Unpacking the Primary Assessment and Accountability Reforms

This post examines the Government response to consultation on primary assessment and accountability.

pencil-145970_640It sets out exactly what is planned, what further steps will be necessary to make these plans viable and the implementation timetable.

It is part of a sequence of posts I have devoted to this topic, most recently:

Earlier posts in the series include The Removal of National Curriculum Levels and the Implications for Able Pupils’ Progression (June 2012) and Whither National Curriculum Assessment Without Levels? (February 2013).

The consultation response contrives to be both minimal and dense. It is necessary to unpick each element carefully, to consider its implications for the package as a whole and to reflect on how that package fits in the context of wider education reform.

I have organised the post so that it considers sequentially:

  • The case for change, including the aims and core principles, to establish the policy frame for the planned reforms.
  • The impact on the assessment experience of children aged 2-11 and how that is likely to change.
  • The introduction of baseline assessment in Year R.
  • The future shape of end of KS1 and end of KS2 assessment respectively.
  • How the new assessment outcomes will be derived, reported and published.
  • The impact on floor standards.

Towards the end of the post I have also provided a composite ‘to do’ list containing all the declared further steps necessary to make the plan viable, with a suggested deadline for each.

And the post concludes with an overall judgement on the plans, in the form of a summary of key issues and unanswered questions arising from the earlier commentary. Impatient readers may wish to jump straight to that section.

I am indebted to Warwick Mansell for his previous post on this topic. I shall try hard not to parrot the important points he has already made, though there is inevitably some overlap.

Readers should also look to Michael Tidd for more information about the shape and content of the new tests.

What has been published?

The original consultation document ‘Primary assessment and accountability under the new national curriculum’ was published on 17 July 2013 with a deadline for response of 17 October 2013. At that stage the Government’s response was due ‘in autumn 2013’.

The response was finally published on 27 March, some four months later than planned and only five months prior to the introduction of the revised national curriculum which these arrangements are designed to support.

It is likely that the Government will have decided that 31 March was the latest feasible date to issue the response, so they were right up against the wire.

It was accompanied by:

  • A press release which focused on the full range of assessment reforms – for primary, secondary and post-16.

Shortly before the response was published, the reply to a Parliamentary question asked on 17 March explained that test frameworks were expected to be included within it:

‘Guidance on the nature of the revised key stage 1 and key stage 2 tests, including mathematics, will be published by the Standards and Testing Agency in the form of test framework documents. The frameworks are due to be released as part of the Government’s response to the primary assessment and accountability consultation. In addition, some example test questions will be made available to schools this summer and a full sample test will be made available in the summer of 2015.’ (Col 383W)

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In the event, these documents – seven in all – did not appear until 31 March and there was no reference to any of the three commitments above in what appeared on 27 March.

Finally, the Standards and Testing Agency published on 3 April a guidance page on national curriculum tests from 2016. At present it contains very little information but further material will be added as and when it is published.

Partly because the initial consultation document was extremely ‘drafty’, the reaction of many key external respondents to the consultation was largely negative. One imagines that much of the period since 17 October has been devoted to finding the common ground.

Policy makers will have had to do most of their work after the consultation document issued because they were not ready beforehand.

But the length of the delay in issuing the response would suggest that they also encountered significant dissent amongst internal stakeholders – and that the eventual outcome is likely to be a compromise of sorts between these competing interests.

Such compromises tend to have observable weaknesses and/or put off problematic issues for another day.

A brief summary of consultation responses is included within the Government’s response. I will refer to this at relevant points during the discussion below.

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The Case for Change

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Aims

The consultation response begins – as did the original consultation document – with a section setting out the case for reform.

It provides a framework of aims and principles intended to underpin the changes that are being set in place.

The aims are:

  • The most important outcome of primary education is to ‘give as many pupils as possible the knowledge and skills to flourish in the later phases of education’. This is a broader restatement of the ‘secondary ready’ concept adopted in the original consultation document.
  • The primary national curriculum and accountability reforms ‘set high expectations so that all children can reach their potential and are well prepared for secondary school’. Here the ‘secondary ready’ hurdle is more baldly stated. The parallel notion is that all children should do as well as they can – and that they may well achieve different levels of performance. (‘Reach their potential’ is disliked by some because it is considered to imply a fixed ceiling for each child and fixed mindset thinking.)
  • To raise current threshold expectations. These are set too low, since too few learners (47%) with KS2 level 4C in both English and maths go on to achieve five or more GCSE grades A*-C including English and maths, while 72% of those with KS2 level 4B do so. So the new KS2 bar will be set at this higher level, but with the expectation that 85% of learners per school will jump it, 13% more than the current national figure. Meanwhile the KS4 outcome will also change, to achievement across eight GCSEs rather than five, quite probably at a more demanding level than the present C grade. In the true sense, this is a moving target.
  • No child should be allowed to fall behind’. This is a reference to the notion of ‘mastery’ in its crudest sense, though the model proposed will not deliver this outcome. We have noted already a reference to ‘as many children as possible’ and the school-level target – initially at least – will be set at 85%. In reality, a significant minority of learners will progress more slowly and will fall short of the threshold at the end of KS2.
  • The new system ‘will set a higher bar’ but ‘almost all pupils should leave primary school well-placed to succeed in the next phase of their education’. Another nuanced version of ‘secondary ready’ is introduced. This marks a recognition that some learners will not jump over the higher bar. In the light of subsequent references to 85%, ‘almost all’ is rather over-optimistic.
  • We also want to celebrate the progress that pupils make in schools with more challenging intakes’. Getting ‘nearly all pupils to meet this standard…’ (the standard of secondary readiness?) ‘…is very demanding, at least in the short term’. There will therefore be recognition of progress ‘from a low starting point’ – even though these learners have, by definition, been allowed to fall behind and will continue to do so.

So there is something of a muddle here, no doubt engendered by a spirit of compromise.

The black and white distinction of ‘secondary-readiness’ has been replaced by various verbal approximations, but the bottom line is that there will be a defined threshold denoting preparedness that is pitched higher than the current threshold.

And the proportion likely to fall short is downplayed – there is apparent unwillingness at this stage to acknowledge the norm that up to 15% of learners in each school will undershoot the threshold – substantially more in schools with ‘challenging intakes’.

What this boils down to is a desire that all will achieve the new higher hurdle – and that all will be encouraged to exceed it if they can – tempered by recognition that this is presently impossible. No child should be allowed to fall behind but many inevitably will do so.

It might have been better to express these aims in the form of future aspirations – and our collective efforts to bridge the gap between present reality and those ambitious aspirations.

Principles

The section concludes with a new set of principles governing pedagogy, assessment and accountability:

  • ‘Ongoing, teacher-led assessment is a crucial part of effective teaching;
  • Schools should have the freedom to decide how to teach their curriculum and how to track the progress that pupils make;
  • Both summative teacher assessment and external testing are important;
  • Accountability is key to a successful school system, and therefore must be fair and transparent;
  • Measures of both progress and attainment are important for understanding school performance; and
  • A broad range of information should be published to help parents and the wider public know how well schools are performing.’

These are generic ‘motherhood and apple pie’ statements and so largely uncontroversial. I might have added a seventh – that schools’ in-house assessment and reporting systems must complement summative assessment and testing, including by predicting for parents the anticipated outcomes of the latter.

Perhaps interestingly, there is no repetition of the defence for the removal of national curriculum levels. Instead, the response concentrates on the support available to schools.

It mentions discussion with an ‘expert group on assessment’ about ‘how to support schools to make best use of the new assessment freedoms’. We are not told the membership of this group (which, as far as I know, has not been made public) or the nature of its remit.

There is also a link to information about the Assessment Innovation Fund, which will provide up to 10 grants of up to £10,000 which schools and organisations can use to develop packages that share their innovative practice with others.

 

Children’s experience of assessment up to the end of KS2

The response mentions the full range of national assessments that will impact on children between the ages of two and 11:

  • The statutory progress check at two years of age.
  • A new baseline assessment undertaken within a few weeks of the start of Year R, introduced from September 2015.
  • An Early Years Foundation Stage Profile undertaken in the final term of the year in which children reach the age of five. A revised profile was introduced from September 2012. It is currently compulsory but will be optional from September 2016. The original consultation document said that the profile would no longer be moderated and data would no longer be collected. Neither of those commitments is repeated here.
  • The Phonics Screening Check, normally undertaken in Year 1. The possibility of making these assessments non-statutory for all-through primary schools, suggested in the consultation document, has not been pursued: 53% of respondents opposed this idea, whereas 32% supported it.
  • End of KS1 assessment and
  • End of KS2 assessment.

So a total of six assessments are in place between the ages of two and 11. At least four – and possibly five – will be undertaken between ages two and seven.

It is likely that early years’ professionals will baulk at this amount of assessment, no matter how sensitively it is designed. But the cost and inefficiency of the model is also open to criticism.

The Reception Baseline

Approach

The original consultation document asked whether:

  • KS1 assessment should be retained as a baseline – 45% supported this and 41% were opposed.
  • A baseline check should be introduced at the start of Reception – 51% supported this and 34% were opposed.
  • Such a baseline check should be optional – 68% agreed and 19% disagreed.
  • Schools should be allowed to choose from a range of commercially available materials for this baseline check – 73% said no and only 15% said yes.

So, whereas views were mixed on where the baseline should be set, there were substantial majorities in favour of any Year R baseline check being optional and following a single, standard national format.

The response argues that Year R is the most sensible point at which to position the baseline since that is:

‘…the earliest point that nearly all children are in school’.

What happens in respect of children who are not in school at this point is not discussed.

There is no explanation of why the Government has disregarded the clear majority of respondents by choosing to permit a range of assessment approaches, so this decision must be ideologically motivated.

The response says ‘most’ are likely to be administered by teaching staff, leaving open the possibility that some options will be administered externally.

Design

Such assessments will need to be:

‘…strong predictors of key stage 1 and key stage 2 attainment, whilst reflecting the age and abilities of children in Reception’.

Presumably this means predictors of attainment in each of the three core subjects – English, maths and science – rather than any broader notion of attainment. The challenge inherent in securing a reasonable predictor of attainment across these domains seven years further on in a child’s development should not be under-estimated.

The response points out that such assessment tools are already available for use in Year R, some are used widely and some schools have long experience of using them. But there is no information about how many of these are deemed to meet already the description above.

In any case, new criteria need to be devised which all such assessments must meet. Some degree of modification will be necessary for all existing products and new products will be launched to compete in the market.

There is an opportunity to use this process to ratchet up the Year R Baseline beyond current expectations, so matching the corresponding process at the end of KS2. The consultation response says nothing about whether this is on the cards.

Interestingly, in his subsequent ‘Unsure start’ speech about early years inspection, HMCI refers to:

‘…the government’s announcement last week that they will be introducing a readiness-for-school test at age four. This is an ideal opportunity to improve accountability. But I think it should go further.

I hope that the published outcomes of these tests will be detailed enough to show parents how their own child has performed. I fear that an overall school grade will fail to illuminate the progress of poor children. I ask government to think again about this issue.’

The terminology – ‘readiness for school’ is markedly blunter than the references to a reception baseline in the consultation response. There is nothing in the response about the outcomes of these tests being published, nor anything about ‘an overall school grade’.

Does this suggest that decisions have already been made that were not communicated in the consultation response?

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Timeline, options, questions

Several pieces of further work are required in short order to inform schools and providers about what will be required – and to enable both to prepare for introduction of the assessments from September 2015. All these should feature in the ‘to do’ list below.

One might reasonably have hoped that – especially given the long delay – some attempt might have been made to publish suggested draft criteria for the baseline alongside the consultation response. The fact that even preliminary research into existing practice has not been undertaken is a cause for concern.

Although the baseline will be introduced from September 2015, there is a one-year interim measure which can only apply to all-through primary schools:

  • They can opt out of the Year R baseline measure entirely, relying instead on KS1 outcomes as their baseline; or
  • They can use an approved Year R baseline assessment and have this cohort’s progress measured at the end of KS2 (which will be in 2022) by either the Year R or the KS1 baseline, whichever demonstrates the most progress.

In the period up to and including 2021, progress will continue to be measured from the end of KS1. So learners who complete KS2 in 2021 for example will be assessed on progress since their KS1 tests in 2017.

Junior and middle schools will also continue to use a KS1 baseline.

Arrangements for infant and first schools are still to be determined, another rather worrying omission at this stage in proceedings.

It is also clear that all-through primary schools (and infant/first schools?) will continue to be able to opt out from the Year R baseline from September 2016 onwards, since the response says:

‘Schools that choose not to use an approved baseline assessment from 2016 will be judged on an attainment floor standard alone’.

Hence the Year R baseline check is entirely optional and a majority of schools could choose not to undertake it.

However, they would need to be confident of meeting the demanding 85% attainment threshold in the floor standard.

They might be wise to postpone that decision until the pitch of the progress expectation is determined. For neither the Year R baseline nor the amount of progress that learners are expected to make from their starting point in Year R is yet defined.

This latter point applies at the average school level (for the purposes of the floor standard) and in respect of the individual learner. For example, if a four year-old is particularly precocious in, say, maths, what scaled scores must they register seven years later to be judged to have made sufficient progress?

There are several associated questions that follow on from this.

Will it be in schools’ interests to acknowledge that they have precocious four year-olds at all? Will the Year R baseline reinforce the tendency to use Reception to bring all children to the same starting point in readiness for Year 1, regardless of their precocity?

Will the moderation arrangements be hard-edged enough to stop all-through primary schools gaming the system by artificially depressing their baseline outcomes?

Who will undertake this moderation and how much will it cost? Will not the decision to permit schools to choose from a range of measures unnecessarily complicate the moderation process and add to the expense?

The consultation response neither poses these questions nor supplies answers.

The future shape of end KS1 and end KS2 assessment

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What assessment will take place?

At KS1 learners will be assessed in:

  • Reading – test plus teacher assessment
  • Writing – test (of grammar, punctuation and spelling) plus teacher assessment
  • Speaking and listening – teacher assessment
  • Maths – test plus teacher assessment
  • Science  – teacher assessment

The new test of grammar, punctuation and spelling did not feature in the original consultation and has presumably been introduced to strengthen the marker of progress to which four year-olds should aspire at age seven.

The draft test specifications for the KS1 tests in reading, GPS and maths outline the requirements placed on the test developers, so it is straightforward to compare the specifications for reading and maths with the current tests.

The GPS test will include a 20 minute written grammar and punctuation task; a 20 minute test comprising short grammar, punctuation and vocabulary questions; and a 15 minute spelling task.

There is a passing reference to further work on KS1 moderation which is included in the ‘to do’ list below.

At KS2 learners will be assessed in

  • Reading – test plus teacher assessment
  • Writing – test (of grammar spelling and punctuation) plus teacher assessment
  • Maths – test plus teacher assessment
  • Science  – teacher assessment plus a science sampling test.

Once again, the draft test specifications – reading, GPS, maths and science sampling – describe the shape of each test and the content they are expected to assess.

I will leave it to experts to comment on the content of the tests.

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Academies and free schools

It is important to note that the framing of this content – by means of detailed ‘performance descriptors’ – means that the freedom academies and free schools enjoy in departing from the national curriculum will be largely illusory.

I raised this issue back in February 2013:

  • ‘We know that there will be a new grading system in the core subjects at the end of KS2. If this were to be based on the ATs as drafted, it could only reflect whether or not learners can demonstrate that they know, can apply and understand ‘the matters, skills and processes specified’ in the PoS as a whole. Since there is no provision for ATs that reflect sub-elements of the PoS – such as reading, writing, spelling – grades will have to be awarded on the basis of separate syllabuses for end of KS2 tests associated with these sub-elements.
  • This grading system must anyway be applied universally if it is to inform the publication of performance tables. Since some schools are exempt from National Curriculum requirements, it follows that grading cannot be derived directly from the ATs and/or the PoS, but must be independent of them. So this once more points to end of KS2 tests based on entirely separate syllabuses which nevertheless reflect the relevant part of the draft PoS. The KS2 arrangements are therefore very similar to those planned at KS4.’

I have more to say about the ‘performance descriptors’ below.

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Single tests for all learners

A critical point I want to emphasise at this juncture – not mentioned at all in the consultation document or the response – is the test development challenge inherent in producing single papers suitable for all learners, regardless of their attainment.

We know from the response that the P-scales will be retained for those who are unable to access the end of key stage tests. (Incidentally, the content of the P-scales will remain unchanged so they will not be aligned with the revised national curriculum, as suggested in the consultation document.)

There will also be provision for pupils who are working ‘above the P-scales but below the level of the test’.

Now the P-scales are for learners working below level 1 (in old currency). This is the first indication I have seen that the tests may not cater for the full range from Level 1-equivalent to Level 6-equivalent and above. But no further information is provided.

It may be that this is a reference to learners who are working towards level 1 (in old currency) but do not have SEN.

The 2014 KS2 ARA booklet notes:

‘Children working towards level 1 of the national curriculum who do not have a special educational need should be reported to STA as ‘W’ (Working below the level). This includes children who are working towards level 1 solely because they have English as an additional language. Schools should use the code ‘NOTSEN’ to explain why a child working towards level 1 does not have P scales reported. ‘NOTSEN’ replaces the code ‘EAL’ that was used in previous years.’

The consultation document said:

‘We do not propose to develop an equivalent to the current level 6 tests, which are used to challenge the highest-attaining pupils. Key stage 2 national curriculum tests will include challenging material (at least of the standard of the current level 6 test) which all pupils will have the opportunity to answer, without the need for a separate test’.

The draft test specifications make it clear that the tests should:

‘provide a suitable challenge for all children and give every child the opportunity to achieve as high a standard…as possible.’

Moreover:

‘In order to improve general accessibility for all children, where possible, questions will be placed in order of difficulty.’

The development of single tests covering this span of attainment – from level 1 to above level 6 – tests in which the questions are posed in order of difficulty and even the highest attainers must answer all questions – seem to me to be a very tall order, especially in maths.

More than that, I urgently need persuading that this is not a waste of high attainers’ time and poor assessment practice.

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How assessment outcomes will be derived, reported and published

Deriving assessment outcomes

One of the reasons cited for replacing national curriculum levels was the complexity of the system and the difficulty parents experienced in understanding it.

The Ministerial response to the original report from the National Curriculum Expert Panel said:

‘As you rightly identified, the current system is confusing for parents and restrictive for teachers. I agree with your recommendation that there should be a direct relationship between what children are taught and what is assessed. We will therefore describe subject content in a way which makes clear both what should be taught and what pupils should know and be able to do as a result.’

The consultation document glossed the same point thus:

‘Schools will be able to focus their teaching, assessment and reporting not on a set of opaque level descriptions, but on the essential knowledge that all pupils should learn.’

However, the consultation response introduces for the first time the concept of a ‘performance descriptor’.

This term is defined in the glossaries at the end of each draft test specification:

Description of the typical characteristics of children working at a particular standard. For these tests, the performance descriptor will characterise the minimum performance required to be working at the appropriate standard for the end of the key stage.’

Essentially this is a collective term for something very similar to old-style level descriptions.

Except that, in the case of the tests, they are all describing the same level of performance.

They have been rendered necessary by the odd decision to provide only a single generic attainment target for each programme of study. But, as noted back in February 2013, the test developers need a more sophisticated framework on which to base their assessments.

According to the draft test specifications they will also be used

‘By a panel of teachers to set the standards on the new tests following their first administration in May 2016’.

When it comes to teacher assessment, the consultation response says:

‘New performance descriptors will be introduced to inform the statutory teacher assessments at the end of key stage one [and]…key stage two.’

But there are two models in play simultaneously.

In four cases – science at KS1 and reading, maths and science at KS2 – there will be ‘a single performance descriptor of the new expected standard’, in the same way as there are in the test specifications.

But in five cases – reading, writing, speaking and listening and maths at KS1; and writing at KS2 :

‘teachers will assess pupils as meeting one of several performance descriptors’.

These are old-style level descriptors by another name. They perform exactly the same function.

The response says that the KS1 teacher assessment performance descriptors will be drafted by an expert group for introduction in autumn 2014. It does not mention whether KS2 teacher assessment performance descriptors will be devised in the same way and to the same timetable.

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Reporting assessment outcomes to parents

When it comes to reporting to parents, there will be three different arrangements in play at both KS1 and KS2:

  • Test results will be reported by means of scaled scores (of which more in a moment).
  • One set of teacher assessments will be reported by selecting from a set of differentiated performance descriptors.
  • A second set of teacher assessments will be reported according to whether learners have achieved a single threshold performance descriptor.

This is already significantly more complex than the previous system, which applied the same framework of national curriculum levels across the piece.

It seems that KS1 test outcomes will be reported as straightforward scaled scores (though this is only mentioned on page 8 of the main text of the response and not in Annex B, which compares the new arrangements with those currently in place).

But, in the case of KS2:

‘Parents will be provided with their child’s score alongside the average for their school, the local area and nationally. In the light of the consultation responses, we will not give parents a decile ranking for their child due to concerns about whether decile rankings are meaningful and their reliability at individual pupil level.’

The consultation document proposed a tripartite reporting system comprising:

  • A scaled score for each KS2 test, derived from raw test marks and built around a ‘secondary readiness standard’. This standard would be set at a scaled score of 100, which would remain unchanged. It was suggested for illustrative purposes that a scale based on the current national curriculum tests might run from 80 to 130.
  • An average scaled score in each test for other pupils nationally with the same prior attainment at the baseline. Comparison of a learner’s scaled score with the average scaled score would show whether they had made more or less progress than the national average.
  • A national ranking in each test – expressed in terms of deciles – showing how a learner’s scaled score compared with the range of performance nationally.

The latter has been dispensed with, given that 35% of consultation respondents disagreed with it, but there were clearly technical reservations too.

In its place, the ‘value added’ progress measure has been expanded so that there is a comparison with other pupils in the learner’s own school and the ‘local area’ (which presumably means local authority). This beefs up the progression element in reporting at the expense of information about the attainment level achieved.

So at the end of KS2 parents will receive scaled scores and three average scaled scores for each of reading, writing and maths – twelve scores in all – plus four performance descriptors, of which three will be singleton threshold descriptors (reading, maths and science) and one will be selected from a differentiated series (writing). That makes sixteen assessment outcomes altogether, provided in four different formats.

The consultation response tells us nothing more about the range of the scale that will be used to provide scaled scores. We do not even know if it will be the same for each test.

The draft test specifications say that:

‘The exact scale for the scaled scores will be determined following further analysis of trialling data. This will include a full review of the reporting of confidence intervals for scaled scores.’

But they also contain this worrying statement:

‘The provision of a scaled score will aid in the interpretation of children’s performance over time as the scaled score which represents the expected standard will be the same year on year. However, at the extremes of the scaled score distribution, as is standard practice, the scores will be truncated such that above and below a certain point, all children will be awarded the same scaled score in order to minimise the effect for children at the ends of the distribution where the test is not measuring optimally.’

This appears to suggest that scaled scores will not accurately describe performance at the extremes of the distribution, because the tests will not accurately measure such performance. This might be describing a statistical truism, but it again begs the question whether the highest attainers are being short-changed by the selected approach.

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Publication of assessment outcomes

The response introduces the idea that ‘a suite of indicators’ will be published on each school’s own website in a standard format. These are:

  • The average progress made by pupils in reading, writing and maths. (This is presumably relevant to both KS1 and KS2 and to both tests and teacher assessment.)
  • The percentage of pupils reaching the expected standard in reading, writing and mathematics at the end of key stage 2. (This is presumably relevant to both tests and teacher assessment.)
  • The average score of pupils in their end of key stage 2 assessments. (The final word suggests teacher assessment as well as tests, even though there will not be a score from the former.)
  • The percentage of pupils who achieve a high score in all areas at the end of key stage 2. (Does ‘all areas’ imply something more than statutory tests and teacher assessments? Does it mean treating each area separately, or providing details only of those who have achieved high scores across all areas?)

