I want to see you sweating facts and sh*itting stats – Johnson (Peep Show)
I have been contacted by so many heads (well over 100) about doing something about SATs but I feel we need to gather our facts and stats first. It is vital that before head teachers begin making demands on unions; rallying their communities and making ultimatums – We are crystal clear on what it is at fault and what we believe needs to be done to remedy this in the best interests of children.
I have had the most surreal week ever. I have been interviewed live on the BBC and on Good Morning Britain about #SATsShambles (I was a hero with the children for all of 10 minutes!). Piers Morgan threatened to send his children to my school and I was mentioned in a tweet by OK! Magazine… Social media certainly knows how to kick up a storm. This is no storm. Storms pass and that is why we have heard very little from the DFE. They know how this works. They know that many of those marked papers were just mistakes and jumping on the social media bandwagon needs a response of… wait – take your time and respond. Already many teachers on twitter are fed up and bored by the debate and we will eventually begin bickering and arguing between ourselves over this. We have to keep our eyes firmly focussed upon the end goal.
Education has been carved up in to factions over the last five years and at times it feels like we are a desperate and divided lot, caught up in our sectors, organisations and beliefs. But, one thing I hear across all of this is:
We have to do something about SATs.
In April 2017 The House of Commons Education Committee released their report in to Primary assessment. This cross party committee looked in to the impact of the new curriculum on testing and made 19 recommendations. This was based on one year of SATs 2016 (That worked because 2017 was a Storker!). The recommendations were as follows (summary – not all):
The Government must introduce longer lead in times for future changes to assessment or standards to mitigate the negative impacts of constant change, and the process of communication must be improved.
We remain to be convinced that the STA will be able to meet all the recommendations set out in the ‘root and branch’ review. We recommend that the Government should commission a further short review following the 2017 SATs to assess progress made against the recommendations of the internal report, particularly in light of further changes proposed by the Department in its ongoing consultation. (Paragraph 15)
There is a lack of clarity over the responsibilities of the Minister, STA and Ofqual through the development process of national curriculum assessments. Additionally, there is a lack of confidence in the STA’s independence from Ministers. (Paragraph 18)
An independent panel of experts and teachers should review the development process to improve confidence amongst school leaders and teachers. We recommend an independent review of Ofqual’s role in national curriculum assessments to ascertain whether the regulator should have greater oversight. (Paragraph 19)
The STA should do more to explain the development process of national curriculum assessments to schools and ensure that teachers have confidence that they are involved from an appropriate stage. The Department and STA should publish plans to improve the test experience for pupils, particularly for reading. (Paragraph 26)
The balance of evidence we received did not support the proposition that focusing on specific grammatical techniques improved the overall quality of writing. We support the Department’s proposal to use a ‘best fit’ model for teacher assessment of writing. We recommend the Department should make the Key Stage 2 spelling, punctuation and grammar test non-statutory, but still available for schools for internal monitoring. As well as short term changes to writing assessment, the Government should carry out a thorough evaluation of the reliability of teacher assessment judgements and reconsider whether it is appropriate to use these judgements for accountabilitypurposes. (Paragraph 36)
Many teachers reported ‘teaching to the test’, narrowing of the curriculum and increased pressure and workload as a result of statutory assessment and accountability. Although Ofsted is required to monitor whether schools are teaching a broad and balanced curriculum, reports suggest there is often too strong a focus on English and maths teaching. (Paragraph 58)
Ofsted should ensure that it reports on a broad and balanced curriculum in every primary school report. Every report should specifically include science as a core subject alongside English and maths, as well as a range of other areas of the curriculum and extra-curricular activities. (Paragraph 59)
School leaders and governors should support a culture of wellbeing amongst staff and pupils and ensure that external assessment does not result in unnecessary stress for pupils. The Government should assess the impact of changes to curriculum and standards on teacher and pupil wellbeing before they are introduced and publish plans to avoid such negative consequences. (Paragraph 60)
Many of the negative effects of assessment are in fact caused by the use of results in the accountability system rather than the assessment system itself. Key Stage 2 results are used to hold schools to account at a system level, to parents, by Ofsted, and results are linked to teachers’ pay and performance. We recognise the importance of holding schools to account but this high-stakes system does not improve teaching and learning at primary school. (Paragraph 66)
The Government should change what is reported in performance tables to help lower the stakes associated with them and reduce issues of using data from a small number of pupils. We recommend publishing a rolling three year average of Key Stage 2 results instead of results from a single cohort. Yearly cohort level data should still be available for schools for use in their own internal monitoring. (Paragraph 67)
We welcome the increased focus on progress in performance measures and the Government’s commitment to introduce an improved baseline measure. However, in its consultation document, the Government fails to appreciate potential harmful consequences of introducing a baseline measure used for school accountability in reception (Paragraph 76)
The Government must conduct a thorough evaluation of potentially harmful consequences of introducing any baseline measure, involving early years experts and practitioners, including impacts on pupil wellbeing and teaching and learning. The primary purpose of a measure of children at age 4 should be a diagnostic tool to help early years practitioners identify individual needs of pupils and should only be carried out through teacher assessment. We welcome the Government’s commitment that no data from a baseline will be used to judge individual pupils or schools. (Paragraph 77)
For future reforms, the Government should carefully consider the impact of setting thresholds for schools with short lead in times. We agree with the Government’s aim of raising standards at primary school but think that setting extremely challenging targets only leaves many students feeling they have failed, when in a previous year they would have succeeded. Expected standards should be raised over a much longer time period to give schools a chance to adjust to new expectations. (Paragraph 84)
We recommend a thorough review of how Ofsted inspectors use Key Stage 2 data to inform their judgements and whether inspectors rely too heavily on data over observation. This could include a pilot of inspections where data is only considered following the inspection. (Paragraph 85)
We have to make it clear that head teachers and professionals speaking out about SATs is not a left wing (Note that this media language is creeping in at the moment) agenda. It is a professional’s agenda. It is about doing the best for children. It is about high expectations.
For those interested this is what I am doing at the moment:
I am reading and learning about curriculum and assessment policy and what has already been said and done.
I have contacted my Local MP – who has not replied. I will not stop until he does.
I have spoken to my governors to explain what we are facing as a school. I have been clear I will do nothing without my community behind me. There is certainly massive interest in this area from parents and I already feel change is starting to build here. I have spoken to many who are saying… my child is not doing SATs. I worry about this and we need to be very careful.
I have begun to collate all the emails and DMs of people who have contacted me. I will finish this work in the early parts of the summer holiday.
I plan to meet a group of willing head teachers to plan the year ahead and to think about how we can proactively increase the pressure to have a government engage with and respect the profession at a roots level.
I feel stronger than ever that it is – time to act. Especially when the storm has settled. Thank you for your support.