For those enthralled by the EU referendum and other high profile political issues, it’s worth revisiting the recent history of end of key stage tests to see how we got into the current mess. Following the election of the Coalition government in 2010, the national curriculum in England was completely revised. The latest English and Maths curriculum came into force in September 2015 (five months ago, at the time of writing).
For detail about the issues which this has caused, I recommend Michael Tidd’s excellent blog, which contains his frustration about the delays, moving goal posts and ongoing confusion. In summary, information on assessment and reporting has published piecemeal, confusing everyone who is supposed to be ensuring that the government has some numbers which they can attach to children come July.
And now, to no one’s surprise, those who represent teachers and their managers have had enough. The NAHT has said that their members have raised concerns ‘that the proposed changes are unworkable and placed unachievable demands on both teachers and pupils.’ The NUT has described the changes to primary assessment as ‘a bad plan, chaotically implemented’. Both the unions and teachers are unhappy that yet more changes are on their way, with the 2016 arrangements being described as ‘interim’ in advance of further alterations in 2017.
The Department of Education has reacted to the growing crisis by writing letters to the NAHT and releasing videos via Twitter to reassure those on the front line that everything is under control. The most bizarre response was that, “The frameworks for teacher assessment this year are interim - but it’s disingenuous to suggest this is because we don’t know what we’re doing.” Clearly the criticism is beginning to hit home.
So, whilst crisis is probably an overstatement of the situation, it looks like the mess many of us predicted is not getting any better. Talk of potential boycotts of this year’s primary assessments have now moved on, with the NUT calling for both KS1 and KS2 assessments to be suspended.
The government’s response – that “It is disappointing to see that the NUT and ATL are taking this approach, which would disrupt children’s education” – is wilfully disingenuous.
The truth of the matter is that KS2 tests add little, if anything, to any individual child’s learning. KS2 tests have become - whatever the original intention - an accountability measure, and nothing more. That's why teachers, schools, unions and others are up in arms. These tests simply mean too much, to too many people. Careers are made and broken by tests results, and confusion, uncertainty and bland reassurances make people exceptionally angry.
The current mess presents a fantastic opportunity to challenge some of the key problems with using primary age children as pawns in a bigger game, and, in my next post, I’ll look at the problems with our highly unusual primary school assessment system, and just how English primary education compares to the rest of the world.