The latter is the only reference to high attainers in the entire response. It does not give any indication of what will count as a high score for these purposes. Will it be designed to catch the top-third of attainers or something more demanding, perhaps equivalent to the top decile?

A decision has been taken not to report the outcomes of assessment against the P-scales because the need to contextualise such information is perceived to be relatively greater.

And, as noted above, HMCI let slip the fact that the outcomes of reception baselines would also be published, but apparently in the form of a single overall grade.

We are not told when these requirements will be introduced, but presumably they must be in place to report the outcomes of assessments undertaken in spring 2016.

Additionally:

‘So that parents can make comparisons between schools, we would like to show each school’s position in the country on these measures and present these results in a manner that is clear for all audiences to understand. We will discuss how best to do so with stakeholders, to ensure that the presentation of the data is clear, fair and statistically robust.’

This suggests inclusion in the 2016 School Performance Tables, but this is not stated explicitly.

Indeed, apart from references to the publication of progress measures in the 2022 Performance Tables, there is no explicit coverage of their contribution in the response, nor any reference to the planned supporting data portal, or how data will be distributed between the Tables and the portal.

The original consultation document gave several commitments on the future content of performance tables. They included:

  • How many of a school’s pupils are amongst the highest attaining nationally, by showing the percentage of pupils achieving a high scaled score in each subject.
  • Measures to show the attainment and progress of learners attracting the Pupil Premium.
  • Comparison of each school’s performance with that of schools with similar intakes.

None are mentioned here, nor are any of the suggestions advanced by respondents taken up.

Floor standards

Changes are proposed to the floor standards with effect from September 2016.

This section of the response begins by committing to:

‘…a new floor standard that holds schools to account both on the progress that they make and on how well their pupils achieve.’

But the plans set out subsequently do not meet this description.

The progress element of the current floor standard relates to any of reading, writing or mathematics but, under the new floor standard, it will relate to all three of these together.

An all-though primary school must demonstrate that:

‘…pupils make sufficient progress at key stage 2 from their starting point…’

As we have noted above, all-through primaries can opt to use the KS1 baseline or the Year R baseline in 2015. Moreover, from 2016 they can choose not to use the Year R baseline and be assessed solely on the attainment measure in the floor standards (see below).

Junior and middle schools obviously apply the KS1 baseline, while arrangements for infant and first schools have yet to be finalised.

What constitutes ‘sufficient progress’ is not defined. Annex C of the response says:

‘For 2016 we will set the precise extent of progress required once key stage 2 tests have been sat for the first time.’

Presumably this will be progress from KS1 to KS2, since progress from the Year R baseline will not be introduced until 2023.

The attainment element of the new floor standards is for schools to have 85% or more of pupils meeting the new, higher threshold standard at the end of KS2 in all of reading, writing and maths. The text says explicitly that this threshold is ‘similar to a level 4b under the current system’.

Annex C clarifies that this will be judged by the achievement of a scaled score of 100 or more in each of the reading and maths tests, plus teacher assessment that learners have reached the expected standard in writing (so the GPS test does not count in the same way, simply informing the teacher assessment).

As noted above, this a far bigger ask than the current reference to 65% of learners meeting the expected (and lower 4c) standard. The summary at the beginning of the response refers to it as ‘a challenging aspiration’:

‘Over time we expect more and more schools to achieve this standard.’

The statement in the first paragraph of this section of the response led us to believe that these two requirements – for progress and attainment respectively – would be combined, so that schools would be held account for both (unless, presumably, they exercised their right to opt out of the Year R baseline assessment).

But this is not the case. Schools need only achieve one or the other.

It follows that schools with a very high performing intake may exceed the floor standards on the basis of all-round high attainment alone, regardless of the progress made by their learners.

The reason for this provision is unclear, though one suspects that schools with an extremely high attaining intake, whether at Reception or Year 3, will be harder pressed to achieve sufficient progress, presumably because some ceiling effects come into play at the end of KS2.

This in turn might suggest that the planned tests do not have sufficient headroom for the highest attainers, even though they are supposed to provide similar challenge to level 6 and potentially extend beyond it.

Meanwhile, schools with less than stellar attainment results will be obliged to follow the progress route to jump the floor standard. This too will be demanding because all three domains will be in play.

There will have been some internal modelling undertaken to judge how many schools would be likely to fall short of the floor standards given these arrangements and it would be very useful to know these estimates, however unreliable they prove to be.

In their absence, one suspects that the majority of schools will be below the floor standards, at least initially. That of course materially changes the nature and purpose of the standards.

To Do List

The response and the draft specifications together contain a long list of work to be carried out over the next two years or so. I have included below my best guess as to the latest possible date for each decision to be completed and communicated:

  • Decide how progress will be measured for infants and first schools between the Year R baseline and the end of KS1 (April 2014)
  • Make available to schools a ‘small number’ of sample test questions for each key stage and subject (Summer 2014)
  • Work with experts to establish the criteria for the Year R baseline (September 2014)
  • KS1 [and KS2?] teacher assessment performance descriptors to be drafted by an expert group (September 2014)
  • Complete and report outcomes of a study with schools that already use Year R baseline assessments (December 2014)
  • Decide how Year R baseline assessments will be moderated (December 2014)
  • Publish a list of assessments that meet the Year R baseline criteria (March 2015)
  • Decide how Year R baseline results will be communicated to parents and to Ofsted (March 2015)
  • Make available to schools a full set of sample materials including tests and mark schemes for all KS1 and KS2 tests (September 2015)
  • Complete work with Ofsted and Teachers to improve KS1 moderation (September 2015)
  • Provide further information to enable teachers to assess pupils at the end of KS1 and KS2 who are ‘working above the P-scales but below the level of the test’ (September 2015)
  • Decide whether to move to external moderation of P-scale teacher assessment (September 2015)
  • Agree with stakeholders how to compare schools’ performance on a suite of assessment outcomes published in a standard format (September 2015)
  • Publish all final test frameworks (Autumn 2015)
  • Introduce new requirements for schools to publish a suite of assessment outcomes in a standard format (Spring 2016)
  • Panels of teacher use level descriptors to set the standards on the new tests following their first administration in May 2016 (Summer 2016)
  • Define what counts as sufficient progress from the Year R baseline to end KS1 and end KS2 respectively (Summer 2016)

Conclusion

Overall the response is rather more cogent and coherent than the original consultation document, though there are several inconsistencies and many sins of omission.

Drawing together the key issues emerging from the commentary above, I would highlight twelve key points:

  • The declared aims express the policy direction clumsily and without conviction. The ultimate aspirations are universal ‘secondary readiness’ (though expressed in broader terms), ‘no child left behind’ and ‘every child fulfilling their potential’ but there is no real effort to reconcile these potentially conflicting notions into a consensual vision of what primary education is for. Moreover, an inconvenient truth lurks behind these statements. By raising expectations so significantly – 4b equivalent rather than 4c; 85% over the attainment threshold rather than 65%; ‘sufficient progress’ rather than median progress and across three domains rather than one – there will be much more failure in the short to medium term. More learners will fall behind and fall short of the thresholds; many more schools are likely to undershoot the floor standards. It may also prove harder for some learners to demonstrate their potential. It might have been better to acknowledge this reality and to frame the vision in terms of creating the conditions necessary for subsequent progress towards the ultimate aspirations.
  • Younger children are increasingly caught in the crossbeam from the twin searchlights of assessment and accountability. HMCI’s subsequent intervention has raised the stakes still further. This creates obvious tensions in the sector which can be traced back to disagreements over the respective purposes of early years and primary provision and how they relate to each other. (HMCI’s notion of ‘school readiness’ is no doubt as narrow to early years practitioners as ‘secondary readiness’ is to primary educators.) But this is not just a theoretical point. Additional demands for focused inspection, moderation and publication of outcomes all carry a significant price tag. It must be open to question whether the sheer weight of assessment activity is optimal and delivers value for money. Should a radical future Government – probably with a cost-cutting remit – have rationalisation in mind?
  • Giving schools the freedom to choose from a range of Year R baseline assessment tools also seems inherently inefficient and flies in the face of the clear majority of consultation responses. We are told nothing of the perceived quality of existing services, none of which can – by definition – satisfy these new expectations without significant adjustment. It will not be straightforward to construct a universal and child-friendly instrument that is a sufficiently strong predictor of Level 4b-equivalent performance in KS2 reading, writing and maths assessments undertaken seven years later. Moreover, there will be a strong temptation for the Government to pitch the baseline higher than current expectations, so matching the  realignment at the other end of the process. Making the Reception baseline assessment optional – albeit with strings attached – seems rather half-hearted, almost an insurance against failure. Effective (and expensive) moderation may protect against widespread gaming, but the risk remains that Reception teachers will be even more predisposed to prioritise universal school readiness over stretching their more precocious four year-olds.
  • The task of designing an effective test for all levels of prior attainment at the end of key stage 2 is equally fraught with difficulty. The P-scales will be retained (in their existing format, unaligned with the revised national curriculum) for learners with special needs working below the equivalent of what is currently level 1. There will also be undefined provision ‘for those working above the level of the P-scales but below the level of the test’, even though the draft test development frameworks say:

‘All eligible children who are registered at maintained schools, special schools, or academies (including free schools) in England and are at the end of key stage 2 will be required to take the…test, unless they have taken it in the past.’

And this applies to all learners other than those in the exempted categories set out in the ARA booklets. The draft specifications add that test questions will be placed in order of difficulty. I have grave difficulty in understanding how such assessments can be optimal for high attainers and fear that this is bad assessment practice.

  • On top of this there is the worrying statement in the test development frameworks that scaled scores will be ‘truncated’ at the extremes of the distribution’. This does not fill one with confidence that the highest and lowest attainers will have their test performance properly recognised and reported.
  • The necessary invention of ‘performance descriptors’ removes any lingering illusion that academies and free schools have significant freedom to depart from the national curriculum, at least as far as the core subjects are concerned. It is hard to understand why these descriptors could not have been published alongside the programmes of study within the national curriculum.
  • The ‘performance descriptors’ in the draft test specifications carry all sorts of health warnings that they are inappropriate for teacher assessment because they cover only material that can be assessed in a written test. But there will be significant overlap between the test and teacher assessment versions, particularly in those that describe threshold performance at the equivalent of level 4b. For we know now that there will also be hierarchies of performance descriptors – aka level descriptors – for KS1 teacher assessment in reading, writing, speaking and listening and maths, as well as for KS2 teacher assessment in writing. Levels were so problematic that it has been necessary to reinvent them!
  • What with scaled scores, average scaled scores, threshold performance descriptors and ‘levelled’ performance descriptors, schools face an uphill battle in convincing parents that the reporting of test outcomes under this system will be simpler and more understandable. At the end of KS2 they will receive 16 different assessments in four different formats. (Remember that parents will also need to cope with schools’ approaches to internal assessment, which may or may not align with these arrangements.)
  • We are told about new requirements to be placed on schools to publish assessment outcomes, but the description is infuriatingly vague. We do not know whether certain requirements apply to both KS1 and 2, and/or to both tests and teacher assessment. The reference to ‘the percentage of pupils who achieve a high score in all areas at the end of key stage 2’ is additionally vague because it is unclear whether it applies to performance in each assessment, or across all assessments combined. Nor is the pitch of the high score explained. This is the only reference to high attainers in the entire response and it raises more questions than it answers.
  • We also have negligible information about what will appear in the school performance tables and what will be relegated to the accompanying data portal. We know there is an intention to compare schools’ performance on the measures they are required to publish and that is all. Much of the further detail in the original consultation document may or may not have fallen by the wayside.
  • The new floor standards have all the characteristics of a last-minute compromise hastily stitched together. The consultation document was explicit that floor standards would:

‘…focus on threshold attainment measures and value-added progress measures’

It anticipated that the progress measure would require average scaled scores of between 98.5 and 99.0 adding:

‘Our modelling suggests that a progress measure set at this level, combined with the 85% threshold attainment measure, would result in a similar number of schools falling below the floor as at present.’

But the analysis of responses fails to report at all on the question ‘Do you have any comments about these proposals for the Department’s floor standards?’ It does include the response to a subsequent question about including an average point score attainment measure in the floor standards (39% of respondents were in favour of this against 31% against). But the main text does not discuss this option at all. It begins by stating that both an attainment and a progress dimension are in play, but then describes a system in which schools can choose one or the other. There is no attempt to quantify ‘sufficient progress’ and no revised modelling of the impact of standards set at this level. We are left with the suspicion that a very significant proportion of schools will not exceed the floor. There is also a potential perverse incentive for schools with very high attaining intakes not to bother about progress at all.

  • Finally, the ‘to do’ list is substantial. Several of those with the tightest deadlines ought really to have been completed ahead of the consultation response, especially given the significant delay. There is nothing about the interaction between this work programme and that proposed by NAHT’s Commission on Assessment. Much of this work would need to take place on the other side of a General Election, while the lead time for assessing KS2 progress against a Year R baseline is a full nine years. This makes the project as a whole particularly vulnerable to the whims of future governments.

I’m struggling to find the right description for the overall package. I don’t think it’s quite substantial or messy enough to count as a dog’s breakfast. But, like a poorly airbrushed portrait, it flatters to deceive. Seen from a distance it appears convincing but, on closer inspection, there are too many wrinkles that have not been properly smoothed out

GP

April 2014

 

 

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Challenging NAHT’s Commission on Assessment

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This post reviews the Report of the NAHT’s National Commission on Assessment, published on 13 February 2014.

pencil-145970_640Since I previously subjected the Government’s consultation document on primary assessment and accountability to a forensic examination, I thought it only fair that I should apply the same high standards to this document.

I conclude that the Report is broadly helpful, but there are several internal inconsistencies and a few serious flaws.

Impatient readers may wish to skip the detailed analysis and jump straight to the summary at the end of the post which sets out my reservations in the form of 23 recommendations addressed to the Commission and the NAHT.

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Other perspectives

Immediate reaction to the Report was almost entirely positive.

The TES included a brief Ministerial statement in its coverage, attributed to Michael Gove:

‘The NAHT’s report gives practical, helpful ideas to schools preparing for the removal of levels. It also encourages them to make the most of the freedom they now have to develop innovative approaches to assessment that meet the needs of pupils and give far more useful information to parents.’

ASCL and ATL both welcomed the Report, as did the National Governors’ Association, though there was no substantive comment from NASUWT or NUT.

The Blogosphere exhibited relatively little interest, although a smattering of posts began to expose some issues:

  • LKMco supported the key recommendations, but wondered whether the Commission might not be guilty of reinventing National Curriculum levels;
  • Mr Thomas Maths was more critical, identifying three key shortcomings, one being the proposed approach to differentiation within assessment;
  • Warwick Mansell, probably because he blogs for NAHT, confined himself largely to summarising the Report, which he found ‘impressive’, though he did raise two key points – the cost of implementing these proposals and how the recommendations relate to the as yet uncertain position of teacher assessment in the Government’s primary assessment and accountability reforms.

All of these points – and others – are fleshed out in the critique below.

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Background

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Remit, Membership and Evidence Base

The Commission was first announced in July 2013, when it was described as:

‘a commission of practitioners to shape the future of assessment in a system without levels.’

By September, Lord Sutherland had agreed to Chair the body and its broad remit had been established:

‘To:

  • establish a set of principles to underpin national approaches to assessment and create consistency;
  • identify and highlight examples of good practice; and
  • build confidence in the assessment system by securing the trust and support of officials and inspectors.’

Written evidence was requested by 16 October.

The first meeting took place on 21 October and five more were scheduled before the end of November.

Members’ names were not included at this stage (beyond the fact that NAHT’s President – a Staffordshire primary head – was involved) though membership was now described as ‘drawn from across education’.

Several members had in fact been named in an early October blog post from NAHT and a November press release from the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors (CIEA) named all but one – NAHT’s Director of Education. This list was confirmed in the published Report.

The Commission had 14 members but only six of them – four primary heads one primary deputy and one secondary deputy – could be described as practitioners.

The others included two NAHT officials in addition to the secretariat, one being General Secretary Russell Hobby, and one from ASCL;  John Dunford, a consultant with several other strings to his bow, one of those being Chairmanship of the CIEA; Gordon Stobart an academic specialist in assessment with a long pedigree in the field; Hilary Emery, the outgoing Chief Executive of the National Children’s Bureau; and Sam Freedman of Teach First.

There were also unnamed observers from DfE, Ofqual and Ofsted.

The Report says the Commission took oral evidence from a wide range of sources. A list of 25 sources is provided but it does not indicate how much of their evidence was written and how much oral.

Three of these sources are bodies represented on the Commission, two of them schools. Overall seven are from schools. One source is Tim Oates, the former Chair of the National Curriculum Review Expert Panel.

The written evidence is not published and I could find only a handful of responses online, from:

Overall one has to say that the response to the call for evidence was rather limited. Nevertheless, it would be helpful for NAHT to publish all the evidence it received. It might be helpful for NAHT to consult formally on key provisions in its Report.

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Structure of the Report and Further Stages Proposed

The main body of the Report is sandwiched between a foreword by the Chair and a series of Annexes containing case studies, historical and international background.  This analysis concentrates almost entirely on the main body.

The 21 Recommendations are presented twice, first as a list within the Executive Summary and subsequently interspersed within a thematic commentary that summarises the evidence received and also conveys the Commission’s views.

The Executive Summary also sets out a series of Underpinning Principles for Assessment and a Design Checklist for assessment in schools, the latter accompanied by a set of five explanatory notes.

It offers a slightly different version of the Commission’s Remit:

‘In carrying out its task, the Commission was asked to achieve three distinct elements:

  • A set of agreed principles for good assessment
  • Examples of current best practice in assessment that meet these principles
  • Buy-in to the principles by those who hold schools to account.’

These are markedly less ambitious than their predecessors, having dropped the reference to ‘national approaches’ and any aspiration to secure support from officials and inspectors for anything beyond the Principles.

Significantly, the Report is presented as only the first stage in a longer process, an urgent response to schools’ need for guidance in the short term.

It recommends that further work should comprise:

  • ‘A set of model assessment criteria based on the new National Curriculum.’ (NAHT is called upon to develop and promote these. The text says that a model document is being  commissioned but doesn’t reveal the timescale or who is preparing it);
  • ‘A full model assessment policy and procedures, backed by appropriate professional development’ that would expand upon the Principles and Design Checklist. (NAHT is called upon to take the lead in this, but there is no indication that they plan to do so. No timescale is attached)
  • ‘A system-wide review of assessment’ covering ages 2-19. It is not explicitly stated, but one assumes that this recommendation is directed towards the Government. Again no timescale is attached.

The analysis below looks first at the assessment Principles, then the Design Checklist and finally the recommendations plus associated commentary. It concludes with an overall assessment of the Report as a whole.

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Assessment Principles

As noted above, it seems that national level commitment is only sought in respect of these Principles, but there is no indication in the Report – or elsewhere for that matter – that DfE, Ofsted and Ofqual have indeed signed up to them.

Certainly the Ministerial statement quoted above stops well short of doing so.

The consultation document on primary assessment and accountability also sought comments on a set of core principles to underpin schools’ curriculum and assessment frameworks. It remains to be seen whether the version set out in the consultation response will match those advanced by the Commission.

The Report recommends that schools should review their own assessment practice against the Principles and Checklist together, and that all schools should have their own clear assessment principles, presumably derived or adjusted in the light of this process.

Many of the principles are unexceptionable, but there are a few interesting features that are directly relevant to the commentary below.

For it is of course critical to the internal coherence of the Report that the Design Checklist and recommendations are entirely consistent with these Principles.

I want to highlight three in particular:

  • ‘Assessment is inclusive of all abilities…Assessment embodies, through objective criteria, a pathway of progress and development for every child…Assessment objectives set high expectations for learners’.

One assumes that ‘abilities’ is intended to stand proxy for both attainment and potential, so that there should be ‘high expectations’ and a ‘pathway of progress and development’ for the lowest and highest attainers alike.

  • ‘Assessment places achievement in context against nationally standardised criteria and expected standards’.

This begs the question whether the ‘model document’ containing assessment criteria commissioned by NAHT will be ‘nationally standardised’ and, if so, what standardisation process will be applied.

  • ‘Assessment is consistent…The results are readily understandable by third parties…A school’s results are capable of comparison with other schools, both locally and nationally’.

The implication behind these statements must be that results of assessment in each school are transparent and comparable through the accountability regime, presumably by means of the performance tables (and the data portal that we expect to be introduced to support them).

This cannot be taken as confined to statutory tests, since the text later points out that:

‘The remit did not extend to KS2 tests, floor standards and other related issues of formal accountability.’

It isn’t clear, from the Principles at least, whether the Commission believes that teacher assessment outcomes should also be comparable. Here, as elsewhere, the Report does a poor job of distinguishing between statutory teacher assessment and assessment internal to the school.

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Design Checklist.

 

Approach to Assessment and Use of Assessment

The Design Checklist is described as:

‘an evaluation checklist for schools seeking to develop or acquire an assessment system. They could also form the seed of a revised assessment policy.’

It is addressed explicitly to schools and comprises three sections covering, respectively, a school’s approach to assessment, method of assessment and use of assessment.

The middle section is by far the most significant and also the most complex, requiring five explanatory notes.

I have taken the more straightforward first and third sections first.

‘Our approach to assessment’ simply makes the point that assessment is integral to teaching and learning, while also setting expectations for regular, universal professional development and ‘a senior leader who is responsible for assessment’.

It is not clear whether this individual is the same as, or additional to, the ‘trained assessment lead’ mentioned in the Report’s recommendations.

I can find no justification in the Report for the requirement that this person must be a senior leader.

A more flexible approach would be preferable, in which the functions to be undertaken are outlined and schools are given flexibility over how those are distributed between staff. There is more on this below.

The final section ‘Our use of assessment’ refers to staff:

  • Summarising and analysing attainment and progress;
  • Planning pupils’ learning to ensure every pupil meets or exceeds expectations (Either this is a counsel of perfection, or expectations for some learners are pitched below the level required to satisfy the assessment criteria for the subject and year in question. The latter is much more likely, but this is confusing since satisfying the assessment criteria is also described in the Checklist in terms of ‘meeting…expectations’.)
  • Analysing data across the school to ensure all pupils are stretched while the vulnerable and those at risk make appropriate progress (‘appropriate’ is not defined within the Checklist itself but an explanatory note appended to the central section  – see below – glosses this phrase);
  • Communicating assessment information each term to pupils and parents through ‘a structured conversation’ and the provision of ‘rich, qualitative profiles of what has been achieved and indications of what they [ie parents as well as pupils] need to do next’; and
  • Celebrating a broad range of achievements, extending across the full school curriculum and encompassing social, emotional and behavioural development.

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Method of Assessment: Purposes

‘Our method of assessment’ is by far the longest section, containing 11 separate bullet points. It could be further subdivided for clarity’s sake.

The first three bullets are devoted principally to some purposes of assessment. Some of this material might be placed more logically in the ‘Our Use of Assessment’ section, so that the central section is shortened and restricted to methodology.

The main purpose is stipulated as ‘to help teachers, parents and pupils plan their next steps in learning’.

So the phrasing suggests that assessment should help to drive forward the learning of parents and teachers, as well as to the learning of pupils. I’m not sure if this is deliberate or accidental.

Two subsidiary purposes are mentioned: providing a check on teaching standards and support for their improvement; and providing a comparator with other schools via collaboration and the use of ‘external tests and assessments’.

It is not clear why these three purposes are singled out. There is some overlap with the Principles but also a degree of inconsistency between the two pieces of documentation. It might have been better to cross-reference them more carefully.

In short, the internal logic of the Checklist and its relationship with the Principles could both do with some attention.

The real meat of the section is incorporated in the eight remaining bullet points. The first four are about what pupils are assessed against and when that assessment takes place. The last four explain how assessment judgements are differentiated, evidenced and moderated.

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Method of Assessment: What Learners Are Assessed Against – and When

The next four bullets specify that learners are to be assessed against ‘assessment criteria which are short, discrete, qualitative and concrete descriptions of what a pupil is expected to know and be able to do.’

