Accountability, Assessment and the New National Curriculum (A Work in Progress)


Interim Introduction

This post is something of an experiment, since I am publishing it initially as a ‘work in progress’, while waiting for outstanding documentation to be produced by the Government.

It will eventually examine whether three major reforms – the revised proposals for the new National Curriculum, its assessment from 2016 when National Curriculum Levels are taken out of service and the associated arrangements for the publication of assessment outcomes in School Performance Tables – when taken together amount to a coherent and viable policy package.

For all three of these issues are inextricably intertwined. There is a symbiotic relationship between the National Curriculum , the assessment instruments used to judge attainment and progress against it and how learners’ attainment and progress are aggregated, reported and judged with our school accountability framework.

At this ‘work in progress’ stage, the only substantive information in the public domain relates to the National Curriculum. A consultation on secondary assessment and accountability arrangements was completed on 1 May 2013, but neither the outcome nor the Government’s response has yet been published.

A parallel consultation on primary assessment and accountability (together with a post-16 equivalent) has still not appeared, despite proposals being awaited since the Government first decided to dispense with National Curriculum levels in June 2012, well over a year ago now.

This extended disjunction between curriculum and assessment – apparent in both policy development and the timetable for implementation of these various reforms – has created unnecessary and potentially avoidable difficulties, for the Government and stakeholders alike.

Part of the purpose of this post is to establish whether this artificial rift has been successfully healed in the proposals now emerging, which should be fully revealed by the end of this term at the latest, in line with a Government commitment to Parliament in May.


What has been published so far: the focus of this first iteration

This first iteration of my post concentrates primarily on the updated National Curriculum proposals, revealed in several different documents published on 8 July 2013:

  • A Press Release ‘Education reform: a world-class curriculum to drive up standards and fuel aspiration’.
  •  A Consultation Document ‘National curriculum review: new programmes of study and attainment targets from September 2014’, with responses due by 8 August.
  • An updated framework document ‘The National Curriculum in England’ which includes the generic elements of the National Curriculum as well as each Programme of Study.

But, in order to provide a meaningful analysis – and to set the context for both initial and final versions of this post – I need to retrace some recent history, covering National Curriculum, assessment and accountability together.


A Recap of the last round of consultation and developments


The February 2013 Package

Back in February, the Government released the draft and consultation documents that informed the preparation and publication of the latest round of material set out above.

They included:

  • A full set of draft National Curriculum Programmes of Study for Key Stages 1-3, as well as drafts of the PoS for Key Stage 4 English, maths, science, PE and Citizenship.
  • An earlier version of the National Curriculum Consultation Framework Document incorporating all those draft PoS, with the exception of the KS4 core subjects, plus the generic elements of the National Curriculum including draft Aims and a draft Inclusion Statement.
  • A Secondary School Accountability Consultation Document focused principally on the development of accountability measures and their publication within the School Performance Tables. Consultation closed on 1 May 2013. This promised parallel consultation documents on accountability for primary schools and post-16 providers ‘shortly’.
  • The Government’s response to an earlier consultation on reforming Key Stage 4 Qualifications and an associated letter to Ofqual. This resulted in a further consultation on the future shape of GCSE examinations (see below).

I produced an analysis and assessment of this package shortly after publication.

Key points included:

  • Significant disparities between the length and degree of prescription of different draft PoS, with the primary core at one extreme (long and prescriptive) and the secondary foundation subjects at another (short and flexible). This suggested that the Government’s commitment to schools’ autonomy is highly variable by subject and phase, and tailored deliberately to fit the profile of academisation.
  • The rather basic nature of the overarching National Curriculum Aims:

‘The National Curriculum provides pupils with an introduction to the core knowledge that they need to be educated citizens. It introduces pupils to the best that has been thought and said; and helps engender an appreciation of human creativity and achievement.

The National Curriculum is just one element in the education of every child. There is time and space in the school day and in each week, term and year to range beyond the National Curriculum specifications. The National Curriculum provides an outline of core knowledge around which teachers can develop exciting and stimulating lessons.’

and an associated proposal to dispense with subject-specific aims in each draft PoS, assumed to be superfluous given the generic statement above.

  • The wording of the draft Inclusion Statement, which was seriously flawed. It said (my emphases) that:

‘Teachers should set high expectations for every pupil. They should plan stretching work for pupils whose attainment is significantly above the expected standard. They have an even greater obligation to plan lessons for pupils who have low levels of prior attainment or come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Teachers should use appropriate assessment to set targets which are deliberately ambitious.’

