Greening says she’s listened to teachers. But is it enough to ward off a primary test boycott next year?

Janet Downs's picture

First, the good news in yesterday's written statement:  plans to make Year 7 pupils resit end-of-primary tests if they didn’t reach the expected standard have been scrapped.

The Rochford Review into the assessment of pupils working below the expected standard will be published at last.  It was due early this year.  The Department for Education said it would consult on the findings in 2016.   It’s got half-a-term left.

Second, the supposed good news: Key Stage One Spelling, punctuation and grammar tests will be non-statutory.  But just for a year.  The threat to introduce SPAG tests for seven year olds in the future remains.

The widely-understood Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFS) will stay for the next academic year.  But after that?

The Government says there’ll be no new national primary tests introduced before 2018/19.  Teachers, pupils and parents have just two years before facing another possible change to primary assessment.  Education secretary Justine Greening says the rapid (some would say reckless) change of recent years will settle into ‘greater stability’.   But two years’ respite isn’t ‘greater stability’.

Greening’s ‘settled system’ is actually a long way off.  Teachers, pupils and parents can look forward to more changes.  The Government’s launching another consultation.  If it’s anything like the current one about grammar schools it will presume the Government’s proposals are a good thing. Any consultation must be genuine and not a sham.

Third, the hyped up news: Greening says teachers and pupils rose to the challenge of the ‘rightly more challenging tests’.   She gives percentages for those meeting the new ‘expected standard’ in reading, maths and writing.  But just under half of 11 year-olds did not reach the ‘expected standard’ when all three subjects are combined. 

Fourth, the news which undermines Government claims elsewhere: academies are supposed to have freedom to opt-out of the national curriculum.  But Greening admits reformed tests are ‘set against the new national curriculum’.  Primary academies can’t opt out because tests will check whether they’ve followed it.  Academies’ ability to opt-out of the national curriculum is an illusion.

Has Greening really listened to teachers as she claims?   Helen Ward, writing in TES, suggests not. She recommends:

1         Major changes to writing assessments;

2         Rewriting the reading test;

3         Taking a different approach to early years and recognising the popularity of the EYFS profile.

4         Including all aspects of primary assessment in the consultation including the phonics check.  Ignoring this could result in the ‘piecemeal change’ Greening says she wants to avoid.

5         Greening needs to convince teachers she is ‘genuinely listening’.

Has Greening done enough to ward off a SAT boycott in 2017?  Possibly not because she ignores the elephant in the room: tests in England have no educational purpose.    Their primary purpose is to judge schools. 

Teachers do not need mandatory tests at the end of primary school (rare in other countries) to assess pupils’ achievement.   On-going assessment does that.   These compulsory tests distort what is taught, place unnecessary pressure on teachers and pupils and turn Year 6 into a miserable year of practicing papers and drilling.  That’s not education.




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