These are derived from the school curriculum ‘which is composed of the National Curriculum and our own local design’ (Of course that is not strictly the position in academies, as another section of the Report subsequently points out.)

The criteria ‘for periodic assessment are arranged into a hierarchy setting out what children are normally expected to have mastered by the end of each year’.

Each learner’s achievement ‘is assessed against all the relevant criteria at appropriate times of the school year’.

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The Span of the Assessment Criteria

The first explanatory note (A) clarifies that the assessment criteria are ‘discrete, tangible descriptive statements of attainment’ derived from ‘the National Curriculum (and any school curricula)’.

There is no repetition of the provision in the Principles that they should be ‘nationally standardised’ but ‘there is little room for meaningful variety’, even though academies are not obliged to follow the National Curriculum and schools have complete flexibility over the remainder of the school curriculum.

The Recommendations have a different emphasis, saying that NAHT’s model criteria should be ‘based on the new National Curriculum’ (Recommendation 6), but the clear impression here is that they will encompass the National Curriculum ‘and any school curricula’ alike.

This inconsistency needs to be resolved. NAHT might be better off confining its model criteria to the National Curriculum only – and making it clear that even these may not be relevant to academies.

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The Hierarchy of Assessment Criteria

The second explanatory note (B) relates to the arrangement of the assessment criteria

‘…into a hierarchy, setting out what children are normally expected to have mastered by the end of each year’.

This note is rather muddled.

It begins by suggesting that a hierarchy divided chronologically by school year is the most natural choice, because:

‘The curriculum is usually organised into years and terms for planned delivery’

That may be true, but only the Programmes of Study for the three core subjects are organised by year, and each clearly states that:

‘Schools are…only required to teach the relevant programme of study by the end of the key stage. Within each key stage, schools therefore have the flexibility to introduce content earlier or later than set out in the programme of study. In addition, schools can introduce key stage content during an earlier key stage if appropriate.’

All schools – academies and non-academies alike – therefore enjoy considerable flexibility over the distribution of the Programmes of Study between academic years.

(Later in the Report – in the commentary preceding the first six recommendations – the text mistakenly suggests that the entirety of ‘the revised curriculum is presented in a model of year-by-year progress’ (page 14) It does not mention the provision above).

The note goes on to suggest that the Commission has chosen a different route, not because of this flexibility, but because ‘children’s progress may not fit neatly into school years’:

‘…we have chosen the language of a hierarchy of expectations to avoid misunderstandings. Children may be working above or below their school year…’

But this is not an absolute hierarchy of expectations – in the sense that learners are free to progress entirely according to ability (or, more accurately, their prior attainment) rather than in age-related lock steps.

In a true hierarchy of expectations, learners would be able to progress as fast or as slowly as they are able to, within the boundaries set by:

  • On one hand, high expectations, commensurate challenge and progression;
  • On the other hand, protection against excessive pressure and hot-housing and a judicious blending of faster pace with more breadth and depth (of which more below).

This is no more than a hierarchy by school year with some limited flexibility at the margins.

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The timing of assessment against the criteria

The third explanatory note (C) confirms the Commission’s assumption that formal assessments will be conducted at least termly – and possibly more frequently than that.

It adds:

‘It will take time before schools develop a sense of how many criteria from each year’s expectations are normally met in the autumn, spring and summer terms, and this will also vary by subject’.

This is again unclear. It could mean that a future aspiration is to judge progress termly, by breaking down the assessment criteria still further – so that a learner who met the assessment criteria for, say, the autumn term is deemed to be meeting the criteria for the year as a whole at that point.

Without this additional layer of lock-stepping, presumably the default position for the assessments conducted in the autumn and spring terms is that learners will still be working towards the assessment criteria for the year in question.

The note also mentions in passing that:

‘For some years to come, it will be hard to make predictions from outcomes of these assessments to the results in KS2 tests. Such data may emerge over time, although there are question marks over how reliable predictions may be if schools are using incompatible approaches and applying differing standards of performance and therefore cannot pool data to form large samples.’

This is one of very few places where the Report picks up on the problems that are likely to emerge from the dissonance between internal and external statutory assessment.

But it avoids the central issue, this being that the approach to internal assessment it advocates may not be entirely compatible with predicting future achievement in the KS2 tests. If so, its value is seriously diminished, both for parents and teachers, let alone the learners themselves.  This issue also reappears below.

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Method of Assessment: How Assessment Judgements are Differentiated, Evidenced and Moderated

The four final bullet points in this section of the Design Checklist explain that all learners will be assessed as either ‘developing’, ‘meeting’, or ‘exceeding’ each relevant criterion for that year’.

Learners deemed to be exceeding the relevant criteria in a subject for a given year ‘will also be assessed against the criteria in that subject for the next year.’

Assessment judgements are supported by evidence comprising observations, records of work and test outcomes and are subject to moderation by teachers in the same school and in other schools to ensure they are fair, reliable and valid.

I will set moderation to one side until later in the post, since that too lies outside the scope of methodology.

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Differentiation against the hierarchy of assessment criteria

The fourth explanatory note (D) addresses the vexed question of differentiation.

As readers may recall, the Report by the National Curriculum Review Expert Panel failed abjectly to explain how they would provide stretch and challenge in a system that focused exclusively on universal mastery and ‘readiness to progress’, saying only that further work was required to address the issue.

Paragraph 8.21 implied that they favoured what might be termed an ‘enrichment and extension’ model:

‘There are issues regarding ‘stretch and challenge’ for those pupils who, for a particular body of content, grasp material more swiftly than others. There are different responses to this in different national settings, but frequently there is a focus on additional activities that allow greater application and practice, additional topic study within the same area of content, and engagement in demonstration and discussion with others…These systems achieve comparatively low spread at the end of primary education, a factor vital in a high proportion of pupils being well positioned to make good use of more intensive subject-based provision in secondary schooling.’

Meanwhile, something akin to the P Scales might come into play for those children with learning difficulties.

On this latter point, the primary assessment and accountability consultation document said DfE would:

‘…explore whether P-scales should be reviewed so that they align with the revised national curriculum and provide a clear route to progress to higher attainment.’

We do not yet know whether this will happen, but Explanatory Note B to the Design Checklist conveys the clear message that the P-Scales need to be retained:

‘…must ensure we value the progress of children with special needs as much as any other group. The use of P scales here is important to ensure appropriate challenge and progression for pupils with SEN.’

By contrast, for high attainers, the Commission favours what might be called a ‘mildly accelerative’ model whereby learners who ‘exceed’ the assessment criteria applying to a subject for their year group may be given work that enables them to demonstrate progress against the criteria for the year above.

I describe it as mildly accelerative because there is no provision for learners to be assessed more than one year ahead of their chronological year group. This is a fairly low ceiling to impose on such accelerative progress.

It is also unclear whether the NAHT’s model assessment criteria will cover Year 7, the first year of the KS3 Programmes of Study, to enable this provision to extend into Year 6.

The optimal approach for high attainers would combine the ‘enrichment and extension’ approach apparently favoured by the Expert Panel with an accelerative approach that provides a higher ceiling, to accommodate those learners furthest ahead of their peers.

High attaining learners could then access a customised blend of enrichment (more breadth), extension (greater depth) and acceleration (faster pace) according to their needs.

This is good curricular practice and it should be reflected in assessment practice too, otherwise the risk is that a mildly accelerative assessment process will have an undesirable wash-back effect on teaching and learning.

Elsewhere, the Report advocates the important principle that curriculum, assessment and pedagogy should be developed in parallel, otherwise there is a risk that one – typically assessment – has an undesirable effect on the others. This would be an excellent exemplar of that statement.

The judgement whether a learner is exceeding the assessment criteria for their chronological year would be evidenced by enrichment and extension activity as well as by pre-empting the assessment criteria for the year ahead. Exceeding the criteria in terms of greater breadth or more depth should be equally valued.

This more rounded approach, incorporating a higher ceiling, should also be supported by the addition of a fourth ‘far exceeded’ judgement, otherwise the ‘exceeded’ judgement has to cover far too wide a span of attainment, from those who are marginally beyond their peers to those who are streets ahead.

These concerns need urgently to be addressed, before NAHT gets much further with its model criteria.

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The aggregation of criteria

In order to make the overall judgement for each subject, learners’ performance against individual assessment criteria has to be combined to give an aggregate measure.

The note says:

‘The criteria themselves can be combined to provide the qualitative statement of a pupil’s achievements, although teachers and schools may need a quantitative summary. Few schools appear to favour a pure binary approach of yes/no. The most popular choice seems to be a three phase judgement of working towards (or emerging, developing), meeting (or mastered, confident, secure, expected) and exceeded. Where a student has exceeded a criterion, it may make sense to assess them also against the criteria for the next year.’

This, too, begs some questions. The statement above is consistent with one of the Report’s central recommendations:

‘Pupil progress and achievement should be communicated in terms of descriptive profiles rather than condensed to numerical summaries (although schools may wish to use numerical data for internal purposes).’

Frankly it seems unlikely that such ‘condensed numerical summaries’ can be kept hidden from parents. Indeed, one might argue that they have a reasonable right to know them.

These aggregations – whether qualitative or quantitative – will be differentiated at three levels, according to whether the learner best fits a ‘working towards’, ‘meeting’ or ‘exceeding’ judgement for the criteria relating to the appropriate year in each programme of study.

I have just recommended that there needs to be an additional level at the top end, to remove undesirable ceiling effects that lower expectations and are inconsistent with the Principles set out in the Report. I leave it to others to judge whether, if this was accepted, a fifth level is also required at the lower end to preserve the symmetry of the scale.

There is also a ‘chicken and egg’ issue here. It is not clear whether a learner must already be meeting some of the criteria for the succeeding year in order to show they are exceeding the criteria for their own year – or whether assessment against the criteria for the succeeding year is one potential consequence of a judgement that they are exceeding the criteria for their own year.

This confusion is reinforced by a difference of emphasis between the checklist – which says clearly that learners will be assessed against the criteria for the succeeding year if they exceeded the criteria for their own – and the explanatory note, which says only that this may happen.

Moreover, the note suggests that this applies criterion by criterion – ‘where a student has exceeded a criterion’ – rather than after the criteria have been aggregated, which is the logical assumption from the wording in the checklist – ‘exceeded the relevant criteria’.

This too needs clarifying.

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Recommendations and Commentary

I will try not to repeat in this section material already covered above.

I found that the recommendations did not always sit logically with the preceding commentary, so I have departed from the subsections used in the Report, grouping the material into four broad sections: further methodological issues; in-school and school-to school support; national support; and phased implementation.

Each section leads with the relevant Recommendations and folds in additional relevant material from different sections of the commentary. I have repeated recommendations where they are relevant to more than one section.

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Further methodological issues

Recommendation 4: Pupils should be assessed against objective criteria rather than ranked against each other

Recommendation 5: Pupil progress and achievements should be communicated in terms of descriptive profiles rather than condensed to numerical summaries (although schools may wish to use numerical data for internal purposes.

Recommendation 6: In respect of the National Curriculum, we believe it is valuable – to aid communication and comparison – for schools to be using consistent criteria for assessment. To this end, we call upon NAHT to develop and promote a set of model assessment criteria based on the new National Curriculum.

The commentary discusses the evolution of National Curriculum levels, including the use of sub-levels and their application to progress as well as achievement. In doing so, it summarises the arguments for and against the retention of levels.

In favour of retention:

  • The system of levels provides a common language used by schools to summarise attainment and progress;
  • It is argued (by some professionals) that parents have grown up with levels and have an adequate grasp of what they mean;
  • The numerical basis of levels was useful to schools in analysing and tracking the performance of large numbers of pupils;
  • The decision to remove levels was unexpected and caused concern within the profession, especially as it was also announced that being ‘secondary ready’ was to be associated with the achievement of Level 4B;
  • If levels are removed, they must be replaced by a different common language, or at least ‘an element of compatibility or common understanding’ should several different assessment systems emerge.

In favour of removal:

  • It is argued (by the Government) that levels are not understood by parents and other stakeholders;
  • The numerical basis of levels does not have the richness of a more rounded description of achievement. The important narrative behind the headline number is often lost through over-simplification.
  • There are adverse effects from labelling learners with levels.

The Commission is also clear that the Government places too great a reliance on tests, particularly for accountability purposes. This has narrowed the curriculum and resulted in ‘teaching to the test’.

It also creates other perverse incentives, including the inflation of assessment outcomes for performance management purposes or, conversely, the deflation of assessment outcomes to increase the rate of progress during the subsequent key stage.

Moreover, curriculum, assessment and pedagogy must be mutually supportive. Although the Government has not allowed the assessment tail to wag the curricular dog:

‘…curriculum and assessment should be developed in tandem.’

Self-evidently, this has not happened, since the National Curriculum was finalised way ahead of the associated assessment arrangements which, in the primary sector, are still unconfirmed.

There is a strong argument that such assessment criteria should have been developed by the Government and made integral to the National Curriculum.

Indeed, in Chapter 7 of its Report on ‘The Framework for the National Curriculum’, the National Curriculum Expert Panel proposed that attainment targets should be retained, not in the form of level descriptors but as ‘statements of specific learning outcomes related to essential knowledge’ that  would be ’both detailed and precise’. They might be presented alongside the Programmes of Study.

The Government ignored this, opting for a very broad single, standard attainment target in each programme of study:

‘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.’

As I pointed out in a previous post, one particularly glaring omission from the Consultation Document on Primary Assessment and Accountability was any explanation of how Key Stage Two tests and statutory teacher assessments would be developed from these singleton ‘lowest common denominator’ attainment targets, especially in a context where academies, while not obliged to follow the National Curriculum, would undertake the associated tests.

We must await the long-delayed response to the consultation to see if it throws any light on this matter.

Will it commit the Government to producing a framework, at least for statutory tests in the core subjects, or will it throw its weight behind the NAHT’s model criteria instead?

I have summarised this section of the Report in some detail as it is the nearest it gets to providing a rational justification for the approach set out in the recommendations above.

The model criteria appear confined to the National Curriculum at this point, though we have already noted that is not the case elsewhere in the Report.

I have also discussed briefly the inconsistency in permitting the translation of descriptive profiles into numerical data ‘for internal purposes’, but undertook to develop that further, for there is a wider case that the Report does not entertain.

We know that there will be scores attached to KS2 tests, since those are needed to inform parents and for accountability purposes.

The Primary Assessment and Accountability consultation document proposed a tripartite approach:

  • Scaled scores to show attainment, built around a new ‘secondary-ready’ standard, broadly comparable with the current Level 4B;
  • Allocation to a decile within the range of scaled scores achieved nationally, showing attainment compared with one’s peers; and
  • Comparison with the average scaled score of those nationally with the same prior attainment at the baseline, to show relative progress.

Crudely speaking, the first of these measures is criterion-referenced while the second and third are norm-referenced.

We do not yet know whether these proposals will proceed – there has been some suggestion that deciles at least will be dropped – but parents will undoubtedly want schools to be able to tell them what scaled scores their children are on target to achieve, and how those compare with the average for those with similar prior attainment.

It will be exceptionally difficult for schools to convey that information within the descriptive profiles, insofar as they relate to English and maths, without adopting the same numerical measures.

It might be more helpful to schools if the NAHT’s recommendations recognised that fact. For the brutal truth is that, if schools’ internal assessment processes do not respond to this need, they will have to set up parallel processes that do so.

In order to derive descriptive profiles, there must be objective assessment criteria that supply the building blocks, hence the first part of Recommendation 4. But I can find nothing in the Report that explains explicitly why pupils cannot also be ranked against each other. This can only be a veiled and unsubstantiated objection to deciles.

Of course it would be quite possible to rank pupils at school level and, in effect, that is what schools will do when they condense the descriptive profiles into numerical summaries.

The real position here is that such rankings would exist, but would not be communicated to parents, for fear of ‘labelling’. But the labelling has already occurred, so the resistance is attributable solely to communicating these numerical outcomes to parents. That is not a sustainable position.

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In-school and school-to-school support

Recommendation 1: Schools should review their assessment practice against the principles and checklist set out in this report. Staff should be involved in the evaluation of existing practice and the development of a new, rigorous assessment system and procedures to enable the school to promote high quality teaching and learning.

Recommendation 2: All schools should have clear assessment principles and practices to which all staff are committed and which are implemented. These principles should be supported by school governors and accessible to parents, other stakeholders and the wider school community.

Recommendation 3: Assessment should be part of all school development plans and should be reviewed regularly. This review process should involve every school identifying its own learning and development needs for assessment. Schools should allocate specific time and resources for professional development in this area and should monitor how the identified needs are being met.

Recommendation 7 (part): Schools should work in collaboration, for example in clusters, to ensure a consistent approach to assessment. Furthermore, excellent practice in assessment should be identified and publicised…

Recommendation 9: Schools should identify a trained assessment lead, who will work with other local leads and nationally accredited assessment experts on moderation activities.

Recommendation 16: All those responsible for children’s learning should undertake rigorous training in formative, diagnostic and summative assessment, which covers how assessment can be used to support teaching and learning for all pupils, including those with special educational needs. The government should provide support and resources for accredited training for school assessment leads and schools should make assessment training a priority.

Recommendation 20: Schools should be asked to publish their principles of assessment from September 2014, rather than being required to publish a detailed assessment framework, which instead should be published by 2016. The development of the full framework should be outlined in the school development plan with appropriate milestones that allow the school sufficient time to develop an effective model.

All these recommendations are perfectly reasonable in themselves, but it is worth reflecting for a while on the likely cost and workload implications, particularly for smaller primary schools:

Each school must have a ‘trained assessment lead’ who may or may not be the same as the ‘senior leader who is responsible for assessment’ mentioned in the Design Checklist. There is no list of responsibilities for that person, but it would presumably include:

  • Leading the review of assessment practice and developing a new assessment system;
  • Leading the definition of the school’s assessment principles and practices and communicating these to governors, parents, stakeholders and the wider community;
  • Lead responsibility for the coverage of assessment within the school’s development plan and the regular review of that coverage;
  • Leading the identification and monitoring of the school’s learning and development needs for assessment;
  • Ensuring that all staff receive appropriate professional development – including ‘rigorous training in formative diagnostic and summative assessment’;
  • Leading the provision of in-school and school-to-school professional development relating to assessment;
  • Allocating time and resources for all assessment-related professional development and monitoring its impact;
  • Leading collaborative work with other schools to ensure a consistent approach to assessment;
  • Dissemination of effective practice;
  • Working with other local assessment leads and external assessment experts on moderation activities.

And, on top of this, there is a range of unspecified additional responsibilities associated with the statutory tests.

It is highly unlikely that this range of responsibilities could be undertaken effectively by a single person in less than half a day a week, as a bare minimum. There will also be periods of more intense pressure when a substantially larger time allocation is essential.

The corresponding salary cost for a ‘senior leader’ might be £3,000-£4,000 per year, not to mention the cost of undertaking the other responsibilities displaced.

There will also need to be a sizeable school budget and time allocation for staff to undertake reviews, professional development and moderation activities.

Moderation itself will bear a significant cost. Internal moderation may have a bigger opportunity cost but external moderation will otherwise be more expensive.

Explanatory note (E), attached to the Design Checklist, says:

‘The exact form of moderation will vary from school to school and from subject to subject. The majority of moderation (in schools large enough to support it) will be internal but all schools should undertake a proportion of external moderation each year, working with partner schools and local agencies.’

Hence the cost of external moderation will fall disproportionately on smaller schools with smaller budgets.

It would be wrong to suggest that this workload is completely new. To some extent these various responsibilities will be undertaken already, but the Commission’s recommendations are effectively a ratcheting up of the demand on schools.

Rather than insisting on these responsibilities being allocated to a single individual with other senior management responsibilities, it might be preferable to set out the responsibilities in more detail and give schools greater flexibility over how they should be distributed between staff.

Some of these tasks might require senior management input, but others could be handled by other staff, including paraprofessionals.

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National support

Recommendation 7 (part): Furthermore, excellent practice in assessment should be identified and publicised, with the Department for Education responsible for ensuring that this is undertaken.

Recommendation 8 (part): Schools should be prepared to submit their assessment to external moderators, who should have the right to provide a written report to the head teacher and governors setting out a judgement on the quality and reliability of assessment in the school, on which the school should act. The Commission is of the view that at least some external moderation should be undertaken by moderators with no vested interest in the outcomes of the school’s assessment. This will avoid any conflicts of interest and provide objective scrutiny and broader alignment of standards across schools.

Recommendation 9: Schools should identify a trained assessment lead, who will work with other local leads and nationally accredited assessment experts on moderation activities.

Recommendation 11: The Ofsted school inspection framework should explore whether schools have effective assessment systems in place and consider how effectively schools are using pupil assessment information and data to improve learning in the classroom and at key points of transition between key stages and schools.

Recommendation 14: Further work should be undertaken to improve training for assessment within initial teacher training (ITT), the newly qualified teacher (NQT) induction year and on-going professional development. This will help to build assessment capacity and support a process of continual strengthening of practice within the school system.

Recommendation 15: The Universities’ Council for the Education of Teachers (UCET) should build provision in initial teacher training for delivery of the essential assessment knowledge.

Recommendation 16: All those responsible for children’s learning should undertake rigorous training in formative, diagnostic and summative assessment, which covers how assessment can be used to support teaching and learning for all pupils, including those with special educational needs. The government should provide support and resources for accredited training for school assessment leads and schools should make assessment training a priority.

Recommendation 17: A number of pilot studies should be undertaken to look at the use of information technology (IT) to support and broaden understanding and application of assessment practice.

Recommendation 19: To assist schools in developing a robust framework and language for assessment, we call upon the NAHT to take the lead in expanding the principles and design checklist contained in this report into a full model assessment policy and procedures, backed by appropriate professional development.

There are also several additional proposals in the commentary that do not make it into the formal recommendations:

  • Schools should be held accountable for the quality of their assessment practice as well as their assessment results, with headteachers also appraising teachers on their use of assessment. (The first part of this formulation appears in Recommendation 11 but not the second.) (p17);
  • It could be useful for the teaching standards to reflect further assessment knowledge, skills and understanding (p17);
  • A national standard in assessment practice for teachers would be a useful addition (p18);
  • The Commission also favoured the approach of having a lead assessor to work with each school or possibly a group of schools, helping to embed good practice across the profession (p18).

We need to take stock of the sheer scale of the infrastructure that is being proposed and its likely cost.

In respect of moderation alone, the Report is calling for sufficient external moderators, ‘nationally accredited assessment experts’ and possibly lead assessors to service some 17,000 primary schools.

Even if we assume that these roles are combined in the same person and that each person can service, say, 25 schools, that still demands something approaching a cadre of 700 people who also need to be supported, managed and trained.

If they are serving teachers there is an obvious opportunity cost. Providing a service of this scale would cost tens of millions of pounds a year.

Turning to training and professional development, the Commission is proposing:

  • Accredited training for some 17,000 school assessment leads (with an ongoing requirement to train new appointees and refresh the training of those who undertook it too far in the past);
  • ‘Rigorous training in formative, diagnostic and summative assessment, which covers how assessment can be used to support teaching and learning for all pupils, including those with special educational needs’ for everyone deemed responsible for children’s learning, so not just teachers. This will include hundreds of thousands of people in the primary sector alone.
  • Revitalised coverage of assessment in ITE and induction, on top of the requisite professional development package.

The Report says nothing of the cost of developing, providing and managing this huge training programme, which would cost some more tens of millions of pounds a year.

I am plucking a figure out of the air, but it would be reasonable to suggest that moderation and training costs combined might require an annual budget of some £50 million – and quite possibly double that. 

Unless one argues that the testing regime should be replaced by a national sampling process – and while the Report says some of the Commission’s members supported that, it stops short of recommending it – there are no obvious offsetting savings.

It is disappointing that the Commission made no effort at all to quantify the cost of its proposals.

These recommendations provide an excellent marketing opportunity for some of the bodies represented on the Commission.