I took issue with this because of the two infelicitous assumptions it contains –  first, that teachers somehow have a ‘greater obligation’ to plan for low attainers than for high attainers, rather than having an overriding obligation to  treat them equally;  second,  that learners from disadvantaged backgrounds cannot be included amongst the ranks of high attainers.

The first is against the basic principles of comprehensive education and profoundly inequitable; the second is anathema, including to Secretary of State Gove, who has constantly and correctly cautioned against harbouring low expectations of disadvantaged learners.

  • The decision to disapply the bulk of the existing National Curriculum, PoS, attainment targets and assessment arrangements in academic year 2013/14. Schools would be required to teach the subjects of the National Curriculum, but not the content of the PoS. At primary level this would apply across KS1 and 2 for all foundation subjects. But, for core subjects, it would apply only to Years 3 and 4. At secondary level, disapplication would apply across all subjects at KS3 and to English, maths, science, ICT, PE and citizenship at KS4. The disapplication at KS4 would continue until the new PoS came into force for each subject and year group (so leaving the way open for phasing). For, if schools – whether state-maintained or academies – can operate successfully without the PoS for a year, why bother to reimpose the requirement on the state-maintained only from 2014?
  • The ‘lowest common denominator’ approach to attainment targets, which relied on a single standard AT in each PoS:

 ‘By the end of each key stage, pupils are expected to know, apply and understand the matters, skills and processes specified in the relevant programme of study.’

This – together with the scrapping of associated level descriptions – removes all scaffolding for the effective differentiation of the PoS, (with potentially negative implications for high attainers, amongst others, if they are insufficiently stretched). It also raises potentially awkward questions about the relationship between the PoS and assessment (see below). Finally, it  leaves the accountability framework – with the possible addition of the ‘power of the market’ – as the last remaining policy levers to bring poor performing schools into line.

  • How low, middle and high attainers will be distinguished in Performance Tables once National Curriculum Levels disappear, since the current distinction is based on achievement of Level equivalents at KS1 (for KS2) and at KS2 (for KS4). Such a distinction will be retained since the secondary accountability consultation mentions a ‘headline measure showing the progress of pupils in each of English and mathematics’ that will continue to ‘show how pupils with low, medium and high prior attainment perform’.
  • Whether these distinctions will be applied in Performance Tables to those eligible for the Pupil Premium, so parents and others can understand the gap within each school between the performance of high attainers from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds respectively (not forgetting middle and low attainers too).
  • The future of Key Stage 3 assessment, given the disappearance of levels and proposals to remove the requirement on schools to report to the centre the outcomes of teacher assessment. Will it be left entirely to schools to design an assessment system or will a standard national framework continue to operate in the core subjects?
  • The potential implications of the proposed introduction of PISA-style sampling tests at KS4 to ‘track national standards over time’, including any potential ‘washback’ effect on the curriculum.
  • Several unanswered questions about the nature of the proposed value-added KS2-KS4 progress measure, with: separate and as-yet-unknown KS2 and KS4 grading systems; KS2 benchmarks based on performance in KS2 English and maths tests; and KS4 benchmarks based on a new ‘Average Points Score across a balanced scorecard of eight qualifications, including English and maths, three other EBacc subjects and three further ‘high value qualifications’. The consultation document says this measure:

‘Will take the progress each pupil makes between Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4 and compare that with the progress that we expect to be made by pupils nationally who had the same level of attainment at Key Stage 2 (calculated by combining results at end of Key Stage 2 in English and mathematics).’

A week later I published another post: ‘Whither National Curriculum Assessment Without Levels?’ that set out the history of the decision to dispense with levels and explored some of the issues this raises for assessment, in a context where the majority of secondary schools and a minority of primary schools are no longer bound by the National Curriculum.

This noted:

  • One implication of wholesale exemption from the National Curriculum for academies is that KS2 tests will need to be derived somehow from the content descriptions in the Programmes of Study. The manner in which this will be done is still unclear, since it is open to question whether even the detailed draft PoS in the primary core contain sufficiently robust outcome statements to support grade-based statutory assessment at the end of Key Stage 2, especially given the very basic approach to attainment targets outlined above.
  • The desirability of harmonised end of KS2 and end of KS4 assessment and grading systems, so that progression between those two points is easier for parents and learners to follow and understand.
  • The desirability of ensuring that schools’ internal end-of-year assessment systems harmonise with the external assessment systems at end KS2 and end KS4 respectively, so that parents (and teachers) can more easily track progression between those two points.
  • The development of a grading scale that links attainment to the concept of ‘mastery’ of the PoS and progress to a judgement whether performance has improved, been maintained or declined compared with the previous year. I proposed my own ‘aunt sally’ to illustrate this point.


