ASCL guidance: Primary Assessment and Accountability Changes: what do they mean for your school?

Download ASCL guidance paper: Primary Assessment and Accountability Changes: what do they mean for your school?

This guidance is relevant to school and college leaders with responsibility for Key Stages 1 and 2.

  1. Changes and issues around national assessment and accountability

  2. Further information

The way in which primary children are assessed, and primary schools are held to account for their progress and attainment, is changing at a sometimes bewildering pace. This paper aims to explain the major changes to, and biggest current issues around, the national assessment and accountability system, from reception upwards.

1 Changes and issues around national assessment and accountability

a) The new baseline assessments are no more

In September 2015, schools could choose to opt in to the new Reception baseline assessment measure, using assessments produced by one of three approved providers: the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring at Durham University (CEM), Early Excellence (EE) and the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER). The majority of schools chose the EE assessment, seeing this as closest to the observation-based assessments most early years practitioners already do.

The Department for Education (DfE) commissioned a comparability study into the three assessments, to check whether it is feasible to compare the results from the different assessments. The study concluded that it is not (to the frustration of the large number of respondents to the government’s consultation on this who, back in 2013, suggested that allowing schools to choose from a range of different providers would lead to “inconsistencies and confusion”).

The primary progress measure will therefore continue to be based on progress from the end of KS1 to the end of KS2. The government will continue to fund schools to use an approved baseline assessment if they still wish to do so in the academic year 2016-17, but the results won’t be used for accountability.

The government has made it clear that it “remains committed to measuring the progress of pupils through primary school”, and that it will “continue to look at the best way to assess pupils in the early years”. Expect a further announcement ‘in due course’.

b) There may be a phonics check resit resit

The DfE is trialling a second resit of the phonics check in Year 3, for children who don’t reach the required standard when they retake the check in Year 2. At the moment this is simply a trial, with no indication of whether or not it will become policy.

c) Key Stage 1 SATs have changed significantly – but significantly enough?

2016 saw the introduction of completely new KS1 SATs, designed to reflect the content of the new curriculum. The plan was that there would be two reading tests, two SPAG tests (one on the S, the other on the PAG) and two maths tests (one on arithmetic, the other on mathematical fluency, problem solving and reasoning).

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, given the strength of feeling against these new tests), the list of words included in the Key Stage 1 spelling test was mistakenly uploaded onto the DfE website earlier this year. The government’s response, after a bit of wrangling, was to announce that both SPAG tests would be withdrawn, with children’s results in this area based solely on their teacher’s ongoing assessment of their attainment.

For the other tests, Year 2 teachers could choose, within a window, when to administer them, and will continue to be marked by the teacher. In the new post-levels world, children will receive a scaled score on the tests, which will form part of their teacher’s assessment of their overall attainment. The score will be based around 100, which will represent the expected standard, but quite what this means, or how far the scale will extend in either direction, can’t be determined until after the first cohort of children has sat the tests.

There is some concern in the DfE, however, that the use of teacher assessment at KS1 is inappropriate as part of a high stakes accountability framework, particularly as the abandonment of baseline assessment in its current form means that the KS1 SATs will continue to function as the progress input measure for the foreseeable future. There is nothing concrete on this yet, but discussions continue about whether the KS1 number that feeds the data machine should be a child’s score on the tests, rather than their teacher’s broader assessment of their attainment. That won’t happen this year, but it may be on the cards in future.

d) Key Stage 2 SATs are also all new

As at Key Stage 1, the Key Stage 2 SATs have been redesigned to match the new curriculum, with a reading test, a SPAG test and three maths tests (one on arithmetic and two on reasoning). There are no longer separate tests for higher attainers; all children will sit the same papers, designed to assess the full content range from the equivalent of the old Level 3 to the old Level 6.

The Key Stage 2 tests continue to be externally set and marked. As at Key Stage 1, children’s results will be given as a score based around 100.

e) New times table tests are being piloted

An on-screen check, to be taken by children in Year 6 at the same time as the Key Stage 2 SATs, is being piloted in Summer 2016. It will test children’s knowledge of multiplication facts up to 12x12. If the test is introduced, the results are expected to be included in RAISEonline, but not to form part of the floor standards or coasting measure, as detailed in points (h) and (i).

f) New complicated frameworks for teacher assessment

In the absence of levels, there needs to be a nationally agreed framework to enable statutory teacher assessment at the end of KS1 and KS2. Schools can do, and are doing, their own thing within key stages, but there needs to be consistency and comparability at the key accountability points.

The government’s solution to this is, frankly, not its finest hour. At the end of both key stages there are three different frameworks against which teachers will need to assess children this year. The first (Interim frameworks for teacher assessment at the end of KS1 and KS2) is intended to scaffold the assessment of the majority of children. The second (Interim pre-key stage standards for KS1 and KS2) is to be used for children who haven’t yet completed the full programme of study for that key stage. (This may be for a number of reasons, including having recently arrived in the country. Children being assessed using these standards will not normally sit SATs papers.) The third framework is the existing P scales for children with SEN (links to all interim and pre-key stage frameworks and P scales are provided at the end of this page).

Key Stage 1

At Key Stage 1 there are three standards in the mainstream framework. Children should be classified as:

  • working towards the expected standard

  • working at the expected standard, or

  • working at greater depth within the expected standard (other than in science, where it is a binary ‘working at the expected standard’ or not)

Children being assessed using the pre-key stage standards should be judged as having met the ‘foundations for the expected standard’ or not. Children with SEN should be assessed as being at P scale 1 to 8, as previously.