For example, the CIEA press release welcoming the Report says:

‘One of the challenges, and one that schools will need to meet, is in working together, and with local and national assessment experts, to moderate their judgements and ensure they are working to common standards across the country. The CIEA has an important role to play in training these experts.’

Responsibility for undertaking pilot studies on the role of IT in assessment is not allocated, but one assumes it would be overseen by central government and also funded by the taxpayer.

Any rollout from the pilots would have additional costs attached and would more than likely create additional demand for professional development.

The reference to DfE taking responsibility for sharing excellent practice is already a commitment in the consultation document:

‘…we will provide examples of good practice which schools may wish to follow. We will work with professional associations, subject experts, education publishers and external test developers to signpost schools to a range of potential approaches.’ (paragraph 3.8).

Revision of the School Inspection Framework will require schools to give due priority to the quality of their assessment practice, though Ofsted might reasonably argue that it is already there.

Paragraph 116 of the School Inspection Handbook says:

‘Evidence gathered by inspectors during the course of the inspection should include… the quality and rigour of assessment, particularly in nursery, reception and Key Stage 1.’

We do not yet know whether NAHT will respond positively to the recommendation that it should go beyond the model assessment criteria it has already commissioned by leading work to expand the Principles and Design Checklist into ‘a full model assessment policy and procedures backed by appropriate professional development’.

There was no reference to such plans in the press release accompanying the Report.

Maybe the decision could not be ratified in time by the Association’s decision-making machinery – but this did not prevent the immediate commissioning of the model criteria.

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Phased Implementation

Recommendation 10: Ofsted should articulate clearly how inspectors will take account of assessment practice in making judgements and ensure both guidance and training for inspectors is consistent with this.

Recommendation 12: The Department for Education should make a clear and unambiguous statement on the teacher assessment data that schools will be required to report to parents and submit to the Department for Education. Local authorities and other employers should provide similar clarity about requirements in their area of accountability.

Recommendation 13: The education system is entering a period of significant change in curriculum and assessment, where schools will be creating, testing and revising their policies and procedures. The government should make clear how they will take this into consideration when reviewing the way they hold schools accountable as new national assessment arrangements are introduced during 2014/15. Conclusions about trends in performance may not be robust.

Recommendation 18: The use by schools of suitably modified National Curriculum levels as an interim measure in 2014 should be supported by the government. However, schools need to be clear that any use of levels in relation to the new curriculum can only be a temporary arrangement to enable them to develop, implement and embed a robust new framework for assessment. Schools need to be conscious that the new curriculum is not in alignment with the old National Curriculum levels.

Recommendation 20: Schools should be asked to publish their principles of assessment from September 2014, rather than being required to publish a detailed assessment framework, which instead should be published by 2016. The development of the full framework should be outlined in the school development plan with appropriate milestones that allow the school sufficient time to develop an effective model.

Recommendation 21: A system wide review of assessment should be undertaken. This would help to repair the disjointed nature of assessment through all ages, 2-19.

The Commission quite rightly identifies a number of issues caused by the implementation timetable, combined with continuing uncertainty over aspects of the Government’s plans.

At the time of writing, the response to the consultation document has still not been published (though it was due in autumn 2013) yet schools will be implementing the new National Curriculum from this September.

The Report says:

‘There was strong concern expressed about the requirement for schools to publish their detailed curriculum and assessment framework in September 2014.’

This is repeated in Recommendation 20, together with the suggestion that this timeline should be amended so that only a school’s principles for assessment need be published by this September.

I have been trying to pin down the source of this requirement.

Schedule 4 of The School Information (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2012 do not require the publication of a detailed assessment framework, referring only to

‘The following information about the school curriculum—

(a)  in relation to each academic year, the content of the curriculum followed by the school for each subject and details as to how additional information relating to the curriculum may be obtained;

(b)  in relation to key stage 1, the names of any phonics or reading schemes in operation; and

(c)  in relation to key stage 4—

(i)            a list of the courses provided which lead to a GCSE qualification,

(ii)          a list of other courses offered at key stage 4 and the qualifications that may be acquired.’

I could find no Government guidance stating unequivocally that this requires schools to carve up all the National Curriculum programmes of study into year-by-year chunks.  (Though there is no additional burden attached to publication if they have already undertaken this task for planning purposes.)

There are references to the publication of Key Stage 2 results (which will presumably need updating to reflect the removal of levels), but nothing on the assessment framework.

Moreover, the DfE mandatory timeline says that from the Spring Term of 2014:

‘All schools must publish their school curriculum by subject and academic year, including their provision of personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE).’

(The hyperlink returns one to the Regulations quoted above.)

There is no requirement for publication of further information in September.

I wonder therefore if this is a misunderstanding. I stand to be corrected if readers can point me to the source.

It may arise from the primary assessment and accountability consultation document, which discusses publication of curricular details and then proceeds immediately to discuss the relationship between curriculum and assessment:

‘Schools are required to publish this curriculum on their website…In turn schools will be free to design their approaches to assessment, to support pupil attainment and progression. The assessment framework must 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.’ (paras 3.4-3.5)

But this conflation isn’t supported by the evidence above and, anyway, these are merely proposals.

That said, it must be assumed that the Commission consulted its DfE observer on this point before basing recommendations on this interpretation.

If the observer’s response was consistent with the Commission’s interpretation, then it is apparently inconsistent with all the material so far published by the Department!

It may be necessary for NAHT to obtain clarification of this point given the evidence cited above.

That aside, there are issues associated with the transition from the current system to the future system.

The DfE’s January 2014 ‘myths and facts’ publication says:

‘As part of our reforms to the national curriculum, the current system of “levels” used to report children’s attainment and progress will be removed from September 2014. Levels are not being banned, but will not be updated to reflect the new national curriculum and will not be used to report the results of national curriculum tests. Key Stage 1 and Key Stage KS2 [sic] tests taken in the 2014 to 2015 academic year will be against the previous national curriculum, and will continue to use levels for reporting purposes

Schools will be expected to have in place approaches to formative assessment that 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. Schools will have the flexibility to use approaches that work for their pupils and circumstances, without being constrained by a single national approach.’

The reference here to having approaches in place – rather than the publication of a ‘detailed curriculum and assessment framework’ – would not seem wildly inconsistent with the Commission’s idea that schools should establish their principles by September 2014, and develop their detailed assessment frameworks iteratively over the two succeeding years. However, the Government needs to clarify the position.

Since Key Stage 2 tests will not dispense with levels until May 2016 (and they will be published in the December 2015 Performance Tables), there will be an extended interregnum in which National Curriculum Levels will continue to have official currency.

Moreover, levels may still be used in schools – they are not being banned – though they will not be aligned to the new National Curriculum.

The Report says:

‘…it is important to recognise that, even if schools decide to continue with some form of levels, the new National Curriculum does not align to the existing levels and level descriptors and this alignment is a piece of work that needs to be undertaken now.’ (p19).

However, the undertaking of this work does not feature in the Recommendations, unless it is implicit in the production by NAHT of ‘a full model assessment policy and procedures’, which seems unlikely.

One suspects that the Government would be unwilling to endorse such a process, even as a temporary arrangement, since what is to stop schools from continuing to use this new improved levels structure more permanently?

The Commission would appear to be on stronger ground in asking Ofsted to make allowances during the interregnum (which is what I think Recommendation 10 is about) especially given that, as Recommendation 13 points out, evidence of ‘trends in performance may not be robust’.

The point about clarity over teacher assessment is well made – and one hopes it will form part of the response to the primary assessment and accountability consultation document when that is eventually published.

The Report itself could have made progress in this direction by establishing and maintaining a clearer distinction between statutory and internal teacher assessment.

The consultation document itself made clear that KS2 writing would continue to be assessed via teacher assessment rather than a test, and, moreover:

‘At the end of each key stage schools are required to report teacher assessment judgements in all national curriculum subjects to parents. Teachers will judge whether each pupil has met the expectations set out in the new national curriculum. We propose to continue publishing this teacher assessment in English, mathematics and science, as Lord Bew recommended.’ (para 3.9)

But what it does not say is what requirements will be imposed to ensure consistency across this data. Aside from KS2 writing, will they also be subject to the new scaled scores, and potentially deciles too?

Until schools have answers to that question, they cannot consider the overall shape of their assessment processes.

The final recommendation, for a system-wide review of assessment from 2-19 is whistling in the wind, especially given the level of disruption already caused by the decision to remove levels.

Neither this Government nor the next is likely to act upon it.

 

Conclusion

The Commission’s Report moves us forward in broadly the right direction.

The Principles, Design Checklist and wider recommendations help to fill some of the void created by the decision to remove National Curriculum levels, the limited nature of the primary assessment and accountability consultation document and the inordinate delay in the Government’s response to that consultation.

We are in a significantly better place as a consequence of this work being undertaken.

But there are some worrying inconsistencies in the Report as well as some significant shortcomings to the proposals it contains. There are also several unanswered questions.

Not to be outdone, I have bound these up into a series of recommendations directed at NAHT and its Commission. There are 23 in all and I have given mine letters rather than numerals, to distinguish them from the Commission’s own recommendations.

  • Recommendation A: The Commission should publish all the written evidence it received.
  • Recommendation B: The Commission should consult on key provisions within the Report, seeking explicit commitment to the Principles from DfE, Ofqual and Ofsted.
  •  Recommendation C: The Commission should ensure that its Design Checklist is fully consistent with the Principles in all respects. It should also revisit the internal logic of the Design Checklist.
  • Recommendation D: So far as possible, ahead of the primary assessment and accountability consultation response, the Commission should distinguish clearly how its proposals relate to statutory teacher assessment, alongside schools’ internal assessment processes.
  • Recommendation E: NAHT should confirm who it has commissioned to produce model assessment criteria and to what timetable. It should also explain how these criteria will be ‘nationally standardised’.
  • Recommendation F: The Commission should clarify whether the trained assessment lead mentioned in Recommendation 9 is the same or different to the ‘senior leader who is responsible for assessment’ mentioned in the Design Checklist.
  • Recommendation G: The Commission should set out more fully the responsibilities allocated to this role or roles and clarify that schools have flexibility over how they distribute those responsibilities between staff.
  • Recommendation H:  NAHT should clarify how the model criteria under development apply – if at all – to the wider school curriculum in all schools and to academies not following the National Curriculum.
  • Recommendation I: NAHT should clarify how the model criteria under development will allow for the fact that in all subjects all schools enjoy flexibility over the positioning of content in different years within the same key stage – and can also anticipate parts of the subsequent key stage.
  • Recommendation J: NAHT should clarify whether the intention is that the model criteria should reflect the allocation of content to specific terms as well as to specific years.
  • Recommendation K: The Commission should explain how its approach to internal assessment will help predict future performance in end of Key Stage tests.
  • Recommendation L: The Commission should shift from its narrow and ‘mildly accelerative’ view of high attainment to accommodate a richer concept that combines enrichment (breadth), extension (depth) and acceleration (faster pace) according to learners’ individual needs.
  • Recommendation M: The Commission should incorporate a fourth ‘far exceeded’ assessment judgement, since the ‘exceeded’ judgement covers too wide a span of attainment.
  • Recommendation N: NAHT should clarify whether its model criteria will extend into KS3, to accommodate assessment against the criteria for at least year 7, and ideally beyond.
  • Recommendation O: The Commission should clarify whether anticipating criteria for a subsequent year is a cause or a consequence of being judged to be ‘exceeding’ expectations in the learner’s own chronological year.
  • Recommendation P: The Commission should confirm that numerical summaries of assessment criteria – as well as any associated ranking positions – should be made available to parents who request them.
  • Recommendation Q: The Commission should explain why schools should be forbidden from ranking learners against each other (or allocating them to deciles).
  • Recommendation R: The Commission should assess the financial impact of its proposals on schools of different sizes.
  • Recommendation S: The Commission should cost its proposals for training and moderation, identifying the burden on the taxpayer and any offsetting savings.
  • Recommendation T: NAHT should clarify its response to Recommendation 19, that it should lead the development of a full model assessment policy and procedures.
  • Recommendation U: The Commission should clarify with DfE its understanding that schools are required to publish a detailed curriculum and assessment framework by September 2014.
  • Recommendation V: The Commission should clarify with DfE the expectation that it should have in place ‘approaches to formative assessment’ and whether the proposed assessment principles satisfy this requirement.
  • Recommendation W: The commission should clarify whether it is proposing that work is undertaken to align National Curriculum levels with the new National Curriculum and, if so, who it proposes should undertake this.

So – good overall – subject to these 23 reservations!

Some are more significant than others. Given my area of specialism, I feel particularly strongly about those that relate directly to high attainers, especially L and M above.

Those are the two I would nail to the door of 1 Heath Square.

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GP

March 2014

Accountability, Assessment and the New National Curriculum: Part Two

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This is the second part of a revised, updated and extended analysis of proposals for the reform of the National Curriculum, its assessment and the use of assessment data to within accountability arrangements.

New material, about the primary assessment and accountability consultation document, is emboldened. I have also published it separately.

Part One concluded with an extended commentary on the newly available consultation document on primary assessment and accountability. Before drawing out the implications of that commentary, I want to return to the National Curriculum proposals.

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Issues with the National Curriculum Proposals

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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Challenge

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.

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Aims

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.’

To:

‘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.

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Primary Assessment and Accountability: Issues and Omissions

The extended analysis in Part One revealed a plethora of issues with the various measures proposed within the consultation document it.

Equally, it ignores some important questions raised by material already published, especially the parallel secondary consultation document.

So we have a rather distorted picture with several missing pieces.

The longer first section below draws together the shortcomings in the argument constructed by the consultation document. I have organised these thematically rather than present them in order of magnitude – too many are first order issues.

The shorter second section presents the most outstanding unanswered questions.

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Issues arising from the consultation document

The multiple issues of concern include:

  • The core purpose of the Pupil Premium in primary schools: Is it to narrow attainment gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged learners, or to push the maximum number of schools over more demanding floor targets by delivering more ‘secondary ready’ pupils, regardless of disadvantage. There is much evidence to support the Husbands’ argument that the Premium ‘is now more clearly a fund to secure threshold levels of attainment.’ There is some overlap between the two objectives – though not as much as we commonly think, as the IPPR report quoted above points out. Chasing both simultaneously will surely reduce the chances of success on each count. That does not bode well for the Government’s KPIs.
  • The definition of ‘secondary ready’: This is based exclusively on an attainment measure derived from scores achieved in once-only tests in maths and aspects of English, plus teacher assessment in writing. It is narrow in a curricular sense, but also in the sense that it defines readiness entirely in terms of attainment, even though the document admits that this is ‘the single most important outcome’ rather than the only outcome.
  • The pitch of the new attainment threshold for the floor target: The level of demand has been ratcheted up significantly, by increasing the height of the hurdle from Level 4c to Level 4b-equivalent and increasing the percentage of pupils required to reach this level by 25%, from 60% to 85%. The consultation document says unpublished modelling suggests combining this with fixing the proposed progress measure a percentage or two below the average ‘would result in a similar number of schools falling below the floor as at present’. It would be helpful to see hard evidence that this is indeed the case. Given that the vast majority of schools will be judged against the floor standard solely on the attainment measure (see below), there are grounds for contesting the assertion.
  • Whether the proposed floor target consists of two measures or one of two measures: There is considerable ambiguity within the consultation document on this point, but the weight of evidence suggests that the latter applies, and that progression is only to be brought into the equation when schools ‘have particularly challenging intakes’. This again supports the Husbands line. It is a significant change from current arrangements in the primary sector and is also materially different to proposed arrangements for the secondary sector. It ought to be far more explicit as a consequence.
  • The risk of perverse incentives in the floor targets: The consultation document points out that inclusion of a progress measure reduces a perverse incentive to focus exclusively or disproportionately on learners near the borderline of the attainment threshold. But if the progress measure is only to apply to a small (but unquantified) minority of schools with the most demanding intakes, the perverse incentive remains in place for most. In any case, a measure that focuses on average progress across the cohort does not necessarily militate against disproportionate attention to those at the borderline.
  • Which principles are the core principles? We were promised a set of such principles in the piece quoted above on ‘Assessment without levels’. Instead we seem to have a set of ‘key principles’ on which ‘the proposals in this consultation are based’, these being derived from Bew (paragraph 1.5) and some additional points that the main text concedes do not themselves qualify as core principles (paragraph 3.7). Yet the consultation question about core principles follows directly beneath the latter and, moreover, calls them principles! This is confusing, to say the least.
  • Are the core principles consistently followed? This depends of course on what counts as a core principle. But if one of those principles is Bew’s insistence that ‘measures of progress should be given at least as much weight as attainment’, that does not seem to apply to the treatment of floor targets in the document, where the attainment threshold trumps the progress measure. If one of the core proposals runs counter to the proposed principles, that is clearly a fundamental flaw.
  • Implications of a choice of in-house assessment schemes: Schools will be able to develop their own schemes or else draw on commercially available products. One possibility is that the market will become increasingly dominated by a few commercial providers who profit excessively from this arrangement. Another is that hundreds of alternative schemes will be generated and there will be very little consistency between those in use in different schools. This will render primary-secondary transition and in-phase transfer much more complex, especially for ‘outlier’ learners. It seems that this downside of a market-driven curriculum and assessment model has not been properly quantified or acknowledged.
  • Whether or not these apply to statutory teacher assessment: We know that the results of teacher assessment in writing will feature in the new floor target, alongside the outcomes of tests which attract a new-style scale score. But does this imply that all statutory teacher assessment will attract similar scale scores, or will it be treated as ‘ongoing assessment’. I might have missed it, but I cannot find an authoritative answer to this point in the document.
  • Whether the proposed tripartite report to parents is easier to understand than existing arrangements: This is a particularly significant issue. The argument that the system of National Curriculum levels was not properly understood is arguably a fault of poor communication rather than inherent to the system itself. It is also more than arguable that the alternative now proposed – comprising a scaled score, decile and comparative scaled score in each test – is at least as hard for parents to comprehend. There is no interest in converting this data into a simple set of proxy grades with an attainment and a progression dimension, as I have proposed. The complexity is compounded because schools’ internal assessment systems may well be completely different. Parents are currently able to understand progress within a single coherent framework. In future they will need to relate one system for in-school assessment to another for end of key stage assessment. This is a major shortcoming that is not properly exposed in the document.
  • Whether decile-based differentiation is sufficient: Parents arguably have a right to know in which percentile their children’s performance falls, rather than just the relevant decile. At the top of the attainment spectrum, Level 6 achievement is more differentiated than a top decile measure, in that those who pass the test are a much more selective group than the top ten percent. The use of comparatively vague deciles may be driven by concern about labelling (and perhaps also some recognition of the unreliability of more specific outcomes from this assessment process). The document insists that only parents will be informed about deciles, but it does not require a soothsayer to predict that learners will come to know them, just as they know their levels. (The secondary consultation document sees virtue in older learners knowing and using their ‘APS8 score’ so what is different?) In practice it is hard to imagine a scenario where those in possession of percentile rankings could withhold this data if a parent demanded it.
  • Norm versus criterion-referencing: Some commentators appear relatively untroubled by a measure of progress that rests entirely on comparison between a learner and his peers. They suppose that most parents are most concerned whether their child is keeping up with their peers, rather than whether their rate of progress is consistent with some abstract measure. That may be true – and it may be also too difficult to design a new progress measure that applies consistently to the non-linear development of every learner, regardless of their prior attainment. On the other hand, it does not seem impossible to contemplate a measure of progress associated with the concept of ‘mastery’ that is now presumed to underpin the National Curriculum, since its proponents are clear that ‘mastery’ does not hold back those who are capable of progressing further and faster.
  • Development of tests to suit all abilities and the risk of ceiling effects: There must be some degree of doubt whether universal tests are the optimal approach to assessment for the full attainment spectrum, especially for those at either end, particularly in maths where the span of the spectrum is huge. The document contains an assurance that the new tests will be at least as demanding as existing Level 6 tests, so single tests will aim to accommodate six levels of attainment in old money. Is that feasible? Despite the assurance, the risk of undesirable ceiling effects is real and of particular concern for the highest attainers.
  • Where to pitch the baseline: The arguments in favour of a Year R baseline – and the difficulties associated with implementing one – have attracted the lion’s share of the criticism directed at the paper, which has rather served to obscure some of its other shortcomings. The obvious worry is that the baseline check will be either disproportionate or unreliable – and quite possibly both. Most of the focus is on the overall burden of testing: the document floats a variety of ideas that would add another layer of fragmentation and complexity, such as making the check optional, making KS1 tests optional and providing different routes for stand-alone infant/junior schools and all-through primaries.
  • The nature of the baseline check: Conversely, the consultation document is unhelpfully coy about the nature of the check required. If it had made a better fist of describing the likely parameters of the check, exaggerated concerns about its negative impact on young children might have been allayed. Instead, the focus on the overall testing burden leads one to assume that the Year R check will be comparatively onerous.
  • How high attainers will be defined in the performance tables: There are welcome commitments to a ‘high attainer’ measure for each test, based on scaled scores, and the separate publication of this measure for those in receipt of the Pupil Premium. But we are given no idea where the measure will be pitched, nor whether it will address progress as well as attainment. One obvious approach would be to use the top decile, but that runs against an earlier commitment not to incorporate the deciles in performance tables, despite there being no obvious reason why this should be problematic, assuming that anonymity can be preserved (which may not be possible in smaller cohorts). It would be particularly disappointing if high attainers continue to be defined as around one third of the cohort – say the top three deciles, but that may be the path of least resistance.

Labour’s response to the consultation document picks up some of these issues. Their initial statement focused on the disappearance of ‘national statements of learning outcomes’, how a norm-referenced approach would protect standards over time and the narrowness of the ‘secondary-ready’ concept.

A subsequent Twigg article begins with the latter point, bemoaning the Government’s:

‘Backward looking vision, premised on rote-learning and a failure to value the importance of the skills and aptitudes that young people need to succeed’.

It moves on to oppose the removal of level descriptors:

‘There might be a case to look at reforming level descriptors to ensure sufficient challenge but scrapping them outright is completely misguided and will undermine standards in primary schools’

and the adoption of norm-referenced ranking into deciles:

‘By ranking pupils against others in their year- rather than against set, year-on-year standards – this will lead to distortions from one year to another. There is not a sound policy case for this.’

But it offers support for changing the baseline:

‘I have been clear that I want to work constructively on the idea of setting baseline assessments at 5. There is a progressive case for doing this. All-too-often it is the case that the prior attainment of children from socially-deprived backgrounds is much lower than for the rest. It is indeed important that schools are able to identify a baseline of pupil attainment so that teachers can monitor learning and challenge all children to reach their potential.’

Unfortunately, this stops short of a clear articulation of Labour policy on any of these three points, though it does suggest that several aspects of these reforms are highly vulnerable should the 2015 General Election go in Labour’s favour.

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Omissions

There are several outstanding questions within the section above, but also a shorter list of issues relating to the interface between the primary assessment and accountability consultation document, its secondary counterpart and the National Curriculum proposals. Key amongst them are:

  • Consistency between the primary and secondary floor targets: The secondary consultation is clear ‘that schools should have to meet a set standard on both the threshold and progress measure to be above the floor’. There is no obvious justification for adopting an alternative threshold-heavy approach in the primary sector. Indeed, it is arguable that the principle of a floor relies on broad consistency of application across phases. Progression across the attainment spectrum in the primary phase should not be sacrificed on the altar of a single, narrow ‘secondary ready’ attainment threshold.
  • How the KS2 to KS4 progress measure will be calculated: While the baseline-KS2 progress measure may be second order for the purposes of the primary floor, the KS2-KS4 progression measure is central to the proposals in the secondary consultation document. We now know that this will be based on the relationship between the KS2 scaled score and the APS8 measure. But there is no information about how these two different currencies will be linked together. Will the scaled score be extended into KS3 and KS4 so that GCSE grades are ‘translated’ into higher points on the same scale? Further information is needed before we can judge the appropriateness of the proposed primary scaled scores as a baseline.
  • How tests will be developed from singleton attainment targets: This issue has already been raised in the National Curriculum section above. The process by which tests will be developed in the absence of a framework of level descriptions and given single ‘lowest common denominator’ attainment targets for each programme of study remains shrouded in mystery. This is not simply a dry technical issue, because it informs our understanding of the nature of the tests proposed. It also raises important questions about the relationship academies will need to have with programmes of study that – ostensibly at least – they are not required to follow. One might have hoped that the primary document would throw some light on this matter.