Developments since February

In the five months that have elapsed between the appearance of the two consultation packages there have been several material developments that impact significantly on the outcomes of the process and the future of the National Curriculum, including on the other side of the 2015 General Election.

I sought to capture those in this recent round-up of activity on the Gifted Phoenix Twitter feed.

Some of the most significant include:

  • A piece by Brian Lightman of ASCL arguing that we should not be trying to drive the curriculum through the assessment system.
  • A speech from David Laws confirming that the future equivalent of Level 4b will become the new KS2 ‘pass’ with effect from 2016, so heralding a recalibration of expectations on individual learners and raising the stakes for accountability purposes.
  • A speech from Brian Lightman at the ASCL Annual Conference which argued that the abolition of National Curriculum levels creates an unhelpful policy vacuum.

‘So I predict that in the months and years to come the best curriculums will be developed – and refined – in schools across the country by teachers for teachers.

And that is why I think this national curriculum may well be the last national curriculum. Because in future teachers will be doing it for themselves.’

  • An admission that the deadline for the publication of the consultation document on primary accountability had slipped to the end of the summer term (Col 383W).
  • Apparent confirmation from DfE that pupils ending Key Stage 2 in 2015 would be taught the new National Curriculum in  academic year 2014/15 but would be assessed against the old one in May 2015.

‘So Labour will give all schools the same freedom over the curriculum that academies currently enjoy while continuing to insist that all schools teach a core curriculum including English, Maths and Science.’

Some have suggested that this is different to the current requirement imposed on academies but the highlighted part of the sentence above explicitly counters that – and adding any greater specificity to future core curriculum requirements would of course reduce academies’ freedoms – an idea that goes against the entire tenor of Twigg’s speech:

‘Academies say freedom to innovate in the curriculum has given their teachers a new sense of confidence and professionalism. All young people should benefit from the positive impact this brings – trusting teachers to get on with the job.’

‘Develop progress measures to identify how well the most able students have progressed from Year 6 through Key Stage 4 to the end of Key Stage 5.’

  • A Sunday Times story announcing that the primary accountability consultation document would not be released alongside the National Curriculum documentation as anticipated, and suggesting that Ministers are considering KS2 tests in English, maths and science that would enable them to rank learners by performance and so identify the top 10%, (though it is unclear whether this is across the piece or in each subject).


Three idiosyncratic interventions

One day after the publication of the second tranche of documents, Mr Twigg published a piece on the Labour List website implying a ‘volte face’ from his previous position, or else a contradictory muddle that requires urgent clarification.

The broad theme of the article is that the draft National Curriculum is insufficiently ambitious. But this would prompt the obvious riposte from the Government – if that’s the case, why are you committing Labour to doing without a National Curriculum altogether? Isn’t that even less ambitious by definition?

Mr Twigg strives strives to unhitch himself from the horns of this dilemma by repeating the commitment in his June speech:

‘Michael Gove believes only Academies and Free Schools can be trusted with the freedom to innovate in what they teach, other state schools must follow his highly prescriptive curriculum. Labour would end this divided system and extend these freedoms over the curriculum to all schools. All qualified teachers should be trusted to get on with the job and all schools should have the same freedoms to raise standards and innovate.

That must mean extending to all the existing curricular freedoms enjoyed by academies. But then another paragraph is tacked on to the end of the article, almost as an afterthought:

 ‘His [ie Gove’s] divisive approach means curriculum freedom only applies to some schools. Instead, Labour would develop a reformed National Curriculum which allows teachers in all schools the freedom to innovate and prepares young people for the challenges of the modern economy.

It is not possible to square these two contradictory statements. The freedoms currently enjoyed by academies do not amount to a National Curriculum (they are required to teach the three core subjects but are free to determine their content). As noted above, any universal National Curriculum would reduce academies’ freedoms rather than increase them.


Slightly before the 8 July publications, DfE released a short statement on ‘Assessing without levels’ which restated its case for abolishing them, adding:

Schools will be able to introduce their own approaches to formative assessment, to support pupil attainment and progression. The assessment framework should be built into the school curriculum, so that schools can check what pupils have learned and whether they are on track to meet expectations at the end of the key stage, and so that they can report regularly to parents.

