Curriculum and Assessment

ASCL position statements

These position statements are agreed via our Curriculum and Assessment Committee and cover:
  • curriculum
  • pedagogy
  • assessment
  • national tests and qualifications

What is the context?
Over the past year, the Department for Education and Ofsted have both published various new pieces of curriculum guidance, including model curricula and subject research reviews.

While curriculum guidance is welcome, the status of these documents is sometimes unclear: whether they are non-statutory; whether schools should have due regard for them; whether they are best practice; or whether they represent updated statutory curriculum expectations.

These documents include the Ofsted subject reviews; the Model music curriculum, The reading framework and Teaching a broad and balanced curriculum for education recovery.

ASCL has received reports from members that some of the expectations and suggestions set out in these documents have been used in Ofsted inspections to evaluate schools’ curriculum provision.

ASCL position

ASCL believes that the Department for Education and Ofsted should be clearer about the non-statutory nature of these documents and be mindful of not introducing new curriculum expectations by the back door.

Ofsted must continue to ensure that all inspectors are evaluating schools solely against the Education Inspection Framework, and not using additional curriculum guidance or subject reviews.

Schools’ autonomy to design and implement their curricula based on the needs of their pupils must be maintained.

Why are we saying this?
While much of this guidance is helpful, there are many instances when the guidance presents one approach to curriculum or pedagogy as optimal. We believe that school leaders are best placed to make these decisions, within their own context.

The reported use of some of these materials in inspection is inappropriate and creates confusion in the system about the status of these documents.

ASCL would welcome a review of the current National Curriculum and has advocated for an independent review body to carry this out. Any changes to the National Curriculum, or wider curriculum expectations for schools, must be widely consulted on and based on the latest evidence, while also allowing enough space in the curriculum for school and trust autonomy. 

What is the context?
On 19 July 2021, the government published an update on the way in which school and college assessment and accountability would operate for the 2021/22 academic year. This update confirmed that all primary assessments would return for the first time since 2019, without any adaptations, but that the results would not be published in Key Stage 2 performance tables this academic year. This decision was reinforced by the Minister of State for School Standards in a letter to primary schools on 2 February 2022.

However, the DfE still intends to produce the normal suite of Key Stage 2 accountability measures at school level, and for this to be shared with schools, academy trusts, local authorities and Ofsted, ‘for school improvement purposes and to help identify schools most in need of support’. 

In other words, although Key Stage 2 performance tables will not be published, the intention is that SATs will go ahead with no modifications, and that the data from these assessments will be used for inspection and internal school accountability purposes in a school’s Inspection Data Summary Report (IDSR).

ASCL position: ASCL welcomed the decision not to publish Key Stage 2 performance tables for 2021/22. However, we strongly believe that the data from Key Stage 2 SATs should not be used for any form of primary school accountability.  

If the government and Ofsted categorically commit to not using the results of the Key Stage 2 SATs in the IDSR or for any other form of school accountability, then our view is that, on balance, it is useful for these assessments to go ahead.  

If this reassurance cannot be given, our position is that Key Stage 2 SATs in summer 2022 should be made optional. 

Why are we saying this? 
The decision as to whether statutory Key Stage 2 SATs should take place in 2022 is a finely balanced one. On the one hand, it is important that schools are able to focus on education recovery, and on ensuring children are as ready as possible to move on to secondary school. Holding SATs, and ensuring children are prepared to sit them, could be seen as a distraction from this priority. On the other hand, it is important that both individual schools and the government are able to clearly see the impact that the pandemic has had on this cohort of children, in order to ensure suitable provisions are put in place to support them.  

The decision about how this information should be used, however, is much more straightforward. It is very clear that the pandemic has affected – and continues to affect – primary schools in different ways. Any attempt to hold a school to account for the performance of their pupils at the end of primary school, after more than two years of disruption, is unhelpful, unfair and damaging for those which have suffered the greatest impact. 

Our view, therefore, is that Key Stage 2 tests should only go ahead this year if the results of these assessments will not be used for accountability purposes in any way. If this is not the case, they should be made optional. 

ASCL’s Blueprint for a Fairer Education System calls for review of primary assessment in the longer term. We will continue to encourage the government to consider better alternatives to the current suite of assessments. 

What is the context?
In July 2021, the Department for Education published The Reading Framework: Teaching the Foundations of Literacy. Its foreword “encourage[s] all primary schools to use this guidance to ensure their children have the strongest possible foundations in reading”.

