As this year draws to a close I realise I no longer have confidence that the primary school testing regime is fit for purpose (I don’t think I am alone). I no longer believe that the results we see up and down this country are accurate, fair, untampered with, equitably marked or evenly administered.
My evidence is teacher assessment of writing in comparison to reading scores this year. That anomaly is a farce – enough said. It has also put massive pressure on the profession this year.
My evidence is working with many head teachers and schools where the pressure on heads and teachers to get results is so intense that they are (rightly so) desperate. They know that so much rests on a set of results coming from tests; one more bad year could signal massive upheaval and chaos to people who cannot afford to fail.
My evidence is I worked with the brightest cohort of children I EVER worked with this year and they came out below average in the tests – well below many schools. And yet, when they took the 2015 SATs they scored in the high 90% level 4 and nearly 60% level 5 in Reading and Maths… How could they suddenly be less than average? What went wrong?
There I have said it. SATs are not working on too many levels and it is making a mockery of our school system. It is perverting assessment and it is impacting upon the education of children about to go to secondary school (Where the results are meaningless in terms of daily teaching and learning practice to Y7 teachers).
If you are reading this and thinking ‘How dare he… our amazing results were down to great teaching’ I disagree. Great systems and teaching are key but I believe that ‘good results’ had more to do with a combination of factors. I believe that many of the better results were down to luck within tiny margins and better ‘test week’ organisation. The science of luck plays out a lot during this week:
Who is feeling well?
Who handles pressure better?
Who had the money or driven parents to have extra tuition?
Who is good at keeping focussed?
Who had a good night’s sleep because the squat next door decided not to party all night?
Whose parents are unwell?
Who has a new born baby in the house?
I could go on and on…
These factors of circumstance could be seen within a spectrum of luck in the context of taking a test. Add in the schools systems and desire/ need for success and I am sure that factors will tip towards advantages, none of which rely purely on ability to answer the questions. Most teachers know there are far too many children going in to a test that might or might not get the question right. They know that a small focus – without giving the answer will 9 times out of ten get that child back on track to the right answer. There is nothing more soul-destroying than seeing a child get a question wrong that you know they should breeze through.
When coupled with margins of a small handful of children being the difference between your head in your hands, your hands in the air (or your head on the block) then LUCK (or worse strategic intervention – to give cheating a cloak) plays far too great a role in the success or failure of schools.
I have watched teaching in many different schools and there is little difference in the majority. Small nuances and innovations in practice but good teaching is just that and most schools have it (some struggle to utilise it well, some need to organise it better and some don’t always recognise it). I would argue that the vast majority of Year 6 classes function on very similar lines throughout the country.
I have a sort of solution. It is rough around the edges but I feel it is a better way forward for children.
I think the tests should be administered alongside the secondary school. The primary would make predictions based on their knowledge of the strengths and developmental areas a child needs (share their assessments). They then take the test at the secondary school where it is joint marked. There could then be a discussion between teachers about whether the outcomes were as expected, including a look in to the Y6 work from that year as evidence. Yes, it would take time but it would be far more useful as a transitional approach. Y7 test the children in most cases and pay very little heed to SATs anyway (apart from as nervous progress indicators). So, why have a system that is flawed, broken and not anywhere near as useful as it could be? I know that this opens a can of worms but there is no doubt that children are leaving Y6 better prepared than at any time. By thinking what children need to do in Y7 and Y8 primaries would have a better understanding of what will be needed? At the moment the system stops at the SATs test with very little understanding of where this will take the children in later years.
There would still need to be national monitoring – especially between MATs.
If we keep with the current system then more children will pass it. I am not sure that this will all be down to a fair, equitable testing systems or better teaching and learning. I believe it will be born out of desperation and fear of the consequences. This is just educational progress on a bed of lies. The fact that this approach has already bleed primary schools dry of a broad and balanced curriculum is just another factor that tells us we have to change our approach or the longer term implications will only become apparent when it is too late for too many children. We have to stop seeing education as phases and look at the bigger, longer term picture of the educational experience as one process.