with the format and style of the new tests. Generally, harder questions appear at the end so you’ll want to encourage more able pupils to finish the whole test and prepare less able pupils for the fact that they might find some of the questions a bit daunting but not to be put off and to do everything that they can. Remember you can give a pupils a break during a test or stop the test completely for any child who appears to be upset.

You’ll probably want to let parents know when the tests are taking place but not the exact timetable (pupils can take the tests later if they are absent) and it will be important play down their significance – remind parents and the children themselves that teacher assessment is what counts at Key Stage 1 and this will draw on what pupils have said, done and produced over the whole year as well as taking the test outcome into account.

In fact, it’s likely that the bigger challenge for teachers and schools at Key Stage 1 this year will be with teacher assessment. The approach has changed significantly from a ‘best fit’ model (which level description best captures the pupil’s overall performance in the subject) to a ‘mastery’ model (pupils must demonstrate consistent attainment of all the statements in the standard and in all previous standards). This could create some tricky situations, particularly where pupils perform well on the tests and achieve a scaled score above 100 but, given their overall performance, they don’t meet all the teacher assessment criteria for the expected standard and so have to be reported as ‘working towards the expected standard’. Make sure that you have a good look at the national exemplification material that has been published and then allow enough time in late May and June to finalise your judgements and carry out some internal moderation (and with Y2 teachers in other schools if possible) before submitting them by 30th June.

Above all, keep calm and be patient. Remember that this is the first use of new tests and a new set of teacher assessment standards and it will take a time for everyone – teachers, moderators, school inspectors, governors and parents – to become familiar and confident with them.


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.

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

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