This guidance is described as a ‘policy paper’, and there is no indication that it is statutory. It was published late in the summer term, while schools were dealing with large numbers of pupil and staff absences and other challenges related to the pandemic. Leaders and teachers would therefore have had little time to read, consider and potentially embed the recommendations in the framework before the start of the new school year.

ASCL position: Reading fluency is a key indicator of future success. ASCL welcomes the government’s current focus on reading, which places emphasis on ensuring all children having access to high quality teaching of reading.

However, the timing of the publication of the Reading Framework, alongside the selective way in which this guidance promotes certain strategies for teaching ongoing reading, mean that many schools will struggle to adopt its recommendations. 

ASCL would also like greater clarity on what constitutes statutory or non-statutory guidance. This includes ensuring that schools and colleges are properly consulted on statutory changes within a reasonable timescale. It is also important for Ofsted to be transparent if non-statutory guidance is being used as part of inspection.

Why are we saying this?
There is much in this guidance that is helpful. However, we are concerned about the timing of its publication, the lack of clarity around its status, and the way in which it is being used. 

We are aware of Ofsted inspectors asking schools, during inspections this term, whether they are aware of this guidance and are implementing its recommendations. This is not appropriate given how recently it was published and, crucially, the fact that it is non-statutory, and does not form part of either the National Curriculum or the Education Inspection Framework. It is imperative that it is clear what criteria schools and colleges are held to account against. 

What is the context?
In July 2020, the government announced that almost all statutory primary assessments, including SATs, will go ahead in 2021, despite the significant disruption to children’s learning as a result of the ongoing effects of the Covid-19 crisis. 
We are still waiting for confirmation on whether or not performance tables will be suspended in 2021, as they were in 2020. ASCL’s clear position is that this should happen (see position statement on external accountability in 2021). 

ASCL position:
ASCL believes that SATs should be cancelled in 2021, even if performance tables are suspended. This decision needs to be made quickly to provide much-needed reassurance to leaders, teachers and children, and to enable schools to plan appropriately. 

SATs should not, in our view, be replaced with any other national form of assessment this year. Instead, schools should be trusted to assess children themselves, and to report the outcomes of these assessments to parents and to the secondary schools Year 6 children will go on to next year.
ASCL understands that the government will want to find ways to understand the impact of the pandemic on this year’s cohort. We would therefore support the government if they wished to take a sampling approach, asking a representative sample of schools to undertake SATs, with the results of those tests to be only reported at a national or regional level, and not linked to specific schools.

Why we are saying it?
The stated role of SATs is to assess the performance of schools, not individual pupils. Schools will have had such different degrees of disruption over the year leading up to SATs that any attempt to use these assessments to compare schools will be meaningless and potentially hugely misleading. 

The children whose education has been most disrupted will be disproportionately from disadvantaged backgrounds, who will therefore be even more likely than usual not to achieve national expectations. Going ahead with SATs therefore risks labelling large numbers of disadvantaged children as ‘failures’, with all the issues that could create.

If SATs go ahead this year, schools will spend time preparing children for them, which could be much better used in supporting them to catch up with lost learning. 

What is the context? On 1 October, the DfE published the Remote Learning Continuity Direction, which places a legal requirement on schools to provide ‘immediate’ remote learning for any individuals, groups of pupils, or whole cohorts which are unable to attend school due to the pandemic. This will be a legal requirement from 22 October until the end of the 2020/21 school year.

It updates previous advice on remote learning in the DfE’s full Guidance on Opening Schools (June 2020). The quality of immediate remote learning has not changed since this guidance was published, which includes the criteria that remote learning should be of the equivalent length to learning in school, and should include daily contact with teachers.

ASCL position
The Remote Learning Continuity Direction is an excessive, unnecessary and unwelcome measure, given most schools are already planning for and providing remote learning – and it shows a lack of trust in the schools sector.

It is not realistic or sustainable to require schools to provide ‘immediate’ remote learning, of the same length as learning in school, to any individuals or groups who are unable to attend school, while some pupils remain in school.

There continue to be major barriers to accessing high-quality learning remotely, including access to technology and to suitable home-learning environments. Government measures have failed to address these problems adequately.