Ofsted’s inspections will be informed by whatever pupil tracking data schools choose to keep. Schools will continue to benchmark their performance through statutory end of key stage assessments, including national curriculum tests. In the consultation on primary assessment and accountability, the department will consult on core principles for a school’s curriculum and assessment system.

Although schools will be free to devise their own curriculum and assessment system, we will provide examples of good practice which schools may wish to follow.’

This cannot mean that the consultation on primary assessment and accountability will consist entirely of a broad framework of core principles, since there is the June 2012 commitment to satisfy:

‘In terms of statutory assessment, however, I believe that it is critical that we both recognise the achievements of all pupils, and provide for a focus on progress. Some form of grading of pupil attainment in mathematics, science and English will therefore be required, so that we can recognise and reward the highest achievers as well as identifying those that are falling below national expectations. We will consider further the details of how this will work.’

And of course some kind of grading system is required for the KS2 core to support the commitments to progression measures in the consultation on secondary accountability.

This statement rather sets to one side the strong case for aligning schools’ own internal end-year assessment arrangements with the statutory end of Key Stage arrangements that will be in place from 2016.


One further important signal has been provided as to the future direction of travel, in the shape of Ofqual’s GCSE reform consultation published in June 2013, which sets out as its ‘preferred approach’ to GCSE grading an eight point numerical system, from Grade 8 down to Grade 1.

No convincing explanation is given for placing Grade 8 at the top of the scale rather than Grade 1, so following the precedent set by musical examinations rather than the more universally familiar approach taken in CSE and O level examinations (the latter prior to 1975).

Were this to be applied to the ‘APS8 measure outlined above, it would mean each student achieving a numerical score between 8 and 64. Top-performing schools could vie with each other over the number of their students achieving the magical 64 rating.

Assuming a similarly constructed grading system for the three primary core tests, this could provide the basis for a straightforward ratio of progression from KS2 to KS4, and even possibly on to KS5 as well.

But the Sunday Times story cited above might, if true, suggest instead some sort of equation based on percentiles, eg the top 10% at KS2, on the basis of English, maths and science, would be expected to achieve a top-10%-equivalent score on the APS 8 measure, or similar. Whether this would be designed to accommodate the current predilection for ‘comparable outcomes’ remains unclear.

It’s not really possible to progress this line of argument in the absence of the expected Government proposals, so let us return our attention to what’s changed in the latest batch of National Curriculum documents.


How the National Curriculum Proposals Have Changed

It is not my purpose here to detail the changes to each programme of study, since several writers have already provided such material

I want to concentrate instead on the broad shape of the National Curriculum and plans for its implementation. The treatment below highlights the six issues I find most concerning, and takes them in order of concern.


Phasing of Implementation

It is clear that legal issues did arise from the troublesome mismatch between the timetables for the implementation of National Curriculum and assessment reform.

This has caused the Government to move away from its preferred position of universal implementation (at least up to the end of KS3) from September 2014.

The Government Response to the National Curriculum Consultation says:

‘All maintained schools will be required to teach the new national curriculum for all subjects and at all key stages from September 2014, with two exceptions. The new national curriculum for year 2 and year 6 English, mathematics and science will become compulsory from September 2015, to reflect the fact that key stage 2 tests in summer 2015 will be based on the existing national curriculum. Key stage 4 English, mathematics and science will be taught to year 10 from September 2015 and year 11 from September 2016, to ensure coherence with the reformed GCSE qualifications in these subjects.’

In other words, introduction of the new PoS – in the three core subjects only – is delayed for one year for those learners beginning Year 2 and Year 6 in September 2014.

Similarly, the new core KS4 programmes will be introduced for Year 10 in September 2015 and Year 11 in September 2016, to align with the introduction of new GCSE specifications.

This results in a complex set of transitional arrangements. In primary schools alone:

  • In AY 2013/14, the foundation subjects are disapplied for all, the core subjects are disapplied for Years 3 and 4 and the existing PoS continue to apply for Years 1, 2, 5 and 6.
  • In AY 2014/15, the new National Curriculum applies in foundation subjects for all Years but, in the core subjects, it only applies for Years 1, 3, 4 and 5. Year 2 and Year 6 follow the existing core PoS.
  • In AY 2015/16, the new National Curriculum applies in core and foundation subjects for all Years.

This Table shows the implications for different primary year groups in the core subjects only.