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Overall Judgement

National Curriculum

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On the National Curriculum side I have flagged up some significant concerns.

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. 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.

On a scaled score from 80 to 130 I would rate the Government at 95 and the Opposition at 80.

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Assessment and accountability

Because there has been no effort to link together the proposals in the primary and secondary consultation documents (and we still await a promised post-16 document) there are significant outstanding questions about cross-phase consistency and, especially, the construction of the KS2-KS4 progress measure.

I have identified no less than sixteen significant issues with the proposals in the primary consultation document. Several of these are attributable to a lack of clarity within the text, not least over the core principles that should be applied across the piece to ensure policy coherence and internal consistency between different elements of the package. This is a major shortcoming.

The muddle and obfuscation over the nature of the floor target is an obvious concern, together with the decision to hitch the Pupil Premium to the achievement of the floor, as well as to narrowing achievement gaps. There is a fundamental tension here that needs to be addressed.

The negative impact of the removal of the underpinning framework ensuring consistency between summative statutory end of key stage assessment and summative end-year assessment in schools has been underplayed. There is significant downside to balance against any advantages from greater freedom and autonomy, but this has not been spelled out.

The case for the removal of levels has been asserted repeatedly, despite a significant groundswell of professional opinion against it, stretching back to the original response to consultation on the recommendations of the Expert Panel. There may be reason to believe that Labour would reverse this decision.

While there is apparently cross-party consensus on the wisdom of shifting the KS1 baseline to Year R, big questions remain about the nature of the ‘baseline check’ required.

Despite some positive commitments to make the assessment and accountability regime ‘high attainer friendly’ there are also significant reservations about how high attainment will be defined and reported.

On a scaled score from 80 to 130, I would rate the Government at 85 and, with some benefit of the doubt, put the Opposition at 100.

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In a nutshell…

We have perhaps two-thirds of the bigger picture in place, though some parts are distinctly fuzzy.

The secondary proposals are much more coherent than those for the primary sector and these two do not fit together well.

The primary proposals betray an incoherent vision and vain attempts to reconcile irreconcilably divergent views. It is no surprise that they were extensively delayed, only to be published in the last few days of the summer term.

Has this original June 2012 commitment been met?

‘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 have scores rather than grading and they don’t extend to science. High achievers will receive attention but we don’t know whether they will be the highest achievers or a much broader group.

Regrettably, the answer is no.

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GP

June 2013

Accountability, Assessment and the New National Curriculum: Part One

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This post examines the Primary assessment and accountability consultation document published on 17 July 2013, considering its contribution to the emerging picture of National Curriculum, assessment and accountability reform across the primary and secondary phases.

It is a revised, expanded and updated version of an earlier post, published on 10 July, which foregrounded the revised National Curriculum proposals published two days earlier. Given its length I have divided it into two parts of roughly equal length.

Readers who prefer to focus exclusively on the fresh material should go to the emboldened sections of the text, or to this separate post containing the core argument.

I had always intended that this final version would explore the interplay between 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 – and offer some preliminary judgement of whether, taken together, they amount to a coherent and viable policy package.

There is a symbiotic relationship between curriculum, assessment and accountability. There are also important considerations associated with continuity and progression between phases.

The long-delayed primary assessment and accountability document had been expected since June 2012 and the timetable for publication was extended on more than one occasion. Such delay is typically evidence that there is disagreement over fundamental aspects of the policy – and that securing consensus has been problematic.

We have still not seen a promised consultation on post-16 assessment and accountability, and we await the outcome of the parallel secondary consultation, which closed on 1 May.

The 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.

There are also issues with the additional disjunction between primary and secondary (and post-16) assessment and accountability reforms. The Government’s decision to consult on these consecutively, without addressing important questions about how they fit together, suggests that critical pieces of the jigsaw are missing.

Finally, the decision to remove National Curriculum levels raises several difficult questions about how the Government will measure and monitor national progress in raising educational standards and narrowing gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged learners.

Part of the purpose of this post is to expose these rifts, so we can judge how robustly they are addressed in the next few months.

 

What has been published?

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Primary assessment and accountability reforms

17 July saw the publication of three documents in the following order:

  • A press release which appeared shortly after a midnight embargo;

There was no response to the parallel ‘Secondary school accountability’ consultation launched on 7 February and completed on 1 May, despite the connectivity between the two sets of proposals – and no firm indication of when that response would be published.

A third consultation, on post-16 assessment and accountability, was not mentioned either.

The staged publication of the primary material meant that initial analysis and questioning of Ministers was based largely on the headlines in the press release rather than on the substance of the proposals.

Initial media appearances appeared to generate a groundswell of hostility that Ministers could not readily counter. The answers to some reasonable questions on the detail were not yet in the public domain.

It was particularly noteworthy that the announcement had integrated within it a second, about the size of Pupil Premium allocations in 2014-15. This was clearly intended to sugar the pill, though the coating is rather thin and there are also potentially wider ramifications (see below).

The Pupil Premium announcement must have been the justification for presentation by Lib Dem Deputy Prime Minister Clegg and Minister of State Laws, rather than by Tory Secretary of State Gove.

He (Gove) must have been delighted at avoiding this particularly poisoned chalice, already delayed into the dog days of summer – often a deliberate strategy for downplaying a particularly contentious announcement.

The consultation has a deadline of 11 October, allowing a total of 11 weeks and two days for responses, including the entirety of the school summer holidays, so the majority of the consultation period occurs while most schools are closed. This may also serve to mute opposition to the proposals contained in the document.

There is a commitment to publish the outcomes of consultation, together with a response ‘in autumn 2013’, which is a very quick turn round assuming that autumn means November rather than December. If there is any degree of contention, this might well edge close to Christmas.

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National Curriculum publications

Nine days earlier, on 8 July 2013, a raft of National Curriculum proposals had appeared. The first iteration of this post concentrated primarily on these documents:

  • 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.

I have retained largely unchanged in this final version my record of recent history, to set the context for the analysis that follows.

 

A Recap of the last round of consultation and developments

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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.
  • The 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 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.

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Developments since February

In the five months that elapsed between the appearance of the two curriculum-related consultation packages there were several material developments that impacted significantly on the outcomes of the process and the future of the National Curriculum, assessment and accountability, 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 were 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 was unclear at this stage whether this was across the piece or in each subject).

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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 – 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 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.

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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.’

So the core principles would be an important feature of the upcoming consultation document, but it would need to extend beyond those to satisfy the June 2012 commitment:

‘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 framework would be required for the KS2 core to support the commitment to KS2-4 progression measures in the consultation on secondary accountability.

This statement rather set 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.

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One further important signal towards the future direction of travel appeared, 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 led us to assume that this might be set aside in favour of an equation based on percentiles. Whether this would be designed to accommodate the current predilection for ‘comparable outcomes’ remained unclear.

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An Aside: The Pupil Premium

The assessment and accountability announcement was sugar-coated by confirmation of the size of Pupil Premium allocations in 2014-15.

But close scrutiny of the coating reveals it as rather a thin veneer.

It was already known that the total Pupil Premium funding envelope would increase  by £625m, from £1.875bn in 2013-14 to £2.5bn in 2014-15, so the overall budget was not in itself newsworthy.

But the decision to weight this towards primary schools was new. Ministers made much of the 44% increase for primary schools, from £900 to £1,300 per pupil, while barely mentioning that this must be achieved at the expense of the allocation for secondary schools.

One assumes that the secondary allocation has been frozen at £900 per learner but, at the time of writing, I have seen no official confirmation of that. Hence there is a degree of economy with the truth at play if the funding is claimed to be ‘new money’.

We do know, from the Spending Review, that the total budget for the Premium will be protected in real terms in 2015-16 but will not be further increased.

It remains to be seen whether the new weighting in favour of the primary sector will be retained, but that seems highly likely given the level of disruption that would be caused by frequent recalibration.

One influential commentator – Institute of Education Director Chris Husbands – has suggested that the bracketing of the two announcements marks a significant adjustment:

‘This is a further twist in the evolving purpose of the pupil premium – once intended as an incentive to primary schools to admit more disadvantaged children, then a compensatory payment for the additional costs involved in meeting the needs of disadvantaged children, it is now more clearly a fund to secure threshold levels of attainment.’

This argument runs like a leitmotif through the analysis below.

But it also runs counter to the Government’s official position that the Premium is designed to support all disadvantaged pupils and close the attainment gap between them and their peers, a position reinforced by the fact that the Government has delineated separate ‘catch-up premium support’ exclusively for those below the thresholds.

There is no change in recent announcements about strengthening the accountability underpinning Pupil Premium support. Husbands’ argument also runs against the tenor of Ofsted’s publications about effective use of the Premium and the latest Unseen Children report, published following deliberations by an expert panel on which Husbands served.

The source appears to be a recent IPPR publication ‘Excellence and Equity: Tackling Educational Disadvantage in England’s Secondary Schools’, Chapter 4 of which asserts (without supporting evidence) that:

‘Policymakers talk interchangeably about the pupil premium being used to support pupils who are falling behind, and it being used to support those who are on free school meals.’

This despite the fact that:

‘The overlap between these two categories is not as large as many people suppose. Last year, only 23 per cent of low-attaining pupils at the end of primary school were eligible for free school meals, and only 26 per cent of pupils eligible for free school meals were low attaining. This puts schools in the difficult position of having to decide whether to spend their pupil premium resources on pupils who have a learning need, even though many of them will not be eligible for free school meals, or whether they should focus them on FSM pupils, even though many of them will be performing at the expected level.’

The notion that pupils who are performing at the expected levels do not, by definition, have a ‘learning need’ is highly contentious, but let that pass.

The substantive argument is that, because ‘tackling the long tail of low achievement is the biggest challenge facing England’s school system’ and because the Premium ‘provides insufficient funds targeted at the right age range’:

‘In order to have maximum impact, the pupil premium should be explicitly targeted towards raising low achievement in primary and early secondary school… The Department for Education should therefore focus the additional funding at this age range. It should… create a higher level of pupil premium in primary schools, and… increase the ‘catch-up premium’ (for year 7 pupils) in secondary schools; the pupil premium in secondary schools would be held at its current level. This would provide primary schools with sufficient resources to fund targeted interventions, such as Reading Recovery, for all children who are at risk of falling behind. It would also compensate secondary schools that have large numbers of pupils starting school below the expected level of literacy and numeracy.

…Secondary schools are currently given a catch-up premium for every pupil who enters below level 4 in English and maths. However, there is no mechanism to guarantee that these pupils benefit from the money. The ‘catch-up premium’ should therefore be replaced with a ‘catch-up entitlement’. Every pupil that falls into this category would be entitled to have the money spent specifically on helping to raise his or her attainment. Schools would be required to write a letter to these pupils and their families explaining how the resources are being spent.’

As we now know, the Government has front-loaded the Pupil Premium into the primary sector, but not – as far as we are aware – the early years of secondary school. Nor has it increased the catch-up premium, unless by some relatively small amount yet to be announced, or made it an individual entitlement.

Husbands’ initial argument – that the linking of Premium and assessment necessarily means a closer link being forged with tackling below-threshold attainment – depends on his assertion that:

‘The core message of the consultation is that the concern is with absolute attainment – secondary readiness – rather than the progress made by primary schools.’

The analysis below examines the case for that assertion.

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What the Primary Assessment Consultation Says

The commentary below follows the sections in the consultation document

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The case for change

The second paragraph of ‘The case for change’ says:

‘We believe that it is right that the government should set out in detail what pupils should be taught…’

a somewhat different  slant to that adopted in the National Curriculum proposals (and which of course applies only to the core subjects in state-maintained schools).

The next section works towards a definition of the term ‘secondary ready’, described as ‘the single most important outcome that any primary school should strive to achieve’.

It is discussed exclusively in terms of achievement in KS2 English and maths tests, at a level sufficient to generate five GCSE Grades A*-C including English and maths five years later.

This despite the fact that the secondary accountability consultation proposes two quite different headline measures: good GCSE grades in both English and maths and Average Points Score in eight subjects from a three-category menu (neither of which is yet defined against the proposed new 8 to 1 GCSE grading scale).

No other criteria are introduced into the definition, rendering it distinctly narrow. This might arguably be the most important outcome of primary education, but it is not the sole outcome by any stretch of the imagination.

The Government states an ‘ambition’ that all pupils should achieve this benchmark, excepting a proportion ‘with particular learning needs’.

There is no quantification of this proportion, though it is later used to identify a floor target assumption that 85% of the cohort should achieve the benchmark, so the group with ‘particular learning needs’ must be something less than 15% of all learners.

The introduction of a second and parallel floor target, relating to progression, is justified here on the grounds that ‘some schools have particularly demanding intakes’ so ‘will find it challenging to reach the ambitious [attainment] threshold…’. This will also help to identify coasting schools.

This approach to progression, as a fall back in circumstances where the threshold measure is problematic, lends some weight to Husbands’ contention that absolute attainment is now paramount.

Note that the wording in this section is unclear whether the new floor target consists of both of these measures – secondary readiness and progression – or the imposition of one or the other. This issue comes up again later below.

There is nothing here about the importance of applying measures that do not have in-built perverse incentives to focus on the threshold boundary, but this too will reappear later.

There is early confirmation that:

‘We will continue to prescribe statutory assessment arrangements in English, mathematics and science.’

The ‘core principles’ mentioned in the Assessment Without Levels text appear at this stage to be those proposed in the June 2011 Bew Report rather than any new formulation. Note the second bullet point, which pushes in directly the opposite direction to Husbands’ assertion:

  • ongoing assessment is a crucial part of effective teaching, but it should be left to schools. The government should only prescribe how statutory end of key stage assessment is conducted;
  • external school-level accountability is important, but must be fair. In particular, measures of progress should be given at least as much weight as attainment;
  • a wide range of school performance information should be published to help parents and others to hold schools to account in a fair, rounded way; and
  • both summative teacher assessment and external testing are important forms of statutory assessment and both should be published

Already there are mixed messages.

The next section justifies the removal of National Curriculum levels:

‘Imposing a single system for ongoing assessment, in the way that national curriculum levels are built into the current curriculum and prescribe a detailed sequence for what pupils should be taught, is incompatible with this curriculum freedom. How schools teach their curriculum and track the progress pupils make against it will be for them to decide. Schools will be able to focus their teaching, assessment and reporting not on a set of opaque level descriptions, but on the essential knowledge that all pupils should learn. There will be a clear separation between ongoing, formative assessment (wholly owned by schools) and the statutory summative assessment which the government will prescribe to provide robust external accountability and national benchmarking. Ofsted will expect to see evidence of pupils’ progress, with inspections informed by the school’s chosen pupil tracking data.’

Paraphrasing this statement, one can extract the following rather questionable logic:

  • We want to give schools freedom to determine their own approaches to formative assessment
  • The current system of levels has come to be applied to both formative and summative assessment
  • So we are removing levels from both formative and summative assessment.

The only justification for this must lie in recognition that the retention of levels in summative assessment will inevitably have a ‘backwash effect’ on formative assessment.

Yet this backwash effect is not acknowledged in respect of the proposed new arrangements for summative assessment. There is a fundamental issue here.

Schools will still be required to report to parents at the end of each year and key stage. There will be no imposition of a system for them doing so but, as we have already recognised, parents will more readily understand a system that is fully consistent with that applied for end of key stage assessment, rather than a substantively different approach.

The next segment begins to explore the case for shifting the baseline assessment – on which to build measures of progression in primary schools – back to Year R. This will ‘reinforce the importance of early intervention’. The EYFS profile will be retained but might be rendered non-statutory.

The introduction of new summative assessments at end KS1 and end KS2 is confirmed for 2016, with interim arrangements as noted elsewhere and accountability reforms also taking effect at this point (so in the December 2016/January 2017 Performance Tables).

There is also confirmation that academies’ funding agreements require compliance ‘with statutory assessment arrangements as they apply to maintained schools’. This is as close as we get to an explanation of how statutory assessments that apply to all schools will be derived from the National Curriculum PoS and single ‘lowest common denominator’ attainment targets.

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Teacher assessment and reporting to parents

This section begins with a second justification for the removal of levels. Some anecdotal evidence is cited to support the argument:

‘Teachers have told us that the use of levels for assessment has become burdensome and encouraged crude ‘best fit’ judgements to differentiate pupil progress and attainment.’

This is the beginning of the justification for a more sophisticated (and hence more complex) approach.

Schools are free to design their assessment systems, though these must be integrated with the school curriculum (in a way that these separate government proposals have not been integrated).

There is a hint that these systems might be different for different subjects (adding still further complexity for parents) though ‘groups of schools may wish to use a common approach’.

Paragraph 3.7 is a confusing complement to the Bew-based core principles that appeared earlier:

‘We expect schools to have a curriculum and assessment framework that meets a set of core principles and:

  • sets out steps so that pupils reach or exceed the end of key stage expectations in the new national curriculum;
  • enables them to measure whether pupils are on track to meet end of key stage expectations;
  • enables them to pinpoint the aspects of the curriculum in which pupils are falling behind, and recognise exceptional performance;
  • supports teaching planning for all pupils; and
  • enables them to report regularly to parents and, where pupils move to other schools, providing clear information about each pupils strengths, weaknesses and progress towards the end of key stage expectations.

Question 1: Will these principles underpin an effective curriculum and assessment system?’

The ‘and’ in the opening sentence suggests that this isn’t part of the set of core principles, but the question at the end suggests these are the principles we should be considering, rather than those derived from Bew.

So we have two competing sets of core principles, the latter referring to schools’ own curriculum and assessment frameworks, but not to accountability.

The references here – to steps relative to end of KS expectations, measuring progress towards those expectations, identifying areas where learners are ahead and behind, supporting planning and reporting to parents – are entirely familiar. They really describe the functions of assessment rather than any principles that govern its application.

There is a commitment that the Government will ‘provide examples of good practice’ and:

‘Work with professional associations, subject experts, education publishers and external test developers to signpost schools to a range of potential approaches. Outstanding schools and teaching schools have an opportunity to take the lead in developing and sharing curriculum and assessment systems which meet the needs of their pupils…Commercial providers and subject organisations may offer curriculum schemes of work with inbuilt assessment, including class exercises, homework and summative tests.’

The second consultation question asks respondents to identify additional support and ‘other good examples of effective practice’.

The final section on reporting confirms that the Government plans to continue to publish teacher assessment outcomes in the core subjects, in line with Bew’s recommendation.

There is a brief reference, almost an afterthought, to schools providing information on transfer and transition. There is no acknowledgement that this process becomes more complex when schools are following different curricula and pursuing different in-house assessment systems.

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National Curriculum tests in English, maths and science

This section begins with a further set of Bewisms, this time on the uses of data derived from statutory assessment. They are the justification for the continuation of externally-marked National Curriculum tests.

The proposal is that these should continue in maths and in English reading and grammar, spelling and punctuation. Writing will continue to be assessed through externally moderated teacher assessment, while national science sampling will also continue at the end of KS2. The Year 1 Phonics Screening Check will also continue, with results available in Raise Online but not in Performance Tables.

The timetable, including phasing, is rehearsed again, before the critically important tripartite approach to reporting is introduced.

This comprises:

  • A ‘scaled score’
  • Decile-based ranking within the ‘national cohort’ and
  • Progression from the baseline

The scaled score is the threshold marker of whether the learner is ‘secondary-ready’. We knew from previous announcements that this standard would be raised from the equivalent of 4c to the equivalent of 4b.

It is also necessary to know by how much any given learner has undershot or overshot this threshold. Hence:

‘We propose to report this attainment using a scaled score. Because it is not possible to create tests of precisely the same difficulty every year, the number of marks needed to meet the secondary readiness standard will fluctuate slightly from one year to another. To ensure that results are comparable over time, we propose to convert raw test marks into a scaled score, where the secondary readiness standard will remain the same from year to year.

Scaled scores are used in all international surveys and ensure that test outcomes are comparable over time. The Standards and Testing Agency will develop this scale. If, as an example, we developed scaled scores based on the current national curriculum tests, we might employ a scale from 80 to 130. We propose to use a scaled score of 100 as the secondary ready standard.’

The notion of a scaled score, with current Level 4b benchmarked at 100 and a scale sufficiently long to accommodate all levels of attainment above and below, is familiar from PISA and other international comparisons studies.

If the scale has 50 points, as this example does, then there are 50 potential levels of achievement in each assessment – about three times as many as there are currently.

But the score will also be accompanied by a norm-referenced decile, showing how each learner’s performance compares with their peers.

And an average scaled score is generated for learners with the same prior attainment at the baseline, which might or might not move to Year R, so enabling parents to compare their child’s scaled score with this average.

This material would not be used to generate simpler ‘proxy’ grades but would be provided in this tripartite format.

Assuming the illustrative elements above are adopted:

  • The highest possible KS2 performer would receive a scaled score of 130, confirmation that he is within the top decile of his peers and a comparative average scaled score. If this is less than 130, he has made better progress than those with the same prior baseline attainment. If it is 130 he has made the same progress. By definition his progress cannot be worse than the others.
  • A lowest possible KS2 performer would have a scaled score of 80, confirmation that he is within the bottom decile of the cohort and a comparative average scaled score which could be as low as 80 (all peers with the same prior attainment have made the same limited progress as he) but no lower since that is the extreme of the scale;
  • A median KS2 performer would obtain a scaled score of 100, confirmation that he is within the fifth decile and a correspondingly variable average scaled score.

No illustrative modelling is supplied, but one assumes that average scaled scores for those with similar prior attainment will typically group in a cluster, such that most learners will see relatively little difference, while some outliers might get to +15 or -15. It also seems likely that the ‘progression score’ will eventually be expressed in this manner.

The progress measure is based exclusively on comparison with how other learners are progressing, rather than any objective standard of the progression required.

The document claims that:

‘Reporting a scaled score and decile ranking from national curriculum tests will make it easy to identify the highest attainers for example using the highest scaled scores and the top percentiles of pupils. We do not propose to develop an equivalent to the current level 6 tests, which are used to challenge the highest attaining pupils. Key stage 2 national curriculum tests will include challenging material (at least of the standard of the current level 6 test) which all pupils will have the opportunity to answer, without the need for a separate test.’

But, while parents of high attainers who score close to the maximum might reasonably assume that their offspring have performed in the top one or two percentiles, they will be told only that they are within the top decile. This is rather less differentiated than securing a Level 6 under current arrangements.

Moreover, the preparation of single tests covering the full span of attainment will be a tall order, particularly in maths.

This DfES publication from 2004 notes:

‘It is well known that individual differences in arithmetical performance are very marked in both children and adults.  For example, Cockcroft (1982) reported that an average British class of eleven-year-olds is likely to contain the equivalent of a seven-year range in arithmetical ability. Despite many changes in UK education since then, including the introduction of a standard National Curriculum and a National Numeracy Strategy, almost identical results were obtained by Brown, Askew, Rhodes et al (2002).  They found that the gap between the 5th and 95th percentiles on standardized mathematics tests by children in Year 6 (10 to 11-year-olds) corresponded to a gap of about 7 chronological years in ‘mathematics ages’.’

There is no reference to the test development difficulties that this creates, including the risk that high-attaining learners have to undertake pointless ramping of easy questions, unnecessarily extending the length of their tests.

The text claims that the opposite risk – that ceilings are set too low – will not exist, with at least Level 6-equivalent questions included, but what will their impact be on low attainers undertaking the tests? This is the KS4 tiering debate rewritten for KS2.

One assumes that statutory teacher assessment in the core subjects will be reported in whatever format schools prefer, rather than in the same manner as test outcomes are reported but, like much else, this is not made clear in the document.