Why are we saying this? The reopening of schools has been more difficult than anticipated, due to local and national increases in the Covid-19 infection rate, a shortage of testing and a lack of clear guidance being provided for schools. It is inappropriate to put new, statutory demands on schools during this time, when they are dealing with the immediate pressures of the pandemic while delivering a broad and balanced curriculum, and are already supporting pupils who cannot attend school.

For many pupils of all ages, access to technology remains a barrier to accessing remote learning. Government schemes to provide technology have not always been successful, and the current advice does not reflect the reality of the situation.

It is our view that the government are asking teachers to fulfil two roles rather than one; teach a full timetable in school whilst offering an equivalent and parallel provision for those who are isolating. This is not sustainable and will have a detrimental effect on staff workload and wellbeing.

From 22 October, schools will be legally obliged to provide remote learning when the means to achieving this remain beyond their control.

What is the context? The government plans to introduce a Reception Baseline Assessment (RBA), to be taken by all Reception-aged children within the first six weeks of them starting school. A pilot of the RBA began in September 2019. If the RBA becomes statutory from September 2020 as planned, the current end of Key Stage 1 assessments will be removed, and the RBA will form the input to the primary progress measure. 

ASCL position: As we begin to see the outcomes of the Reception Baseline Assessment pilot, ASCL would recommend that the DfE evaluate:
a)    the accessibility of the language of some aspects of the test
b)    the consistency with which the baseline is administered across settings, and how this can be strengthened
c)    the reliability of the baseline as a point of measurement within a broader set of accountability measures

Why are we saying it? If the RBA is to be used as part of the accountability system, some assessment tasks require additional clarity in order for it to be consistent in its delivery. Different approaches to administration, including variations between schools in the timings of the assessment, may also lead to inconsistent data. This could invalidate the accuracy of the measure. 

We are also concerned that some of the language used in the assessment is not sufficiently accessible to children with SEND or English as an Additional Language. 


What is the context? In October 2018, ASCL launched an independent Commission of Inquiry to look into how to improve the prospects of the ‘forgotten third’ of young people who do not achieve at least a grade 4 pass in GCSE English and maths at the end of twelve years of schooling. 

In September 2019, the Commission published its final report. The report included fourteen recommendations to help address this issue, covering early years, curriculum and pedagogy, teacher education, and the qualifications system. 

These recommendations included calls for a long-term review both of the English curriculum from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage and of the GCSE exam system as a whole. The Commission also recommended a new approach to end-of-primary assessment and accountability, and the replacement of GCSE English Language with a Passport in English, to be taken by all pupils at the point of readiness between the ages of 15 and 19.

ASCL position: ASCL thanks the Forgotten Third Commission of Inquiry for the expertise and commitment they brought to the question of how we can improve the prospects of the ‘Forgotten Third’.

ASCL fully supports the recommendations in the Commission’s final report, and adopts these as policy.

Why are we saying it? We must do more to improve the life chances of those children and young people, disproportionately from disadvantaged backgrounds, for whom the current education system simply isn’t working. We must also find better ways to recognise the achievements of all young people. We believe that acting on the recommendations in this report would make a significant and positive impact on these young people’s lives and futures. 

What is the context? In a recent speech, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn announced that a Labour government would scrap the current primary national curriculum assessments, commonly known as SATs, including those taken at the end of Key Stage 2.

Instead, Labour plans to bring forward proposals for a new system that would separate the assessment of schools from the assessment of children, understand the learning needs of each child, and encourage a broad curriculum aimed at a rounded education.

ASCL’s position: ASCL welcomes Labour’s recognition that high stakes test-based accountability has impacted negatively on primary education.

We would support a review of end of Key Stage 2 assessment. These assessments should support schools in preparing children effectively for the next stage of their education, and support stakeholders in effectively holding schools to account for the quality of education they provide.

Why are we saying it? We believe strongly that action needs to be taken to address theimpact of the current high stakes accountability system on primary education. We are also clear, however, that high quality assessment is essential to support children’s learning, and that schools should be held accountable for the education they provide.

We therefore support a review of the end of Key Stage 2 assessment, based on the following principles:

  • It should recognise that testing, while an important aspect of pupil learning, is only one of a number of strategies that contribute to our understanding of the quality of children’s education.
  • It should consider the role of Key Stage 2 assessment in ensuring pupils leave primary school with the knowledge and skills to succeed in the next phase of their education.
  • It should aim to reduce the perverse incentives drive by the current approach to accountability.
  • It should include a clear focus on strategies to close the achievement gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged pupils.