AY 2013/14 AY 2014/15 AY 2015/16
Year 1 Old PoS New Pos New PoS
Year 2 Old PoS Old PoS New PoS
Year 3 Dis New PoS New PoS
Year 4 Dis New PoS New PoS
Year 5 Old Pos New PoS New PoS
Year 6 Old PoS Old PoS New PoS

Depending on a learners’ Year Group in 2013/14, each will experience, over this three year period, one of three combinations:

  • Old, Old, New
  • Old, New, New
  • Disapplied, New, New

Moreover, because there is a different pattern in respect of the foundation subjects, many will be simultaneously pursuing parts of the old National Curriculum and parts of the new National Curriculum in AY2014/15.

As far as the PoS are concerned, that may be fairly straightforward, but which National Curriculum Aims apply? Which Inclusion Statement? What about the requirements for English and maths across the curriculum?

The Inclusion Statement certainly used to be statutory. I have seen no suggestion that the new version is no longer statutory, which causes me to question how two different statutory Inclusion Statements can apply to the same pupils at the same time?

Other commentators have suggested that managing this transition will be a fairly easy ask of schools – and that the compromise presented is an improvement on the previous situation, in which some learners would have followed the new PoS for a year, only to be tested on the old one.

But complexity is the enemy of efficiency, especially in schools that may already be struggling to meet expectations imposed by the accountability framework.

Given that the Government was initially wedded to a ‘big bang’ approach rather than phased implementation, it might have been preferable to have stuck with that decision and delayed implementation of the entire National Curriculum until September 2015.

Failing that, it might have been preferable to have delayed the entire National Curriculum – not just the core subjects – by one year for those beginning Years 2 and 6 in September 2014, so those learners would follow a single version in that year rather than sections of old and new combined.


Inclusion statement

The Inclusion Statement for the current National Curriculum has three sections:

‘The curriculum should provide relevant and challenging learning to all children. It should follow the three principles set out in the inclusion statement:

A. setting suitable learning challenges

B. responding to pupils’ diverse learning needs

C. overcoming potential barriers to learning and assessment for individuals and groups of pupils.

There is not space to quote the full statement here, especially the lengthy third section covering special needs, disabilities and EAL, but here are parts A and B:

‘A. Setting suitable learning challenges

Teachers should aim to give every pupil the opportunity to experience success in learning and to achieve as high a standard as possible. The national curriculum programmes of study set out what most pupils should be taught but teachers should teach the knowledge, skills and understanding in ways that suit their pupils’ abilities. This may mean choosing knowledge, skills and understanding from earlier or later stages so that individual pupils can make progress and show what they can achieve. Where it is appropriate for pupils to make extensive use of content from an earlier stage, there may not be time to teach all aspects of the programmes of study. A similarly flexible approach will be needed to take account of any gaps in pupils’ learning resulting from missed or interrupted schooling.

For pupils whose attainments fall significantly below the expected levels at a particular stage, a much greater degree of differentiation will be necessary. In these circumstances, teachers may need to use the content of programmes of study as a resource or to provide a context, in planning learning appropriate to the requirements of their pupils.

For pupils whose attainments significantly exceed the expected levels, teachers will need to plan suitably challenging work. As well as drawing on work from later stages, teachers may plan further differentiation by extending the breadth and depth of study.

B. Responding to pupils’ diverse learning needs

When planning, teachers should set high expectations and provide opportunities for all pupils to achieve, including boys and girls, pupils with special educational needs, pupils from all social and cultural backgrounds, pupils from different ethnic groups including travellers, refugees and asylum seekers, and those from diverse linguistic backgrounds. Teachers need to be aware that pupils bring to school different experiences, interests and strengths which will influence the way in which they learn. Teachers should plan their approaches to teaching and learning so that pupils can take part in lessons fully and effectively.

To ensure that they meet the full range of pupils’ needs, teachers should be aware of the requirements of the equal opportunities legislation that covers race, gender and disability.

Teachers should take specific action to respond to pupils’ diverse needs by:

  • creating effective learning environments
  • securing their motivation and concentration
  • providing equality of opportunity through teaching approaches
  • using appropriate assessment approaches
  • setting targets for learning.’

Here (again) are the first two paragraphs of the version proposed in the February 2013 Framework Document:

Teachers should set high expectations for every pupil. They should plan stretching work for pupils whose attainment is significantly above the expected standard. They have an even greater obligation to plan lessons for pupils who have low levels of prior attainment or come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Teachers should use appropriate assessment to set targets which are deliberately ambitious….