By implication there will be no reporting from the national sampling tests in science.

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Baselines to measure progress

The section on baselines is particularly confusing because of the range of choices it offers consultees.

It begins by stating bluntly that, with the removal of levels, KS1:

‘Teacher assessment of whether a pupil has met the expectations of the programme of study will not provide sufficient information to act as a baseline’.

This is because teacher assessment ‘will not provide differentiated outcomes to allow us to measure progress’. This despite the fact that the document says later on that KS1 data collected under the existing system might be used as an interim baseline measure.

Two core options are set out:

  • Retaining a baseline at the end of KS1, through new English and maths tests that would be marked by teachers but externally moderated. These would be introduced in ‘summer 2016’ Views are sought over whether these test results should be published, given that publication might reduce the tendency for schools to ‘under-report pupils’ outcomes in the interest of showing the progress pupils have made in the most positive light’.
  • Introducing a new baseline at the start of the reception year, from September 2015, an option that gives credit for progress achieved up to the end of Year 2 and removes a perverse incentive to prioritise early intervention. This is described as ‘a simple check…administered by a teacher within two to six weeks of each pupil entering reception…subject to external monitoring’. It would either be developed in-house or procured from a third party. The existing EYFS Profile would remain in place but become non-statutory, so schools would not have to undertake it and the data would not be moderated or collected.

But an array of additional options is also offered:

  • Allowing schools to choose their preferred baseline check (presumably always undertaken in Reception, though the consultation is not clear on this point).
  • Making the baseline check optional, with schools choosing not to use it being ‘judged by attainment alone in performance tables and floor standards’. In other words, the progress measure itself becomes optional, which would appear to run counter to one of Bew’s principles articulated at the beginning of the document and support the Husbands’ line.
  • Assuming a Reception baseline check, making end of KS1 tests non-statutory for primary schools, while retaining statutory tests for infant schools because of their need for such an accountability measure and to provide a baseline for junior schools. KS1 tests would still be available for primary schools to use on an optional basis.

Much of the criticism of the document has focused on the Reception baseline proposal, especially concern that the check will be too demanding for the young children undertaking it. On the face of it, this seems rather unreasonable, but the document is at fault by not specifying more clearly what exactly such a check would entail.

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Accountability

The penultimate section addresses performance tables and floor standards. It begins with the usual PISA-referenced arguments for a high autonomy, high accountability system, mentions again the planned data portal and offers continuing commitments to performance tables and floor standards alike.

It includes the statement that:

‘In recent years, we have made the floor both more challenging and fairer, by including a progress element’

even though the text has only just suggested making the progress element optional!

The section on floor standards begins with the exhortation that:

‘All primary schools should ensure that as many pupils as possible leave secondary ready.’

It repeats the intention to raise expectations by increasing the height of the hurdle:

‘We therefore propose a new requirement that 85% of pupils should meet the secondary readiness standard in all the floor standard measures (including writing teacher assessment). This 85% attainment requirement will form part of the floor standard. This standard challenges the assumption that some pupils cannot be secondary ready after seven years of primary school. At the same time it allows some flexibility to recognise that a small number of pupils may not meet the expectations in the curriculum because of their particular needs, and also that some pupils may not perform at their best on any given test day.’

So the 85% threshold is increased from 60% and the standard itself will be calibrated on the current Level 4b rather than 4c. This represents a hefty increase in expectations.

The text above appears to suggest that all pupils should be capable of becoming ‘secondary-ready’, regardless of their baseline – whether in Year R or Year 2 – apart from the group with particular unspecified needs. But, this time round,  there is also  allowance for a second group who might underperform on the day of the test.

Once again, the justification for a parallel progress measure is not to ensure consistency with the Bew principles, but to offer schools with ‘particularly challenging intakes’ a second string to their bows in the form of a progress measure. The precise wording is:

‘We therefore propose that schools would also be above floor standards if they have good progress results.’

Does this mean that schools only have to satisfy one of the two measures, or both? This is not absolutely clear, but the sentence construction is perhaps more consistent with the former rather than the latter.

If we are right, this is substantively different to the requirements in place for 2013 and announced for 2014:

‘In key stage 2 tests in 2014, primary schools will be below the floor standard if:

  • fewer than 65% of its pupils do not achieve Level 4 or above in reading, writing and maths, and
  • it is below the England median for progression by two levels in reading, in writing, and in maths.

*Results in the new grammar, punctuation and spelling test are likely to be part of the floor standard in 2014.

For tests taken this year, primary schools will be below the floor standard if:

  • fewer than 60% of its pupils do not achieve Level 4 or above in reading, writing and maths, and
  • it is below the England median for progression by two levels in reading, in writing, and in maths.

*Results in the new grammar, punctuation and spelling test will not be part of the floor standard this year.’

It is also substantively different to the arrangements proposed for secondary schools.

Slightly later on, the text explains that schools which exceed the floor target on the basis of progression, while falling below the 85% secondary-ready threshold, will be more likely to be inspected by Ofsted than those exceeding this threshold.

However, Ofsted will also look at progress measures, and:

‘Schools in which low, middle and high attaining pupils all make better than average progress will be much less likely to be inspected.’

The text argues that:

‘Progress measures mean that the improvements made by every pupil count – there is no perverse incentive to focus exclusively on pupils near the borderline of an attainment threshold.’

But, assuming the progression target only comes into play for schools with ‘particularly challenging intakes’, the large majority will have no protection against this perverse incentive.

As already stated, the progress measure will be derived from comparison with the average scaled scores of those with similar prior attainment at the baseline – in essence the aggregation of the third element in reporting to parents. Exactly how this aggregation will be calculated is not explained.

Of course, an average measure like this does not preclude schools from giving disproportionately greater attention to learners at different points on the attainment spectrum and comparatively neglecting others.

Unless the performance tables distinguish progress by high attainers, they might be likely to lose out, as will those never likely to achieve the ‘secondary-ready’ attainment threshold.

The precise score for the floor targets is yet to be determined, but is expected ‘to be between 98.5 and 99’:

‘Our modelling suggests that a progress measure set at this level, combined with the 85% threshold attainment measure, would result in a similar number of schools falling below the floor as at present. Over time we will consider whether schools should make at least average progress as part of floor standards.’

So the progress element of the standard will be set slightly below average progress to begin with, perhaps to compensate for the much higher attainment threshold. This may support the argument that progress plays second fiddle to attainment.

Finally, the idea of incorporating an ‘average point score attainment measure’ in floor targets is floated:

‘Schools would be required to achieve either the progress measure or both the threshold and average point score attainment measure to be above the floor. This would prevent schools being above floor standards by focusing on pupils close to the expected standard, and would encourage schools to maximise the achievement of all their pupils. Alternatively we could publish the average point score to inform inspections and parents’ choices, but not include the measure in hard accountability.’

The first part of this paragraph reinforces the interpretation that the floor standard is now to be based either on the attainment threshold or the progress measure, but not both. But, under this option, the threshold measure could have an additional APS component to protect against gaming the threshold.

That goes some way towards levelling the playing field in terms of attainment, but of course it does nothing to support a balanced approach to progression in the vast majority of schools.

The section on performance tables begins with a further reference to the supporting ‘data portal’ that will include material about ‘the attainment of certain pupil groups’. This is designed to reduce pressure to overload the tables with information, but may also mean the relegation of data about the comparative performance of those different groups.

The description of ‘headline measures’ to be retained in the tables includes, for each test presumably:

  • the percentage of learners who meet ‘the secondary readiness standard’;
  • the school’s average scaled score, comparing it with the average score for the national cohort
  • the rate of progress of pupils in the school

There will also be a ‘high attainer’ measure:

‘We will also identify how many of the school’s pupils are among the highest-attaining nationally, by including a measure showing the percentage of pupils attaining a high scaled score in each subject.’

The pitch of this high scaled score is not mentioned. It could be set low – broadly the top third, as in the current ‘high attainer’ measure, or at a somewhat more demanding level. This is a significant omission and clarification is required.

Statutory teacher assessment outcomes will also be published (though presumably these will follow schools’ chosen assessment systems rather than scaled scores – see above).

All annual results will also be accompanied by three year rolling averages, to improve the identification of trends and protect small schools in particular from year-on-year fluctuation related to the quality of intake. There is an intention to extend rolling averages to floor targets once the data is available.

All these measures will be shown separately for those eligible for the Pupil Premium. This means that, for the first time, high attainers amongst this group will be distinguished, so it will be possible to see the size of any ‘excellence gap’. This is an important and significant change.

There will also be a continuation of the ‘family of schools’ approach – comparing schools with others that have a similar intake – recently integrated into the current Performance Tables.

The Pupil Premium will be increased:

‘To close the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers and to help them achieve these higher standards…Schools have the flexibility to spend this money in the best way possible to support each individual child to reach his or her potential.’

So, despite the rider in the second sentence, the purpose of the Premium is now two-fold.

In practice this is likely to mean that schools at risk of being below the standard will focus the Premium disproportionately on those learners that are not deemed ‘secondary-ready’, which further supports the Husbands theory.

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Recognising the attainment and progress of all pupils

Rather disappointingly, this final short section is actually exclusively about low attainers and those with SEN – presumably amongst those who will not be able to demonstrate that they are ‘secondary ready’.

It tells us that access arrangements are likely to be unchanged. Although the new KS2 tests will be based on the entire PoS:

‘Even if pupils have not met the expectations for the end of the key stage, most should be able to take the tests and therefore most will have their attainment and progress acknowledged’.

There will also be ‘a small minority’ currently assessed via the P-scales. There is a commit to explore whether the P-scales should be adjusted to ‘align with the revised national curriculum’.

There is an intention to publish data about the progress of pupils with very low prior attainment, though floor standards will not be applied to special schools. The document invites suggestions for what data should be published for accountability purposes.

Here ends the first part of this analysis. Part Two begins with a review of the issues arising from the revised National Curriculum proposals and from the summary of the assessment consultation document above.

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GP

July 2013

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

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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.

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A Recap of the last round of consultation and developments

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Challenge

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.

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Aims

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.’

To:

‘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.

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Overall

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.

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GP

July 2013

Gifted Phoenix Twitter Round-Up Volume 12: Curriculum, Assessment, Fair Access and Gap-Narrowing


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This is the second section of my retrospective review of the Gifted Phoenix Twitter feed covering the period from February 24 to July 7 2013.

4-Eyes-resized-greenjacketfinalIt complements the first section, which concentrated on Giftedness and Gifted Education.

This section includes material relating to other ‘specialist subjects’: curriculum and assessment, accountability, social mobility and fair access, disadvantage and gap-narrowing.

It provides a benchmark for consideration of forthcoming announcements about the National Curriculum , assessment and accountability which are expected next week.

This is a chronological narrative of developments over the last four months – my best effort at recording faithfully every key piece of information in the public domain.

I have divided the material as follows:

  • National Curriculum
  • Other Curriculum-related
  • National Curriculum Assessment
  • Qualifications
  • Performance Tables and Floor Targets
  • Ofsted
  • International Comparisons
  • Social Mobility
  • Fair Access
  • Careers
  • Pupil Premium
  • FSM gaps, Poverty, Disadvantage and EEF
  • Selection and Independent Sector

Please feel free to use this post as a resource bank when you reflect on and respond to the material we expect to be released over the next few days.

You might also like to visit some previous posts:

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National Curriculum

Pressure from the Board of Deputies for special treatment for Hebrew, exempted from NC language list: http://t.co/CwlD2YAotp  – Tricky

Support in principle and claims that new NC History PoS is unworkable are not mutually exclusive: http://t.co/PZ1tiUQ2Md

Interesting study of competency-based learning in New Hampshire throws light on NC Expert Panel’s ‘Mastery’ vision: http://t.co/58dlXuFY17

MT @michaelt1979: DfE appointed experts to review National Curriculum – and then ignored all of their advice! Blog: http://t.co/zMwl3atP5b

National Curriculum “Cookery would only be compulsory in those schools with kitchen facilities” – surely not? http://t.co/Bu8TEZej0M

The vexed history of the draft ICT programme of study: http://t.co/dpovmo9UM8 – a microcosm of current autonomy/prescription tensions

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https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/309713663881781248

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What the NUT welcomes and doesn’t welcome about the draft National Curriculum: http://t.co/gdaijpaUaR – seems pretty representative

Latest from @warwickmansell on the shortcomings of the NC review (this time featuring the history PoS): http://t.co/sgWtXMlKzX

PQ reply on support for National Curriculum implementation: http://t.co/kLbGXRJz9p (Col 240W)

Cannadine on draft History PoS: http://t.co/465Ruv9kIy – includes a robust critique of the drafting process as well as the content

Confused story on climate change in draft NC: http://t.co/AbgPYZRkKP Does it give the lie to Gove’s claim at ASCL that PoS is uncontentious?

New Truss speech on National Curriculum: http://t.co/ZvFa0zf5Lw – Have I missed the golden nugget of news it contains?

More on climate change in the National Curriculum. I think it contradicts yesterday’s piece: http://t.co/DhWOHruVrm

Third in a triumvirate of climate change in the NC articles: http://t.co/dDB5eECBFs – basically it’s all about what’s on the face of the PoS

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https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/314266425843908608

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DfE has published the list of people consulted on the draft NC Programmes of Study published last month: http://t.co/VdnS8iWTlK

Yesterday’s Westminster Hall debate on the Design and Technology Curriculum: http://t.co/ASY1GWvuXZ (Col 285WH)

Richard Evans redemolishes the draft PoS for history: http://t.co/fq3vLX48IR  – Alleges explicitly that Gove himself wrote the final version

Next of the PoS in line for criticism is D&T (following up yesterday’s Westminster Hall debate): http://t.co/P3Gb9l3ARd

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https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/316080670273310720

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So we now have two levels of listing for participants in drafting NC PoS (for maths at least): http://t.co/dYt25UgIKI – awkward precedent

Link to the NUT’s National Curriculum Survey is at the bottom of this page: http://t.co/uD8dEOza8q

Government to extend National Curriculum exemption to all schools rated either outstanding or good by Ofsted: http://t.co/KYp4h0djrz

Engineers don’t like the draft D&T PoS: http://t.co/iJVOtbryvS (warning: story contains the most terrifying stock head-and-shoulders shot)

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https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/318751619921629185

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Don’t see anything wrong with pitching NC expectations high: http://t.co/UlYqXTY8df  – The issue is how you then manage the ‘mastery’ notion

Civitas defends Hirsch: http://t.co/r8p9JReyZQ – Yet more wearisome polarisation. As ever, the optimal path lies somewhere in between.

I see the endgame in this cycle as ditching the NC entirely, only for it to be reinvented half a generation later: http://t.co/3CsF6BFISN

Sadly it may be too late to rescue the draft NC from the poisonous clutches of ideology and political opportunism: http://t.co/3CsF6BFISN

FoI seeking correspondence with RAE and BCS over preparation of the draft ICT PoS draws a blank: http://t.co/W7ULIg694f

Curriculum for Cohesion response to the draft History PoS: http://t.co/1Qhjfo9hhg – as featured in this BBC story: http://t.co/hoqJtDNWKH

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https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/322019960295665664

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ASCL National Curriculum response calls for retention of levels (at least for KS3 core) or a pilot of alternatives: http://t.co/YB9ZRpLA7q

TES on ASCL and NAHT responses to NC consultation: http://t.co/4drArVSvgC – Is that the sound of chickens coming home to roost?

Apropos Natural England signing that draft NC protest letter, I see they’re currently subject to triennial review: http://t.co/zjXpdMdcee

South China Morning Post: Troubled England has much to learn from HK’s curriculum reforms: http://t.co/mESujyoOYR

UCET’s response to the National Curriculum consultation: http://t.co/J5ElUIkwWf

Latest protest letter about environmental education in the draft NC is signed by Natural England, a DEFRA NDPB: http://t.co/pehCetI1Oh

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https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/324154681876180992

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Full CBI response to National Curriculum Review: http://t.co/ztyUIGR8Ml  – says NC should be focused much more on outcomes:

Truss pushes school curriculum over NC http://t.co/DXcaF3jFGx We could do with guidance on how much time the prescribed PoS should consume?

FoI reveals NC Expert Panel cost £287.6K in fees and expenses for 342 days’ work http://t.co/BDhNDCcvOx – Hardly bargain basement?

Confirmation that the draft History PoS was written by DfE officials: http://t.co/7A6X8cu7SY (Col 881W)

2 years into NC Review, DfE reported to be taking draft D&T PoS back to the drawing board: http://t.co/Nas8LX1My0 – More humble pie consumed

Sec Ed carries a report of a March Westminster Forum event on MFL: http://t.co/QlaaCHYGvi

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https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/327484933998247937

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Bringing balance and diversity to the new history curriculum (courtesy of Curriculum for Cohesion): http://t.co/TCDX8ireIJ

So DECC also thinks there’s an issue with climate change in the National Curriculum: http://t.co/j5bIY3qgVJ – that raises the stakes a bit

There was a very small majority in NC consultation to change ICT to Computing – 39% yest; 35% no: http://t.co/KL0OKK9rkV

This new document on National Curriculum disapplication says only 23% of NC consultation responses supported it: http://t.co/dRFBGGPWS6

DfE consultation on the Order replacing ICT with Computing and disapplying parts of the NC from September 2013: http://t.co/xs6P6TXDcq

SCORE’s Report on Resourcing Practical Science at Secondary Level: http://t.co/zTYvwjZWTH

There’s been a desperate search for additional surveys demonstrating children’s lack of historical knowledge: http://t.co/B6VZQdD5bM

If Government doesn’t abandon NC in 2014/15 my guess is that will be in the 2015 Tory Manifesto: http://t.co/gmE4EHTXA4

@warwickmansell fisks Gove’s speech on curriculum reform: http://t.co/gmE4EHTXA4  Could 2013/14 disapplication pave the way for abandonment?

Gove seems to be suggesting that National Curriculum may need to change iteratively to reflect innovation http://t.co/EdWssxHd84 Unworkable?

Davey’s private letter about climate change in the NC is officially acknowledged in a PQ reply: http://t.co/fx76s9scQU (Col 358W)

Robinson breaks cover to criticise the National Curriculum (and promote his new book): http://t.co/o6h98R1UPn

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https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/336746672883396608

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HEFCE is funding a new programme to support MFL including raising aspirations and attainment in secondary schools: http://t.co/eg5pws1Pme

More of the shortcomings of the National Curriculum Review process laid bare by @warwickmansell: http://t.co/ZUpkvekz8V

More attacks on national curriculum history: http://t.co/OIy1l5dZyD

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https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/346511361028784128

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Twigg has just advocated almost complete fragmentation in curriculum, but says he’s against fragmentation! http://t.co/nepHKaziLH

Twigg’s decision to ditch entire National Curriculum isn’t getting media scrutiny it deserves http://t.co/AHcEL4pPoG  20,000 secret gardens!

Government response to consultation on the order replacing ICT with Computing: http://t.co/xs6P6TXDcq

New Labour policy to drop National Curriculum is directly at odds with ASCL’s preference for a universal entitlement: http://t.co/ZN83xoU2GO

Government response to consultation on NC disapplication: http://t.co/Dg9pbmmCZ6  (we’re going to do it anyway…)

Reports that draft History PoS significantly revised: http://t.co/etSGXxePOj – also being cleared by both PM and DPM!

Groups advising on training/resource implications of new NC PoS have a go at draft PoS instead. Beyond their remit? http://t.co/7Nqtr82JKo

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https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/351982610148368384

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NUT’s Advice on National Curriculum Disapplication 2013/14: http://t.co/zY7KvfkiES

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https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/353024273729863680

 

https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/353444033303027712

 

https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/353444300387917824

 

https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/353459007995904000

 

https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/353802320175316992

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Other Curriculum-Related

Direct link to new APPG Report on RE: ‘The Truth Unmasked’: http://t.co/uClQGD59M9 – stops short of pushing (again) for RE in EBacc

Outcome of PSHE Review: http://t.co/9F6iBqXf4i – There will be no separate PoS. Links to consultation report and FAQ from this page

Yesterday’s Ministerial Statement on PSHE Education: http://t.co/X8n5KpejDv (Col 52WS)

PSHE consultation report doesn’t give percentage of respondents wanting some topics to be statutory http://t.co/IyECrBZ1Qg Likely a majority

Eurydice has published a timely new report on PE and sport at school in Europe: http://t.co/aEyu0fjTSM

Powerful case for statutory PSHE following the relatively pallid Review: http://t.co/he3CIbLRFV  – could be fertile Manifesto territory…

Google wants more emphasis on the STEM pipeline: http://t.co/f9p7rtxlcY  – How can government harness their enthusiasm (and spondoolicks)?

The Next Generation Science Standards: http://t.co/H0oaK6bLeR and an instructive insight into the drafting process: http://t.co/fgnsm5mjtM

Wonder why this PQ reply on school sport funding fails to confirm that it will be ringfenced: http://t.co/BoN08PB0UO (Col1196W)

Letter from Sex Education Forum et al about sex ed in the draft NC: http://t.co/B46EqtMrQ5 Weird decision to write to a paywalled organ (!)

A National Shakespeare Week and new bank of teaching materials? http://t.co/ixaFlV7VQ9 – There are more things in heaven and earth…

Westminster Hall debate on long-awaited National Plan for Cultural Education: http://t.co/7tqSlZKdcF (Col 94WH) – here ‘very soon indeed’

TES comment from YST on spending the £150m for school sport: http://t.co/OTSDTRUUvY – hard for them to add value without national framework

Yesterday’s short Lords’ Debate on PSHE: http://t.co/CXoOAafGNJ (Col GC403)

Sue Campbell repeats warnings about the patchiness that will result from uncoordinated support for school sport: http://t.co/BPsOr6FEnz

Ofsted’s PSHE Survey Report: http://t.co/0TkhFNm32M

New phonics document: Learning to Read through Phonics: Information for Parents: http://t.co/uVtjTzcyXA

Quiet news day on the education front, so all the better opportunity to engage with Mr Point (geddit?) http://t.co/994uBgIvG3 A neat riposte

Education Committee is taking evidence on school sports from 9.30am this morning: http://t.co/IYTM3RR8ap

Two Plashet School students review this morning’s Select Committee session on school sport: http://t.co/W1C3yFLI2N – excellently written

NLT press release on the increase in children’s online reading: http://t.co/uULtsGEYPV – says the report itself is ‘forthcoming’

Belated link to the Smith Institute Survey of Participation in School Sport: http://t.co/qIZO4OZdEm

Is it socially unacceptable to use bad grammar but fine to make mathematical errors? http://t.co/ukuxdCV5we

Lords Oral PQ on school sports: http://t.co/86omWG5x4d (Col 623)

Uncorrected Transcript of 14 May Education Committee Oral Evidence Session on School Sports: http://t.co/n9jMXd13vg

Direct link to ‘Learning the Lesson: The Future of School Swimming’: http://t.co/zRByR2zVDE

What’s going on with this PM intervention over school sports funding? http://t.co/cxhfDZAy9G  – one could read a fair bit into it

Here’s Oxford’s press release on the Snowling phonics test research: http://t.co/1q3BkHS2kQ No link to paper (which isn’t yet peer-reviewed)

Labour wants to bring elements of PSHE into the National Curriculum: http://t.co/AzcNBcSW9x – but why are Home Office shadow team leading?