Key Stage 2

At Key Stage 2 children being assessed using the mainstream framework should be classified in reading, maths and science as simply ‘working at the expected standard’ or not (with more granular results being provided by their scaled scores in the relevant tests). In writing (where there is no test), the same three standards as at KS1 should be used:

  • working towards the expected standard

  • working at the expected standard, or

  • working at greater depth within the expected standard

Children being assessed using the pre-key stage standards can be awarded one of three different classifications:

  • foundations for the expected standard,

  • early development of the expected standard

  • growing development of the expected standard

And, as at KS1, the P scales will continue as they are.

Ramped-up expectations

Alongside concerns about the eye-watering complexity of all this, there is also disquiet about the extent to which these standards have ratcheted up expectations, both for pupils and teachers.

The frameworks have moved from a ‘best fit’ model to a ‘pupil can’ model; in other words, teachers need to have evidence that a pupil demonstrates attainment of all of the statements within a standard, and to be confident that they can also meet the preceding standards. This change is intended to address the problem that, previously, children could have been awarded a level on the basis that they could do most of what was required for that level, but not everything, making it hard to know what attaining that level really meant. The general feeling, though, is that the requirement that children can do everything required to achieve a particular standard, rather than most things, makes it harder to achieve than it might at first appear. And the requirement that teachers provide evidence for every pupil’s attainment against every statement could have a significant impact on teacher workloads.

To support teachers in assessing writing at Key Stage 1 and 2, the DfE has released exemplification materials. A number of teachers who have examined these materials have suggested that the work exemplified as the expected standard for Key Stage 2 is more like an old Level 5, rather than the equivalent of a Level 4b, which is where the government had said they were going to pitch the expected standard. The DfE’s answer is that one of the fictional children whose work is classed as ‘expected’ (‘Morgan’) is working at broadly 4b, while the other (‘Leigh’) is indeed more advanced, but still not ‘working at greater depth’.

Light at the end of the tunnel?

The light at the end of this dark tunnel is the word ‘interim’. The DfE is, thankfully, aware that this system is far from perfect, and is currently working on a better solution. In the meantime, they have issued a ‘clarification document’ (Clarification: key stage 1 and 2 teacher assessment moderation guidance), asking Ofsted and the Regional Schools Commissioners to “take into account national performance and contextual factors when considering a school’s performance in writing at KS2”, and to “be mindful of the impact of these new arrangements in making decisions about issuing warning notices and tackling underperformance following this year’s results”.

g) Children not reaching the expected standard in KS2 SATs may need to resit them in Year 7

The government is concerned that children who don’t reach the expected standard by the end of primary school won’t be able to fully access the secondary school curriculum, and will continue to fall behind their peers. They committed, in their pre-election manifesto, to solving this problem by requiring these children to resit these ‘exams’ at the start of secondary school.

A formal consultation on what form these resits might take, and what part they would play in the accountability system, is expected imminently. They won’t begin in 2016, but may be rolled out from December 2017.

h) The floor is going up

For the academic year 2015-16, the headline performance measures for primary schools will be:

  • the average progress made by pupils in reading, writing and mathematics

  • the percentage of pupils achieving the national standard in reading, writing and mathematics at the end of KS2

  • the average score of pupils in their end of KS2 assessments

  • the percentage of pupils who achieve a high score in all areas at the end of KS2 (to be set after the first new KS2 tests are sat in summer 2016)

To remain above the floor standard, schools will need to get at least 65 per cent of children to the expected standard in all of reading, writing and maths, or to meet the new progress target.

The DfE has released details of how the progress target will be calculated for 2015-16. It is a ‘value-add’ measure, in which any amount of progress any pupil makes will contribute towards the school’s score. Progress will be measured from the end of KS1 to the end of KS2.

There is detailed information on how the progress score will be calculated in the DfE’s Technical guide to primary school accountability link, but in summary, it will work as follows:

1  Each individual pupil’s progress score will be calculated by:

  • assigning them to a group with other pupils nationally who had similar starting points (ie pupils who achieved similar KS1 results).

  • working out the average KS2 score for this prior attainment group

  • comparing the individual pupil’s KS2 outcome with the average KS2 outcome for other pupils nationally in the same prior attainment group

2  A school’s progress score will be calculated by working out the average of its pupils’ individual progress scores in each of reading, writing and maths.

3  These three average progress scores for reading, writing and maths, will be included in the school’s headline measures.

4  After the first KS2 tests have taken place in May 2016, the DfE will confirm what progress scores a school needs to achieve in each subject in order to be above the floor standard.

i) Another new hurdle: coasting

Finally, there is a new measure to contend with. Primary schools will be classed as ‘coasting’ if less than 85 per cent of their children meet the expected attainment standard and pupils fail to make sufficient progress for three consecutive years. For 2015-16, it is expected that the coasting measure will be based on a school’s performance against the previous attainment and progress standards for 2013-14 and 2014-15, and against the new attainment and progress standards for 2015-16.

Schools classified as coasting will be asked to come up with a credible plan for improvement for consideration by their Regional Schools Commissioner. If the plan is convincing, schools will be supported. If it is not good enough, “intervention will follow”. The stakes are high.

2 Further information

DfE Reception baseline comparability study

DfE, National curriculum assessments: 2016 sample materials KS1 and KS2 SATs papers

DfE, Interim frameworks for teacher assessment at the end of KS1

DfE, Interim frameworks for teacher assessment at the end of KS2

DfE, Interim pre-key stage 1 standards

DfE, Interim pre-key stage 2 standards

DfE, P scales

DfE, KS1 writing exemplification materials

DfE, KS2 writing exemplification materials

DfE, Clarification document on KS1 and 2 teacher assessment and moderation

DfE, Technical guide to primary accountability in 2016 (includes details of how the progress measure will be calculated)

ASCL Primary and Governance Specialist, Julie McCulloch
May 2016