…Teachers should take account of their duties under equal opportunities legislation that covers disability, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, gender identity, and religion or belief.’

This is entirely unchanged in the July document (though there has been a minor adjustment further down to reflect concerns expressed by SEN and disability lobbies).

I have already pointed out the shortcomings in the first paragraph, which are even more glaring and serious if this text continues to have a statutory basis (and of course this error should not be used as an excuse to downgrade the statement by removing its statutory footing).

While the version in the current National Curriculum may be prolix, it carries important messages that seem to have been lost in the newer version, about giving ‘every pupil the opportunity to experience success in learning and to achieve as high a standard as possible’ and expecting teachers to ‘provide opportunities for all pupils to achieve’. Overall its significance is depressed.

Revision of the first paragraph is urgent and critical, but the whole statement should be strengthened and – assuming it does still have statutory force – its statutory basis affirmed. Ofsted’s ‘Most Able Students’ Report explains why this is necessary.


Attainment Targets

The February consultation invited respondents to say whether they approved of the decision to apply a single standard attainment target to each programme of study.

The consultation document said:

‘Legally, the National Curriculum for each subject must comprise both programmes of study and attainment targets. While programmes of study set out the curriculum content that pupils should be taught, attainment targets define the expected standard that pupils should achieve by the end of each key stage. Under the current National Curriculum, the standard is set out through a system of levels and level descriptions for each subject. The national expectation is defined as a particular level for the end of Key Stages 1, 2 and 3. At Key Stage 4, GCSE qualifications at grade C currently define the expected standard.

The Government has already announced its intention to simplify the National Curriculum by reforming how we report progress. We believe that the focus of teaching should be on subject content as set out in the programmes of study, rather than on a series of abstract level descriptions. Parents deserve a clear assessment of what their children have learned rather than a ‘level description’ which does not convey clear information.

A single statement of attainment that sets out that pupils are expected to know, apply and understand the matters, skills and processes specified in the relevant programme of study will encourage all pupils to aspire to reach demanding standards. Parents will be given clear information on what their children should know at each stage in their education and teachers will be able to report on how every pupil is progressing in acquiring this knowledge.’

The analysis of consultation responses notes that:

‘739 (52%) respondents viewed the wording of the attainment targets as unclear and confusing. Many respondents also commented on the brevity of the attainment targets and felt that clarification would be needed to help schools to identify the standard and to ensure consistency in measuring pupil performance across schools. A number of respondents highlighted the interplay between curriculum and assessment and wanted to review the government’s plans for primary assessment and accountability and for recognising the achievements of low attaining pupils and those pupils with special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities, in order to provide a considered response.’

The Government’s response rather dismisses the views expressed by the majority of respondents, simply restating its case for removing National Curriculum levels and conceding nothing.

‘Schools should then be free to design their approaches to assessment to support pupil attainment and progression. The assessment framework must be built into the curriculum, so that schools can check what pupils have learned and whether they are on track to meet expectations at the end of the key stage, and so that they can report regularly to parents.

We have been clear that we will not prescribe a national system for schools’ ongoing assessment. Ofsted’s inspections will be informed by the pupil tracking data systems that individual schools choose to keep. Schools will continue to benchmark their performance through statutory end of key stage assessments, including national curriculum tests.’

The concern here is driven by lack of information. Respondents to the consultation cannot really be blamed for responding negatively when the Government has so far failed to explain how statutory Key Stage 2 tests and Key Stage 3 assessments will be built on top of the scaffolding supplied by the draft PoS.

It is also a reasonable expectation, on the part of schools, that their internal assessment arrangements are fully consistent with the statutory assessment framework operating at the end of each Key Stage, a framework which is so far conspicuous by its absence.

There is no recognition, consideration or accommodation of the arguments against the removal of levels. The degree of conviction assumed by the response rings rather hollow given the significant weight of professional opposition to this decision, against which the Government sets the controversial views of its own Expert Panel.

Despite railing against ‘the blob’, this is one occasion where Ministers prefer to side with the views expressed by a handful of academics, rather than those of professional school leaders and teachers.

Mr Twigg called on the Government to rethink the removal of levels when the Ministerial Statement was debated in Parliament (Col 37) which might be indicative that Labour has come round to the view that this would be unwise.

But, given its contradictory position on the National Curriculum, one might be foolish to expect a properly worked position on the accompanying assessment framework, especially since the Government’s own position is still shrouded in mystery.

