Hidden in a dark corner of the DfE website: Gove’s latest thinking on assessment

Janet Downs's picture
Hidden away in the deepest recesses of the Department for Education (DfE) website is a general article called Assessing without levels.

Assessment is a hot topic at the moment – the new GCSE proposals have been announced and the consultation about secondary accountability has just finished. So why was an article about primary school assessment hidden away?

The article says Education Secretary, Michael Gove, spoke at at the National College for School Leadership Seizing Success conference on 13 June. His comments were made "in advance of the consultation on primary assessment and accountability". This long-awaited document hasn’t been published either – it’s due sometime in the summer.

The title, Assessing without levels, gives the impression that levels have been abolished: “the current system of ‘levels’ used to report children’s attainment and progress will be removed [and] it will not be replaced.”

This isn’t entirely accurate. The requirement to report levels to parents has gone and schools will be allowed to decide their own pupil tracking methods. But the DfE makes it clear that schools will “continue to benchmark their performance through statutory end of key stage assessments, including national curriculum tests” so unless there is a commitment to abolish numbered Levels at the end of Key Stage 2 then levels will remain.

“The new programmes of study set out what should be taught by the end of each key stage,” says the article. But academies and free schools don’t have to follow the national curriculum. However, ALL schools must comply with statutory duties on testing and assessment. If assessment is linked to programmes of study then primary academies and free schools will still have to match their assessment frameworks with national curriculum expectations about what children should have learned.

In any case, the consultation period for comments about the primary curriculum didn’t end until 16 April and the DfE hasn’t yet published its response. But the DfE acts as if the curriculum is fixed. This doesn’t bode well for the yet-to-appear consultation of primary assessment and accountability.

The DfE says it will publish “examples of good practice which schools may wish to follow”. In other words, the DfE will make it clear what it expects “good” schools to be doing. And it will work with "education publishers and external test developers to signpost schools to a range of potential approaches." This should lead to an explosion is the marketing of "tests" for school use.

So we have an article hidden away on the DfE website, an unpublished response to a consultation and a yet-to-be-published consultation document which looks set to arrive just before the summer holidays. At the same time the DfE appears to be ignoring whatever comments were made in the finished consultation and pre-empting the results of one that hasn’t appeared.

Isn’t Michael Gove supposed to be in favour of “rigour”?

CORRECTION:  The article above has been amended.  I originally wrote that Michael Gove had made a speech at the NCTL conference.  The DfE article said "the Secretary of State spoke about schools’ ongoing assessment under the new national curriculum."   I misinterpreted "spoke about" to mean speech.  But Michael Gove did not make a speech - he took part in a question-and-answer session.  There would, therefore, be no need for the DfE to publish a speech.  I have, therefore, deleted any reference to a speech.

My thanks to Michael Dix, who was present at the conference, for pointing this out.

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