Schoolzone blog: Primary schools - so far, so good?

Primary schools - so far, so good?


26 Sept 2014


Three weeks into term, most primary schools seem to be feeling reasonably happy with the introduction of the new curriculum, retaining fair chucks of the old NC in some cases, moving completely to the new curriculum in others.

But there's a big but: what to do about assessment.

Scrapping NC levels is issue number one - should schools carry on using them or start with something new? If the latter, what on Earth could it be? We've speculated and shared schools' thoughts on this in earlier blogs (see Archive) - and the answer so far is: errr....

More difficult SATs is another issue which will clobber schools with relative low previous performance in particular, and schools are very worried about this. Obviously, all schools will be in the same boat, but the effects of the new SATs will be impossible to predict and schools will, this time in the next few years, find themselves taking very close looks at where they went "wrong".

The new floor standards and progress measures are also a great unknown which we have expressed our teachers' concerns about previously (see Archive), but there is another issue which schools have barely thought about yet, that will lead to a major change in thinking.

The scaled SATs score

Just to clarify what this is:

At KS1 children will take externally set and internally marked reading and maths tests.

At KS2 they will take externally marked SATs in English and maths.

Teacher assessments will be used in other subjects throughout.

The scores from these assessments will be provided to schools after a few weeks - as scaled scores: every year the average score in each subject will be scaled to 100 and children will have an individual score which is on this scale.

OK, quite easy to understand, but aside from not knowing what these assessments will look like, there are some other fairly important things to consider:

  • How will schools report these scores to parents in a way that means something meaningful, rather than <100 = fail; >100 = success?
  • How will schools know what scores children are likely to achieve within each key stage? Whatever assessment system they use, it won't reflect the annual cohort fluctuations.
  • Scaled scoring implies norm-referencing, which teachers largely loathe as they say assessment should demonstrate what children can do, not how well they perform compared to others.
  • How do schools move their current target setting systems over to this new, essentially unmeasurable system? Does this spell the end for target setting?
  • For schools not using the optional reception baseline, how will they know whether there scores each year are better or worse than other years? At present we don't even know whether the new baseline will be scaled in the same way.

But, it will at least give a clearer picture of performance, teachers say, compared to the old NC levels, which were effectively capped at too low a level for some students, and the labelling of which was unclear for parents.

The high level of uncertainty is very undermining of schools' curriculums: even if they are confident that they are teaching appropriate content, they have no secure means of knowing whether it's to the right level, nor how well children are understanding it.

All of which seems an incredibly retrograde step, putting our schools at a great disadvantage compared to others in Europe.




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