£7m over 5 years to support A level Physics: http://t.co/KyjajFgXdk and http://t.co/xq4LkvRJDK  – but no hint of priority for disadvantaged

Lords Oral PQ on PSHE: http://t.co/1iVQ0w5vyq (Col 1512) leaves the way open for change to the National Curriculum

By the way, whatever’s happened to the National Plan for Cultural Education? http://t.co/gGaB9ScUJb

The Cultural Education Plan will be published ‘within the next few weeks’: http://t.co/0GkX1TjPZ2 (Col 620W)

Details of Further Maths Support Programme tender now on Contracts Finder: http://t.co/3QHq3rNfb7 – EOIs by 19/4 and Supplier Day on 2/5

Truss increases funding for Further Maths Support Programme: http://t.co/AwNsNN5gDS Current offer is here: http://t.co/nqsOofug0B

Sting in the tail here. That Further Maths Support Programme expansion will be tendered, so MEI may not get the gig: http://t.co/IB0gbZaAud

DfE is inviting bids to run the Further Maths Support Programme: http://t.co/jwBCbdK2Aa – up to £25m over 5 years

NATRE’s Survey of RE provision in primary schools: http://t.co/F1Qc0FpBeC

Short Lords Debate yesterday on Citizenship Education: http://t.co/nFuhwBiBf3 (Col 953)

Need to see how these various maths reforms amount to coherent strategy where whole’s greater than the sum of parts: http://t.co/AwNsNN5gDS

DfE has refreshed its school sports advice on http://t.co/fRKX7ciiSd  Press release on gov.uk http://t.co/xrGaWzl3Vl

Government held a roundtable meeting on arts education on 5 June: http://t.co/zYAuduZ0ST (Col 528W)

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https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/352668612596731904

https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/353203077723070465

https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/353223177230491648

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National Curriculum Assessment

Still no-one’s rising to the challenge I posed to design a new KS1-3 grading system: http://t.co/kZ2Ki7k18M – The silence is deafening

Today I have been mostly worrying about National Curriculum Assessment: http://t.co/ybJ13d8rVR I desperately need help from @warwickmansell

RT @localschools_uk: Ofsted “expected progress” measure flawed – higher grade students much more likely to achieve it: http://t.co/07TNk

Brian Lightman: we should not be trying to drive the curriculum through our assessment system: http://t.co/6Q8Sr3FMY1 – I agree

Many thanks to everyone RTing my post on future of NC assessment: http://t.co/ybJ13d8rVR – separate KS2 test syllabuses seem inevitable

Warwick Mansell on National Curriculum assessment: http://t.co/me1Ecnd9Ia – the perfect complement to my own post!

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https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/308890950527250434

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Apropos Levels going in 2016, we should imminently get announcement of who has KS2 marking contract 2014-2016: http://t.co/9aKktsQFwm

The Laws speech to ASCL confirms that Level 4b equivalent will become the new KS2 test ‘pass’ from 2016: http://t.co/OT91Q7KfCW

MT @emoorse01: Unpopular level descriptions are going. But what will replace them? http://t.co/P7zkKotuv9 inspired by @GiftedPhoenix Thanks!

Further KS2 grammar punctuation and spelling sample materials for level 6: http://t.co/MMDbkh14KF

“In particular we shall consider refreshing the p-scales”: http://t.co/3cVnw0uGUy (Col 344W)

@brianlightman tells #ascl2013 that abolition of NC levels creates a policy vacuum. ASCL to discuss further with DfE: http://t.co/2g7MKulC4m

2013 Performance tables will show percentage of children achieving KS2 Level 6, but not as percentage of entries: http://t.co/pHV2q4Vvle

New primary assessment and accountability regime (consultation awaited) won’t be confirmed until September http://t.co/VF0r5wEAR5 (Col 722W)

The primary school accountability consultation will still be published “shortly”: http://t.co/nrlWy3x5qx (Col 806W) Next week presumably.

New KS2 Writing moderation and exemplification materials levels 2-6: http://t.co/lzaMwFpTnN

Tokyo high schools are about to introduce a set of attainment targets: http://t.co/xsZ16I7KOd

New DfE research on KS2 Level 6 Tests: http://t.co/2FdvVGeoKY – Critical of lack of guidance; doesn’t mention disappearance of L6

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https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/322704575041781761

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Wonder why there’s no reference to primary accountability consultation in this new timeline for schools: http://t.co/19aW9z2t8W

How Level 6 tests are viewed in secondaries: http://t.co/Ie7nzkOWOA Gifted learners suffer badly from this poor transition practice

The list of Education Oral Questions for this afternoon: http://t.co/X5Dvwd2swc – Includes one from Ollerenshaw on Level 6 tests

113,600 pupils from 11,700 schools (21% of cohort) are registered for a 2013 KS2 L6 test: http://t.co/AfDYI0OsRW (Col 680W) Iffy

More about KS2 L6 tests: http://t.co/hXTS6d4XOO  NB: a 21% entry rate seems excessively high; NC levels will disappear by 2016

@warwickmansell Did you know about this? http://t.co/TXbaOZVtZE – I might have missed it but I saw no announcement. It looks as though…

@warwickmansell ..Pearson were the only bidder and have been awarded a £60m contract following negotiations…

@warwickmansell ‘Only one bid received which did not meet the minimum selection criteria. Negotiations were conducted with that bidder’

@DrFautley @warwickmansell NB that the estimated value of the contract was originally £50m – see: http://t.co/bCS3eMSUJi

What’s wrong with tests being marked abroad, provided quality is sustained and savings are passed on via lower fees? http://t.co/vjhtxgms5O

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https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/329273791882596352

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Worth comparing this Duncan speech on assessment with similar discussion on this side of the Atlantic: http://t.co/DSgzUXEl4i

5 Reasons to Keep NC Levels by @LKMco http://t.co/iYpPn2MTZc If no rabbit in the assessment consultation hat will Labour commit to keep them

This reaction from Crystal on SPAG raises awkward wider questions about current QA processes for statutory assessment http://t.co/q3aVOus50X

Given the furore over the grammar, spelling and punctuation test, any feedback on these L6 materials? http://t.co/iqDpS7vXT8 – helpful?

Wow! This post on National Curriculum levels is a bit of a rollercoaster ride: http://t.co/idrE54bxyO – I agree with substantial parts

For completeness sake, the press release on today’s grammar punctuation and spelling test: http://t.co/KbKXd5trYt

Timetable for the primary assessment/accountability consultation slips to ‘by the end of the summer term’: http://t.co/oaL231aj69 (Col 383W)

New DfE research into KS2 Access Arrangements Procedures: http://t.co/H0Xt49YR1Y

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https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/341826694082084866

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The significance of progression in assessment reform: http://t.co/u2DsNj47PH – a timely reminder from Australia

(Slightly) veiled criticism from Economist for ‘endless fiddling with tests’: http://t.co/LsmW6XSkC5

FoI reveals Standards and Testing Agency’s 2012/13 programme budget was £35.7m: http://t.co/iPNJzvRQRz

My piece ‘Whither National Curriculum Without Levels’ http://t.co/JNTYosr4nL We await a new KS2 grading structure

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https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/345592470232514560

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First Interim Report from the Evaluation of the Phonics Screening Check http://t.co/g4e1o9djiN conveys negative teacher feedback over value

This on NC Levels from DfE rather glosses over importance of internal assessment dovetailing with statutory grading: http://t.co/2wziieK5Bv

There doesn’t seem to be any defensive line on the odd dissonance between the NC and assessment timetables: http://t.co/L9U6ICI0MH

Confirmation that in 2015 pupils will be following the new NC but will be assessed against the old NC: http://t.co/3NQb9AAsGM (Col 357W)

Last night’s #ukedchat transcript on the removal of National Curriculum levels: http://t.co/zGKCjhnwiN – My post: http://t.co/JNTYosr4nL

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https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/350505289507803138

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STA received 240 complaints re non-registration of KS2 pupils for Level 6 tests post-deadline: http://t.co/zYAuduZ0ST (Col 531W)

If it’s not legally possible to keep NC and assessment out of kilter: http://t.co/AxlG0W61Sp  Could this delay NC implementation to 2015?

Breakdown of responsibilities in Standards and Testing Agency: http://t.co/fpVIEknny4  (Col 601W) Will be reducing from 3 divisions to 2

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https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/353803264438972417

 

https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/353803745898934273

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Qualifications

 Chris Wheadon on the difference between tiering and extension papers (via @warwickmansell ): http://t.co/lFJgjllA3Y

DfE has released an Equality Analysis of its planned GCSE Reforms: http://t.co/pXkyHnPZXF  – You can decide whether it stands close scrutiny

Seven new GCSE-equivalent 14-16 courses in engineering and construction: http://t.co/Zdri1TZAZx – Bet they’re not the last!

TES reports Ofqual has embarked on an international comparisons study of GCSE equivalents: http://t.co/HM4tr4b1gP

Truss IoE Open Lecture on A Level reforms: http://t.co/lucLs9KVHM plus the latest increment of maths support

What’s the difference between a Maths M Level and (part of) a stand-alone AS level? http://t.co/zzx6Z5YBGU

Not very revealing PQ replies about the decision to make AS level a stand-alone qualification: http://t.co/hUFtrO6zho (Col 142W)

TES interview with Ofqual’s Stacey throws further doubt on exam reform timetable and viability of untiered GCSEs: http://t.co/V6m5C1BvOH

New letter from Gove to Stacey on A level reform: http://t.co/MUepfQmyn8  – sounds like AS reform beyond content will be delayed

PQ asking which universities us AS level for admissions purposes: http://t.co/mBk6f2IrmU  (Col 594W) – Answer not that illuminating

Uncorrected evidence from Education Select Committee’s 12 March session on GCSE English results: http://t.co/soK7X9z3UR

SEN lobby coming to the forefront in arguments against removal of GCSE tiering (TES): http://t.co/gKnFgTTopB – Looks increasingly vulnerable

Ofqual’s response to the last Gove letter on the exam reform timetable: http://t.co/hdVyDaO26B

Glenys Stacey back before Education Select Committee at 10.40 this morning re GCSE English results: http://t.co/X5B7HIumzZ

So what alternatives are there to GCSE tiering, apart from core + extension model? Any of them substantively better? http://t.co/55eLxHkEjQ

Uncapped GCSE APS data for London Challenge, City Challenges, All secondary by ethnic group, 2007-2012: http://t.co/BoN08PB0UO (Col 1190W)

PQs from Glass and Stuart about HE support for standalone AS levels still getting short shrift: http://t.co/BoN08PB0UO (Col 1187W)

Uncorrected transcript of 26 March Education Select Committee session on GCSE English with Ofqual: http://t.co/iRF55cMZsB

Hansard record of yesterday’s Westminster Hall Debate on AS and A levels: http://t.co/QMJ35QD6ak (Col 33WH)

Today’s TES Editorial is about the perverse effect of comparable outcomes: http://t.co/fGeC5qdQ7V

Ofqual Note on GCSE English Marking in 2012 sent ahead of 26 March Session with Stacey: http://t.co/6QbFIGlQnx

O’Briain advocates core plus extension in GCSE maths: http://t.co/eRmYsc29fN – but his comments seem more likely to justify tiering

Ofqual’s GCSE English S+L proposals would mean a 60/40 split in favour of written papers (compared with 40/60 now): http://t.co/bigkAQQvw1

TES piece on OUCEA report on GCSE reforms: http://t.co/9B1HVEVatB – and here’s the paper itself: http://t.co/8EiV3onziZ

Government Response to Education Committee Report on KS4 Reform http://t.co/Qi4EDjx0W7 Nothing new; handy summary ahead of May consultations

So AS level will be a clear dividing line in educational policy ahead of 2015 election http://t.co/gsoN51rrS6 A one off or first of several?

Direct link to the OUCEA Report on research evidence relating to GCSE reforms: http://t.co/8EiV3onziZ  – think I may have tweeted this before

Ofqual’s secondary accountability consultation response:http://t.co/FjZiWK3Yee – Isn’t weighting Eng and Ma in the best 8 measure overkill?

Coverage of Cambridge Assessment’s call for GCSE scale scores: http://t.co/8ia6fY84At and http://t.co/K5vRXDyRbN and http://t.co/Po14hPyuL9

Another Cambridge Assessment Paper on GCSE tiering: http://t.co/aPra9aCzkB Sees merit in 2 separate levels in Ma and Eng: ie Tiering Plus!

Here’s a direct link to the Cambridge Assessment paper on GCSE scale scores: http://t.co/ldnOTOd0sA

Laws to Brennan on AS Levels: http://t.co/VMAsjOIAdN – internal analysis suggests AS have marginal additional predictive value

Reports of a new commitment from DfE to consult the other education departments on qualifications reform: http://t.co/8ZrMBlqUWX

Coverage of yesterday’s indication of more ceiling space for GCSE high attainers: http://t.co/nrh6KBcBxq and http://t.co/474RgDUgEb

Pretty much inevitable home countries split over GCSE/A Level: http://t.co/9x7dx7tFq9 and http://t.co/YLBPC43ohJ There’s plenty of downside

Here’s the study of the predictive value of GCSE versus AS that Laws quoted last week: http://t.co/3mbNOvtE8v

CUSU has written to Education Ministers about AS Levels: http://t.co/zpfyb98Mcv

TES say AQA is monitoring Twitter for evidence of cheating in its exams (but presumably not in other’s exams): http://t.co/wJFVPY2e8z

Leaked notion that son-of-GCSE grades go from 1 up to 8 reverses Gove’s 1-4 down illustration: http://t.co/oHJUQ4DAYW What’s the logic here?

Incidentally, introducing an I(ntermediate) level at age 16 begs a big question about the identity of E(ntry) level: http://t.co/znAH11STJU

Hmm – building in space for a hypothetical Grade 9 is most definitely a ‘speculative’ proposal! http://t.co/rr91ir37zc

Independent Editorial on I-Levels seems to be off the pace, or at least rather idiosyncratic: http://t.co/79QceNtdR2

Will there be pressure in future to keep Welsh and Northern Irish GCSEs available in English schools? What of IGCSE? http://t.co/CQvDzvT7e0

Twigg on I levels: http://t.co/xzpO3ppS0m

TES on I-levels: http://t.co/MI7mbLmKi0 – also says yesterday’s Estyn report on science is a threat to their PISA 2015 aspirations

Some distancing here from the new I-level moniker: http://t.co/0R8JB6S0VP – maybe we’ll have GCSE(E) instead!

Ofqual on A level review arrangements: http://t.co/aiKa18kbi2 and http://t.co/qLzlWkZKEX  Russell Group references conspicuous by  absence

Ofqual’s Interim Review of Marking Quality http://t.co/LXcht4zCQh + Literature Review on Marking Reliability Research http://t.co/zqWNfdc07c

Two newly-published interim research briefs from evaluation of the linked pair of GCSEs in maths (M LP): http://t.co/L6iTg2aE8w

Direct link to Education Select Committee report on GCSE English marking: http://t.co/mn5l58lXkE

This looks authoritative on today’s GCSE announcements: http://t.co/USfhSmP8SW  New line on reverse grading from 8 down to 1 still looks weak

So it appears tiering may be reprieved in maths, physics, chemistry biology: http://t.co/USfhSmP8SW  Annual 1K pupil sample tests in Ma/Eng

Update on Ofqual’s progress in investigating awarding organisations that also publish text books: http://t.co/wjN6ya5xMe (Col 124W)

DfE consultation says high achievers’ content is separately indicated in Maths spec. But why only Maths? http://t.co/Eog0u5rq10 (p7)

DfE GCSE content consultation says no specifications for any further subjects: http://t.co/Eog0u5rq10 (pp5-6)

Here is Ofqual’s Review of Controlled Assessment in GCSE, also released today: http://t.co/doP85MINLa

Ofqual is proposing new short course GCSEs, and there could be common content with full GCSEs: http://t.co/KHDBXOyyeV (p32)

Ofqual promises a separate Autumn consultation on setting grade standards from first principles: http://t.co/KHDBXOyyeV (p30)

Can’t see any justification from Ofqual’s for why the grading goes from 8 to 1, rather than vice versa: http://t.co/KHDBXOyyeV (pp26-29)

As expected, Ofqual proposes ‘improved’ overlapping tiers in Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Biology: http://t.co/KHDBXOyyeV  (pp13-17)

DfE GCSE Subject Content Consultation Document: http://t.co/Eog0u5rq10 and subject specifications: http://t.co/JdFkUvlwWk

Ofqual GCSE consultation press release: http://t.co/tUoMAGtZPQ and consultation document: http://t.co/KHDBXOyyeV

Today’s oral statement on GCSE reform: http://t.co/V6bah8Wf8l

Interesting if somewhat idiosyncratic list of the (14) experts consulted on the GCSE specifications: http://t.co/jU9mzRVeE6

As Wales and NI stick with integrated AS level, the UK-wide exam reform picture begins to resemble a dog’s breakfast: http://t.co/BDgyrEEGSW

My gov.uk notification says draft GCSE science spec has already been replaced with a new version: http://t.co/y7ZDv6qwu6 – what’s changed?

Russell Group will have an A Level Content Advisory Group (ALCAB) after all: http://t.co/khv5tOT9KK but no real detail about process

Set of fairly non-committal PQ replies about Welsh GCSEs: http://t.co/c55IFqatcr (Col 581W)

Handy NUT guide to proposed changes to GCSE: http://t.co/09DCibEJJT

GCSE MFL entries by language over the last decade: http://t.co/eKA5N4OOxA (Col WA90)

How well does AS predict A level grades? http://t.co/KMTGBHMvsE

Ofqual needs two new board members, pay is £6K a year: http://t.co/Jm53Ff2ltk

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https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/352680828268052480

https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/352730368845156352

https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/353027254709784576

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Performance Tables and Floor Targets

Bell criticises Russell Group-focused destination data: http://t.co/vcBS7VB9Mo – likely to be relegated to planned Data Warehouse/Portal?

AoC has complained to the UK Statistics Authority about the KS5 Performance Tables (TES): http://t.co/h7F0xy896G

Details of new primary floor targets from DfE: http://t.co/qlhoDYi5Eq – Level 4 becomes 4A/4B only until it’s discarded in 2016

Repitching Level 4 at current 4B must be precursor to using the higher threshold as new post-Levels end KS2 benchmark http://t.co/qlhoDYi5Eq

By the way, results in the new GSP test ‘are likely to be part of the floor standard in 2014’: http://t.co/qlhoDYi5Eq – why so provisional?

Sounds like there are also plans (long on the back burner?) to publish ‘families of schools’ data: http://t.co/OT91Q7KfCW

@headguruteacher On school accountability: http://t.co/zo3QD7kiRy – Can’t see universal performance indicators being sacrificed entirely

Direct link to IPPR Report on how performance table reforms have affected 14-16 vocational education: http://t.co/l1OoqsiJsm

Direct link to Demos Report on Detoxifying School Accountability: http://t.co/Z5SZk71vDE  plus press release: http://t.co/LSVGazLSex

Interim report tomorrow from Labour’s 14-19 review will apparently recommend abolition of EBacc: http://t.co/Vxo2h6BoYS

International comparisons of school accountability systems: http://t.co/J4fgxLEwHx

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https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/345121638506954754

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Ofsted

FAQs on Ofsted’s School Data Dashboard: http://t.co/SLJX93VUDl – Nothing on link with new Performance Tables proposals

Mumsnet users aren’t impressed by the Ofsted Schools Dashboard: http://t.co/GVN1JA2F0L

TES reports concern that data determining which LAs Ofsted inspects is out of date: http://t.co/FPtyc0uLjn

TES editorial suggests Ofsted should consider Montesquieu before undertaking school improvement alongside inspection: http://t.co/vgArtBkNsg

Ofsted will tomorrow publish data on the outcome of school inspections in first term under new framework: http://t.co/yLQJIZPO2H (Col 987W)

The promised Ofsted school inspection data for October to December 2012: http://t.co/Ampa57zT5M  plus press release: http://t.co/VFbVi2pkuI

38 sponsored academies inspected October-December 2012: 0 outstanding; 20 good; 13 require improvement; 5 inadequate: http://t.co/Ampa57zT5M

Ofsted has published the Data Dashboard/school governors Wilshaw speech: http://t.co/YRBrc9iiYP

Ofsted Survey: Improving Literacy in Secondary Schools: http://t.co/qi05eHb2hY

Update from NAHT on Ofsted data dashboard issues: http://t.co/lv259wSH8n

Following Derby and Portsmouth, Ofsted next blitz Coventry: http://t.co/6Tpf78JChe

Norfolk is next authority in line for the full Ofsted treatment: http://t.co/cxUENfpBqA

Ofsted’s letter to Portsmouth following mass inspection there is less emollient than the earlier one to Derby: http://t.co/6Gzl4uPN2V

Ofsted has published its response to a consultation on improving its own complaints procedures: http://t.co/XQY9jAdDbi

Omigod (literally!) Christian Today says “Sir Michael’s sins are too long to detail”: http://t.co/NLWvc5ohg5 but I think it’s ironic

Ofsted has written to Coventry about the outcomes of the recent LA-wide inspection there: http://t.co/6Gzl4uPN2V

In case you haven’t yet had a link to….Ofsted’s consultation document on early years inspection: http://t.co/6BSMUMjt4T

Not sure if this breakdown of grades for the 9 free schools so far inspected has been made public before: http://t.co/zY98hnQFcO (top link)

Papers from the Ofsted Board Meeting of 26 March: http://t.co/HSLtSywpvZ including a Performance Report on the last Quarter of 2012

All the Ofsted bumph on LA inspection: http://t.co/0uoTSOSgUB and http://t.co/L4uCbIymSV and http://t.co/9MVPli31GM

Norfolk gets a stiff letter from Ofsted, Here’s the full text courtesy of the EDP: http://t.co/AnXruhJytU

Ofsted has released a first set of monthly figures updating latest school inspection outcomes by phase and LA/region: http://t.co/H7dOL1k3TA

NAHT press release about Instead, its alternative inspection model: http://t.co/P0Gg7IOLS6

Interesting piece on the impact of a negative Ofsted on test outcomes: http://t.co/21vs0QbFeS

Ministers haven’t pinned down the criteria determining a decision to ask HMCI to inspect a local authority http://t.co/uIqHyNszr9 (Col 596W)

The Ofsted roadshow reaches Bristol: http://t.co/4xuYt3gIP7

Ofsted will on Monday start inspection of local authority school improvement services in Norfolk and Isle of Wight: http://t.co/Ak3qmFir13

Full DfE FOI response on evidence of effectiveness of Ofsted inspection: http://t.co/Wc6yzuU9qm Includes 2012 internal research review.

TES reports that some private school emergency inspections are prompted by fears of religious extremism: http://t.co/Rs2VKph5Ee

Medway is next in Ofsted’s sights: http://t.co/URDpiAr1Qj

Ofsted press release on its inspection of Medway primary schools: http://t.co/URDpiAr1Qj

East Riding escapes relatively lightly following Ofsted scrutiny: http://t.co/6Gzl4uPN2V

Is Ofsted now acting as a school improvement broker, asks @Robt_Hill http://t.co/rirkTzCdit

Really useful data via Ofsted FOI on how academies’ inspection ratings change after achieving academy status: http://t.co/Ucldk1c5BG

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International Comparisons

New OECD working paper on the Predictive Power of PISA test items: http://t.co/YLSiI6aBOu

RT @OECD_Edu: The ideas that shaped PISA, & the ideas that PISA shaped – Slidedeck for @SchleicherEDU TED talk http://t.co/vW3qlyXLQ4

Latest PISA in Focus on marking: http://t.co/hgNXEUYnNK

Schleicher presentation from OECD summit on using evaluation to improve teaching: http://t.co/cOIG1UR31y

What’s wrong with NC Levels: http://t.co/6sgLjPN212 Interested to see how the author’s alternative differs to mine: http://t.co/JNTYosr4nL

BBC reports that PISA test for schools is about to be launched: http://t.co/ECcHnUjaSI  – further background here: http://t.co/t4rBw5sssG

A whole range of US pilot material from the OECD (PISA) test for schools can be accessed here: http://t.co/5aGWuGlZxp

Today’s TES editorial is about our penchant for things American: http://t.co/X72zSyL6vT – but PISA is now driving a more eclectic approach?

‘You’ll be Shocked by How Many of the World’s Top Students are American’: http://t.co/hHH1vihzNx (I wasn’t)

Tim Oates in TES on comparative study of high-performing education systems: http://t.co/hAbCyLSHZ1 – is the full analysis published?