We will no doubt return to this issue when the missing material is finally published.


Support for Implementation

There was overwhelming concern amongst respondents to consultation about the implementation timetable and a perception that limited support would be provided to manage the transition. ASCL’s call for a thorough and properly resourced implementation plan reflected this concern.

The Consultation Report records that:

‘1,782 (64%) respondents raised the need for funding for materials and resources to support the teaching of the new national curriculum. There was a concern that existing resources would become obsolete and replacing them would incur significant costs.

1,643 (59%) respondents felt that there was a need for staff training and continuing professional development to increase teachers’ confidence and capability in designing and delivering the new curriculum and to respond to the need for specific specialist skills (e.g. computing, language teaching).

1,651 (59%) respondents highlighted the need for schools to have sufficient time to plan for the new curriculum. Some stated that schools would need the final new national curriculum at the start of the coming academic year to enable them to prepare for teaching the new curriculum from September 2014.’

In responses to questions about who is best placed to develop resources and provide such support, 42% of respondents mentioned schools and teachers, 21% advocated inter-school collaboration, 36% mentioned teaching and subject associations, 31% local authorities and 13% the government. Publishers were also nominated.

The extended section in the Government’s response to the consultation is long on advocacy of a school- and market-driven system – and correspondingly short on central support to enable this process to operate effectively.

It tells us that:

‘There will be no new statutory document or guidance from Whitehall telling teachers how to do this. Government intervention will be minimal

…We believe that schools are best placed to decide which resources meet their needs and to secure these accordingly. We want to move away from large-scale, centralised training programmes, which limit schools’ autonomy, and towards a market-based approach in which schools can work collaboratively to provide professional development tailored to individual needs. We expect schools to take advantage of existing INSET days and wider opportunities to bring staff together to consider the development needs that the new curriculum may pose.

… The Leading Curriculum Change resources developed through the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) by National Leaders of Education will inspire and guide school leaders through this process and teaching schools and others will support their use.

Sector-led expert groups have been looking at how existing resources can support the new curriculum and identifying any significant gaps… Resources and opportunities will be signposted from our website once the new national curriculum is finalised in the autumn and hosted by subject associations and other organisations.

Current government-funded provision is being refocused to support the new national curriculum. This includes support provided by the national network of Science Learning Centres, the work of the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM) and the extension of match funding for phonics resources and training until October 2013.

New support includes ring-fenced funding for sport in primary schools and over £2 million worth of support to bolster the supply of computing teachers. In addition, we will make a fund of £2 million available to teaching schools and national support schools, to enable them to support the delivery of the new curriculum across their alliances and networks in the coming academic year.

We have been working with publishers and educational suppliers throughout the review to ensure that they are well informed about changes to the curriculum and can meet schools’ needs by adapting existing products and by identifying what additional materials will be needed in time to support schools to prepare to teach the new curriculum from September 2014. We know that schools will prioritise, budget and plan for when and how to add gradually to – or indeed replace – resources and we expect publishers and suppliers to take this into account.’

As far as I can establish, only the £2 million for teaching schools and national support schools (the schools where National Leaders of Education are located) is new provision.  Many of these will be academies, not required to follow the National Curriculum. Some state-funded schools might reasonably look askance at their suitability and capacity to provide the requisite support.

Since there are likely to be somewhere between 1,100 and 1,500 institutions of this kind active during this period, this funding could amount to as little as £1,333 per school.

We do not know what capacity the National College, NCETM and the National Science Centres are devoting to their contribution.

By and large, schools are expected to meet any additional costs from their existing budgets. The combined cost of resources, professional development and staff time are likely to be significant, especially in larger secondary schools.

It seems that the Government will advertise online any ‘significant gaps’ in the availability of resources to support the curriculum and look to the market to respond within the 11 months available prior to implementation (though schools would clearly prefer to have such materials much earlier than that)..

A story on the progress made by the groups established to identify such gaps was published in the Guardian in late June, but based on papers dating from a month earlier. It is clear that they were then hamstrung by the draft status of the PoS and the likelihood of further significant change before they were finalised.

We have no idea of the magnitude of the gaps that are being identified and how those balance out between key stages and subjects. This information will not be released before the early Autumn.

There is no sign of extra dedicated INSET days to support the implementation process in schools, or of the implementation plan called for by ASCL.

The Government is continuing to push schools to take lead responsibility and ownership of the reform process, while the bodies representing heads and teachers are insisting that the Government is abdicating responsibility and they need more central support.

The distinct possibility that this state of confrontation will not result in uniformly effective implementation is likely to feature rather prominently in the Government’s risk registers.



When asked whether the draft PoS were sufficiently challenging, just 22% of consultation respondents agreed that they were sufficiently challenging, while 39% said that they were not.

The latter:

‘Felt that the proposed curriculum would not prepare pupils for the challenges of the 21st Century. Some of these respondents stated that the level of challenge could not be determined in foundation subjects due to insufficient detail in the programmes of study.’

The Government’s response does not expressly address this point, other than by restating the rationale for the approach it has adopted.

Moreover, 61% of respondents said that the draft PoS do not provide for effective progression between key stages and 63% said the new national curriculum does not embody an expectation of higher standards for all children.

These hardly amount to a ringing endorsement. Moreover, it is unlikely that the changes that have been introduced since the last round of consultation will have been sufficient in aggregate to alter this judgement. But we will never know because this question will not be repeated in the final round of consultation – the pitch of the PoS is now fixed until any future review.



The overarching National Curriculum aims have been revised slightly from:

‘The National Curriculum provides pupils with an introduction to the core knowledge that they need to be educated citizens. It introduces pupils to the best that has been thought and said; and helps engender an appreciation of human creativity and achievement.

The National Curriculum is just one element in the education of every child. There is time and space in the school day and in each week, term and year to range beyond the National Curriculum specifications. The National Curriculum provides an outline of core knowledge around which teachers can develop exciting and stimulating lessons.’


‘The national curriculum provides pupils with an introduction to the essential knowledge that they need to be educated citizens. It introduces pupils to the best that has been thought and said; and helps engender an appreciation of human creativity and achievement.

The national curriculum is just one element in the education of every child. There is time and space in the school day and in each week, term and year to range beyond the national curriculum specifications. The national curriculum provides an outline of core knowledge around which teachers can develop exciting and stimulating lessons to promote the development of pupils’ knowledge, understanding and skills as part of the wider school curriculum.’

19% of consultation respondents liked the aims, but another 19% found them too vague. Some wanted guidance on the time the national curriculum should take up. Some 36% argued that the aims are over-focused on knowledge at the expense of skills and understanding.

Some 44% approved of the proposal to drop subject-specific aims but 37% opposed this. The Government has decided to retain them ‘to support and guide schools in their teaching and to help parents and pupils understand the desired outcomes of the curriculum’.

The statements of cross-curricular emphasis on English and maths have been strengthened slightly. A section on vocabulary development has been added to English – and, for some unknown reason, the order has been reversed, with maths now coming first.

The Government’s response in defence of its aims argues that the emphasis on knowledge reflects the purpose of the curriculum and that its accentuation was one of the objectives of the review.

While it is undeniably the role of schools to develop skills and understanding, the aims ‘are not…intended to capture everything that schools teach and do’. The revised version is intended to reflect more accurately the purpose and status of the aims.

The logic of a National Curriculum that gives statutory definition to knowledge but neglects skills and understanding is questionable.

Such a defence rather undermines the argument – advanced by proponents and opponents of Hirsch alike – that these elements do not lend themselves readily to artificial separation, gaining strength and significance from their inter-relationship, such that the whole is greater than the sum of parts. Schools may be hindered rather than helped by this document in their efforts to reunite them.



Conclusions are inevitably partial given the current status of this post as a ‘work in progress’, while awaiting further details of the Government’s plans for assessment and accountability.

On the National Curriculum side there are some major implementation challenges ahead, which now extend beyond AY 2013/14 into the following year.

The decision to phase national curriculum implementation – ultimately forced on the Government by its decision to stagger curriculum and assessment reforms – is rather more likely to increase those challenges than to temper them. There are significant question marks over whether the selected approach to phasing is optimal, either for schools or learners.

The first paragraph of the Inclusion Statement is plain wrong, especially given its statutory status. It requires amendment.

As things stand, the National Curriculum has a limited shelf-life under the Coalition. If it does not wither on the vine as a consequence of continuing conversion to academy status, it is likely to be marginalised in the medium term – and the new iteration will not be replaced.

As for Labour, your guess is as good as mine. As I complete this post, Her Majesty’s Opposition has committed simultaneously to removing and retaining a National Curriculum, should it be elected in 2015. That is neither sensible nor sustainable – nor can this confusion add up to a vote-attracting proposition.




July 2013

6 thoughts on “Accountability, Assessment and the New National Curriculum (A Work in Progress)

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