PISA in Focus study on What Makes Urban Schools Different: http://t.co/PoGkZjegCe as reported here: http://t.co/FAEGWkKx3i

Interesting World Bank blog post about OECD’s ‘PISA for Development’ (building PISA use in developing economies): http://t.co/DULGaN96ru

Interesting NCEE article exemplifying data produced from the PISA Test for Schools: http://t.co/WED2ztV8vS

International comparisons of school accountability systems: http://t.co/J4fgxLEwHx

TES on PISA Tests for Schools: http://t.co/KQjAugyG8s – They’ll cost at least £5,250 a throw. Government ‘supportive’ but won’t impose

Forgot to mention you can check how our high achievers perform on PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS here: http://t.co/OvqmNIJO7J

PISA’s approach to assessing collaborative problem-solving (in 2015): http://t.co/Zn01bSsjvy

Here is Education at a Glance 2013 (all 440 pages): http://t.co/vMw2wWsonC and here’s the 10 page note on the UK: http://t.co/hEMaPeHNN5

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Social Mobility

The ASCL page from which you can download all three of today’s publications about social mobility: http://t.co/wbXhX89uPx

On quick review ASCL social mobility documents are good in parts while ignoring the Excellence Gap concept: http://t.co/wbXhX89uPx

Upcoming ISER social mobility report: http://t.co/6mheoYoFQj Doesn’t yet show up on their website: http://t.co/vYtaj2Rqfi

NYT article on social mobility through HE access in the USA: http://t.co/qH8Xtd5bNB – unfortunately the paper it discusses is £

@brianlightman on schools’ contribution to social mobility: http://t.co/Yf8dDeVozB

Book of abstracts for today’s HEA social mobility conference http://t.co/clpTWHbsat – let’s hope the papers are published and free to access

Top strand of the IT pipeline is dominated by independent schools: http://t.co/qYmTqQbprT

Some fairly rigorous intervention is required before grammar schools will be a key to social mobility: http://t.co/rQ4RK2tUwU

Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission reminds us of its existence: http://t.co/E6zAQizcuU  – There’s plenty for it to address

BIS FOI Release concerning evidence of guidance on unpaid internships and unpaid interns: http://t.co/Soje8x3Asg

Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission has issued a call for evidence to inform 1st annual report http://t.co/wkIx8QBfNo

Grammar schools and the myth of social mobility: http://t.co/ltOADwOJve – Exactly

Not exactly an enthusiastic answer to Hinds PQ on Government progress on social mobility: http://t.co/ZaSg2aw1e5 (Col 1097W)

DPM’s Opening Doors Press Release: http://t.co/3pSPybcQ5O – so glad to know who provided the double-deckers for the Talent Tour!

Full text of Milburn’s Scottish Speech setting out the stall of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission: http://t.co/EFBdc5xfYB

Yesterday’s Westminster Hall Debate on unpaid internships: http://t.co/HRvLNpmlfk (Col 161WH)

20 June Lords Debate on Social Mobility: http://t.co/Mo88u8Y7nW (Col GC139) When Government spokesman ditches his speech, that’s a bad sign

Public Attitudes Research on Social Mobility from the SMCPC: http://t.co/BvbgFBzdLI and press release: http://t.co/rqgfZlP9qV

The Grandparents Effect in Social Mobility: Evidence from British Birth Cohort Studies by Chan and Boliver: http://t.co/aNnf6OpqHE

Thirteen Economic Facts about Social Mobility and the Role of Education (US): http://t.co/nOSq5EV2oa

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Fair Access

Ever wonder why state schools don’t send students to Oxbridge? Read this and weep: http://t.co/puvhYZhPen

It’s becoming harder to get a place on a UNIQ summer school than to gain admission to Oxford: http://t.co/ro7kV9vbtf

Oxford and Telegraph lock horns over statistical analysis of ‘summer born’ effect on admissions http://t.co/NS4pCYe1Cg

If there’s no problem with Oxbridge admissions let’s have full data transparency. Secrecy breeds conspiracy theories http://t.co/D2vrLdK22N

OFFA has appointed nine new members to its advisory group including Penelope Griffin of the Bridge Group: http://t.co/mQ78zvi3ol

Direct link to HEFCE’s ‘The Uses and Impact of HEFCE Funding for Widening Participation’: http://t.co/0ZbP3GXklg

The sting in the tail of HEFCE’s report is on page 68: http://t.co/0ZbP3GXklg

THE says OFFA/HEFCE national access strategy interim report will propose coordinated outreach strategy: http://t.co/xNBhyJdWLd

The HEFCE/OFFA Interim Report on the National Strategy for Access: http://t.co/WDKbMqWt84 said to propose son of Aim Higher

BiS press notice about the OFFA/HEFCE Access Strategy Interim Report: http://t.co/rPXhuxVUqu

I’m struggling to understand how factual information about applications could be defamatory to universities: http://t.co/rjGrV5LGNL

Early stages of a FOI wrangle over those UCAS admission statistics: http://t.co/RqOpSvPD42

HEFCE has published a bit of extra material from the National Scholarship Programme evaluation they commissioned: http://t.co/781hQMQGn1

The long arm of RCT reaches across to the Sutton Trust’s fair access work: http://t.co/HI8K250mCu – RCT is the new fad/Heineken/Mr Tickle!

Why don’t independent schools introduce loans that aren’t repayable if you don’t enter a Russell Group university? http://t.co/yv9C7pb2uW

Is OFFA going soft on fair access? http://t.co/9MHSRpSNif – no ratcheting up of expectations in 2013-14

HEFCE confirms open recruitment for ABB+ grades (a third of students) Press release: http://t.co/eDGhU3uYym Circular: http://t.co/6qjma2yT8L

New HESA participation data http://t.co/dbUjMykxb4 Higher says 6 of 24 Russell Group HEIs met state school benchmarks http://t.co/5Kt4HLgsvF

Durham press release on that Boliver fair access research: http://t.co/29wqUO8Tz1 and the project that spawned it: http://t.co/AJtP0nm4Cv

Gove statement on the Boliver social mobility research http://t.co/MMXipicX2u Last line seems to contradict Government HE admissions policy

Sounds like IPPR’s HE Commission is developing an approach to fair access that Mr G will not find conducive: http://t.co/pvDZ6PjvRG

The proportion of UCAS applications from private and independent schools 2008 to 2012: http://t.co/JRfh8mQy0A  (Col 1067W)

THE reports a Mahmood speech yesterday. Labour would ‘urgently restore’ widening participation as policy priority: http://t.co/qZEN1QJ6Ed

Ivy League universities are becoming increasingly selective: http://t.co/C8uXBRJgoL

Latest Independent Commission on Fees Analysis of 2012/13 HE admissions: http://t.co/USds5tryru and Sutton Trust PN: http://t.co/SGsxcJIgYr

@conorfryan expands on this morning’s news about the potentially deleterious impact of tuition fees: http://t.co/CnA5SAahY3

HEFCE briefing and report on Non-continuation rates at English HEIs 2003-2011: http://t.co/y4JXksj87r

HEFCE estimates that 18,555 students achieved AAA+ at A level in 2009/10 and 96% entered HE: http://t.co/np7w9UBKcR  (Col 319W)

Laws says proportion of independent/selective students at Oxbridge is ‘unacceptably high’: http://t.co/e40OVnnWf7 (Col 53WH)

Willetts speech in which he announces information packs to support fair access to HE http://t.co/E9WopWgLg3 Marginally positive

Number of Welsh comprehensive pupils admittted to Oxbridge is flatlining – and significantly lower than in 2008/2009: http://t.co/EgSxD63K25

Willetts’ ‘well done’ letters not going down too well: http://t.co/TutennonJw  Idea has a certain affinity with Dux. It won’t impress Milburn

Direct link to the BIS data on HE Participation Rates 2006/07 to 2007/12 (Provisional): http://t.co/cL5NP94rbe

OFFA’s comment on the HE participation data: http://t.co/idXGME8VVP

Imposing a universal embargo on admissions below BBB is hardly praiseworthy university admissions practice: http://t.co/lAkcV0ggIH

Good showing for non-Russell Group in Complete University Guide. Durham also outranks Oxbridge for English: http://t.co/OojYmR16DN

The latest application figures from UCAS: http://t.co/czw2XrXdmw

HEFCE Consultation Document on Student Number Controls 2014-15 onwards: http://t.co/KAUZLzAJYT – includes proposals for moving beyond ABB+

Early evaluation of Unistats from HEFCE: http://t.co/vVERy2JDEj and associated press release: http://t.co/KeHyisXWZx

Is ASCL against all use of contextual data in HE admissions, or concerned about which data is used for the purpose? http://t.co/IjspRbRGL6

Gove’s CPS Joseph Memorial Speech: http://t.co/qfd9TrRAeX  Says his policies are explicitly designed to improve FSM progression to Oxbridge

Direct link to Cambridge Undergraduate Admission Statistics for 2012 http://t.co/5BhG1nmwpC  – disadvantage is by POLAR quintile

Interesting comparison of fair access north and south of the border: http://t.co/LsYBEw0HY7 and http://t.co/Qi2JAn1z5n

Sutton Trust press release on impact of fees: http://t.co/hc1TqEPhpI and Lampl commentary on same: http://t.co/gwuMjHFnst

US debate on ‘affirmative action’ is peaking in expectation of the outcome of the University of Texas court case: http://t.co/P8CgECIvu1

Direct link to new Centre Forum report on access to postgraduate education: http://t.co/tpyjOEW7VI

Guardian preview of OFFA’s annual report (with HEFCE) due out today: http://t.co/yrsl3fqzXh  Expect the anodyne, not fireworks

OFFA’s press release on today’s report: http://t.co/xTWlhOYhuc and the Report itself, plus annexes http://t.co/xGUPzkvQBQ

Stock response from BIS to yesterday’s OFFA/HEFCE report: http://t.co/9KoZTdvNIn – wonder what the latest FSM to Oxbridge figure is…

IPPR’s HE Commission will propose a £1K HE Premium for up to 230K disadvantaged students from existing WP budget: http://t.co/8HqPG9AqOP

Missed this Guardian coverage of geographical disparities in Oxbridge admissions http://t.co/kstNax8Jkw and http://t.co/VC8VFgTp7o

IPPR’s HE Commission is pro-contextualised admissions; HEIs could admit unlimited numbers of student premium-eligible http://t.co/eaZbhFkuZC

Direct link to IPPR HE Commission summary (the download mysteriously provides only pages 112-144): http://t.co/eaZbhFkuZC

Here’s the full IPPR HE Commssion Report: http://t.co/N7wjVbktgO – Glitch now fixed thanks to @IPPR_Nick

WonkHE analysis puts the IPPR HE Commission Report (which I still can’t access in full) firmly in its place: http://t.co/A5E3cmzzPF

I like the IPPR HE Commission Report on both Student Premium and Contextualised Admissions: http://t.co/N7wjVbktgO but two tricks missed…

…first, the Student Premium needs to align with 16-19 support as well as the Pupil Premium as suggested here http://t.co/vopcXghiS6 and…

…second, HE outreach budget/effort (HE ‘pull’) needs to be integrated with the school/post-16 budget/effort (‘push’) to maximise impact.

Milburn quietly re-endorses contextualised admissions to HE while up in Scotland: http://t.co/qRpYIFpKWN

Next set of Destination Measures will be published on 20 June: http://t.co/BQIzJbIdAR (Col 231W)

Milburn will publish a report on Monday showing that fair access to prestigious universities has stalled http://t.co/YOOL8xUkKd

Direct link to new Social Mobility Commission policy paper: Higher Education: The Fair Access Challenge: http://t.co/GCBNqtcxRl

Excellent Report by Social Mobility Commission: http://t.co/GCBNqtcxRl – So good that it raises awkward questions about OFFA’s contribution

Today’s Social Mobility Commission report on Fair Access, but now with added data: http://t.co/IJ5YS8V7no  Can’t see FSM though

OFFA responds to Social mobility Commission Report on Fair Access to HE: http://t.co/NQzuqjydkw which shows OFFA’s having negligible impact

Now there’s a thought – link VCs’ pay to the achievement of their fair access targets: http://t.co/gnUjG3DAtm Warwick OKish on this measure?

THE reports the National Scholarship Programme could be vulnerable under the Spending Review: http://t.co/MrM50928uT

Updated Destination Measures general information: http://t.co/rJ64rECRro and Q&A: http://t.co/0M4ukptFzF

KS4/5 Destinations Data PN: http://t.co/fe8lpw4V8Y – SFR and tables: http://t.co/C7MEmY0lEe  FSM breakdown not published until 23 July

Russell Group on SMCPC Report on Fair Access http://t.co/QXrWgZ6ocd and @tessa_stone’s powerful response http://t.co/EppEi11oN5

THE reviews IntoUniversity: http://t.co/cbsZhVNN1V Successfully squeezing money from corporate sponsors to support fair access

Why 9 of these students: http://t.co/Cj0QXueVp3 rejected Oxbridge: http://t.co/opqCP24K2U – Still a trickle but could it become a flood?

Debate continues over affirmative action despite Supreme Court Ruling: http://t.co/Tw1jquylX2 and http://t.co/C6k4wezKdU

Here’s a brief report on Fair Access issues, especially some news about the Dux Award Scheme: http://t.co/krPc7Uweo4

National Scholarship Programme reduced back to £50m and focused exclusively on postgraduates: http://t.co/52iWzTrjOT

Progress of the Post-16 Education (Scotland) Bill which supports WP/fair access north of the border, passed yesterday http://t.co/kjZU5vQG5N

I’ve finalised my brief post of yesterday about the future of Dux Awards, now renamed Future Scholar Awards http://t.co/krPc7Uweo4

HEFCE analysis of trends in transition from undergraduate to postgraduate study 2002-2011: http://t.co/RMVP6znz5D

HEFCE’s Overview Report of Postgraduate Education in England and Northern Ireland 2013: http://t.co/MJIr5ik7fe

HEFCE’s invitation to submit pilot project proposals to support progression into postgraduate education: http://t.co/C6mZoCbHrx

Further detail of Government financial support for access by disadvantaged students to postgraduate education: http://t.co/1VU6MOkWWr

Think this is the report: http://t.co/b5ISODUQPl on the state/private school university experience referenced here: http://t.co/EPGDBA7hUX

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https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/352499444035489793

https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/352674966271037440

https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/353023250034458624

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Careers

Deed of variation to funding agreements will require academies to secure independent careers advice: http://t.co/B80SinZNAn (Col WA339)

Lords Oral PQ about careers guidance in schools: http://t.co/L7Q3cZiMD4 (Col 1267)

Updated statutory guidance for schools on Careers Guidance: http://t.co/X04WvS5Bru

Government response to Education Select Committee report on Careers Guidance for Young People: http://t.co/wipyXovbJS

RT @SecondaryCEIAG: Tony Watts forensically takes apart Government response to Education Committee report on careers http://t.co/kHKG8hPhfh

Yesterday’s Westminster Hall debate on Careers Guidance: http://t.co/WzQp3ZAI04 (Col 1WH)

Direct link to today’s National Careers Council publication: ‘An Aspirational Nation’: http://t.co/TG0HacIsmj

New guidance for post-16 institutions on Securing Independent Careers Guidance: http://t.co/ubSsBOh8c9

Cridland on careers: http://t.co/sg6rVB0lOK – His topic at the GS Heads Association was ‘nurturing ability’: http://t.co/WsAKS1mqBe

Yesterday’s backbench debate on careers advice in schools: http://t.co/kI8QEAP5W0 (Col 120)

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Pupil Premium

Primary floor rises; schools rated by Ofsted below ‘good’ with attainment gap issues need Pupil Premium action plan http://t.co/jKDkZSUycK

DfE Evaluation of Summer Schools for Disadvantaged Pupils: http://t.co/eOd9JF7wKu  plus key findings for schools: http://t.co/sKqsISskUC

Who are these experts that will advise schools on their use of Pupil Premium? http://t.co/bA03gftEMb – What happened to ‘schools know best’?

Not much evidence in this Evaluation of Disadvantaged Summer Schools of a focus on improving attainment: http://t.co/eOd9JF7wKu

Pupil Premium intervention requires accredited ‘System Leaders’ (not all NLEs) to help schools produce action plans http://t.co/OT91Q7KfCW

Laws’ Pupil Premium intervention is basically the old Labour mantra: ‘intervention in inverse proportion to success’  http://t.co/OT91Q7KfCW

Fact Check revisits how much of a premium the Pupil Premium really is http://t.co/hg8MZIlY9o Big issue for current spending review I’d guess

FAQs for the 2013 Summer Schools for Disadvantaged Pupils: http://t.co/s21G1ZbKH8  – continuation announced by Laws yesterday

RT @fimclean: SAM Learning debate on how the £1.25 billion Pupil Premium affects school spending http://t.co/HleTnmUo7d

Hansard record of yesterday’s Westminster Hall debate on the Pupil Premium: http://t.co/jVYFyWRENc (Col 25WH)

Laws ratchets up pressure on schools to narrow gaps via the Pupil Premium http://t.co/R4MZyRcMnb – Schools know best approach is now history

Can you see the Pupil Premium reducing the FSM attainment gap to 12.5% any time soon? http://t.co/zKpfBJk5LO – No, me neither

@RobAnthony01 @miconm Then again there’s Deloitte’s ‘Insight 5’: http://t.co/boxxy21V6w (which rather undermines the Pupil Premium concept)

Just how much Pupil Premium is being pocketed by private tutors? http://t.co/XIswAp64nJ – Wouldn’t it make sense to cut out the 3rd party?

Guardian reports new Sutton Trust survey of Pupil Premium funding: http://t.co/Wz3FMP4q96 Presume details here later: http://t.co/SoVIOiRVqG

Here’s that belated Sutton Trust Pupil Premium Survey: http://t.co/OIwNumz8BN and press release: http://t.co/yUPzqPFfgX

The independent evaluation of the Pupil Premium will be published in July: http://t.co/UymKtQiLTq (Col 300W)

Young Foundation Report ‘Social Investment in Education’ urges using Pupil Premium to support said social investment: http://t.co/ojufJMnnfR

More detail of Pupil Premium accountability measures; John Dunford’s appointment as Pupil Premium National Champion: http://t.co/iWhWCt76gE

Limited support in this Pupil Premium evaluation for Ofsted’s complaint that high attainers are neglected: http://t.co/n4K4K771lF

Pupil Premium Evaluation says it’s too early to offer a judgement of the impact on pupil attainment: http://t.co/n4K4K771lF – Why so?

New Evaluation of the Pupil Premium: http://t.co/n4K4K771lF Identifies tensions between schools’ use and ‘external expectations’

Pupil Premium reinforcement illustrates how few strong policy levers exist in a ‘self-improving school system’: http://t.co/iWhWCt76gE

There’s also more detail here about how Pupil Premium Reviews will work: http://t.co/dtejHrLnk9

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https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/353445813168504833

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FSM Gaps, Poverty, Disadvantage and EEF

EEF’s Evidence in Action Events: Discussion Paper on ‘Knowledge Mobilisation’: http://t.co/kYhuJsZ3eC and report: http://t.co/1CpSW18zVh

If the EEF now deals with ‘Improving education outcomes for school-aged children’ isn’t that serious mission creep? http://t.co/pVR0ltTkBe

This implies that elevation of EEF to ‘What Works Centre’ extends its remit to all outcomes for 4-19 year-olds: http://t.co/pVR0ltTkBe True?

What the Education Endowment Fund was originally for: http://t.co/xYqAJYGJuY and http://t.co/chzsiw16lx

Essential reading for right-lurching politicians: The Lies We Tell Ourselves: Ending Comfortable Myths About Poverty: http://t.co/qiQlfobfKe

This is the Troubled Families evidence base: http://t.co/moLvZowzCA about which this report is so scathing: http://t.co/qiQlfobfKe

How the Pygmalion effect works: http://t.co/5sV6Xclq6B

A deeply troubling round-up of the impact of the various April benefits cuts: http://t.co/uGjYwII7b8

And here’s a benchmark report on 2012 UK poverty levels ahead of the new round of benefits cuts. Required reading: http://t.co/MiDBjew7Bj

Teach First commissioned IFS report on its choice of indicators of disadvantage http://t.co/faArHvgcd9 – TES on same: http://t.co/8M49PfNBRQ

Set of new EEF-funded projects: http://t.co/9yp7ddwyN5 – includes £700K for chess in schools. Who is evaluating the EEF?

Laws speech to ATL references a Liberal ‘ambition’ to halve the current FSM gap by 2020: http://t.co/nsurEnGHhY – remember that one!

IoE blog on why linking FSM gap-narrowing to the inspection framework may not be entirely fair or appropriate: http://t.co/uCgoKl06Sa

DfE Research Topic Note on EYFSP Pilot outcomes: http://t.co/UEWS7MO0oM – reports bigger EM and FSM gaps under new model

DfE publishing data shortly on attainment by age 19 broken down by pupil characteristics including FSM. Here is link http://t.co/RX0fVlrolp

New SFR 13/2013 shows increased FSM gap on 2+ A levels measure, one of Government’s social mobility indicators: http://t.co/Nx3EWkNlfp (p13)

Mongon on white working class underachievement: http://t.co/U8SQdhXk93 – advocates a localised, co-ordinated zone-based response

TES feature on underachievement in coastal towns: http://t.co/5EU995vVpp – 10 years on it’s as if Education Action Zones never existed

Is Universal Credit a disaster waiting to happen? http://t.co/VlflM8mHvl What’s the fallback for FSM eligibility if it can’t be made to work?

New Children’s Centre Evaluation (ECCE) baseline survey of families using centres in the most disadvantaged areas: http://t.co/Kj7LpgYdMP

Don’t understand how FSM eligibility could be cut back by councils if it’s passported on universal credit? http://t.co/0YH4F4dd4X

Government does not expect to introduce the FSM element of Universal Credit until after October 2013: http://t.co/Kmhk1F543K  (Col 479W)

Education Endowment Fund has so far funded 56 projects at a cost of £28.7m (full list provided): http://t.co/Wsgd5KLgmx (Col 959W)

New Good Practice Guide for the 16-19 Bursary Fund: http://t.co/VcLM5vVUiZ

Do low aspirations hold back low income students? http://t.co/vTiSTqayc2 – summary of Rowntree research

New Invitation to Tender for Education Endowment Foundation’s data-crunching activity: http://t.co/LmlPHaxZFR – deadline 31 May

New consultation document on allocation of discretionary element of 16-19 Bursary Fund: http://t.co/1uytICb53g

The proportion of FSM-eligible pupils at the first tranche of free schools: http://t.co/HFQfA6fEpg (Col 90W)

Year 1 Evaluation of the 16-19 Bursary Fund: http://t.co/Ffk5yFiD6r plus associated press release: http://t.co/jLiRfUOofr

Replugging my new post about support for FSM high achievers, applying US research to English settings: http://t.co/XREYgg8bmO

Apropos Sutton Trust report do we know how many Academies/free schools give admissions priority to FSM? http://t.co/RjT0iEUfY1 (footnote 22)

Wonder why Sutton Trust isn’t advocating priority FSM admissions to academies/free schools as well as ballots/banding http://t.co/MsISlp7Sh0

New DfE research report on impact of summer schools programme on disadvantaged learners: http://t.co/FZhTDtGBBA – not a ringing endorsement

IoE PN on Jerrim et al research on impact of genetics on reading achievement gap: http://t.co/0YEVA7Sjcv Exec summary http://t.co/raJBzgVmB0

FSM to Universal Credit is all about the transition: http://t.co/eWtxkkI0FQ  Protect entitlement of 168K losers already eligible to age 16?

UCET advice to ministers on closing the achievement gap and ITT: http://t.co/knzaQupHyy

Preview of HMC’sI themes in next week’s speech on disadvantage: http://t.co/HdC2whRFmd  Including disadvantaged high attainers hopefully

Twigg commits to admissions reform so all schools can give priority to disadvantaged learners. Good http://t.co/nepHKaziLH

Direct link to IPPR’s Excellence and Equity: Tackling educational disadvantage in England’s secondary schools: http://t.co/EG5UzaETS8

Interesting that the Education Endowment Foundation has released a statement on teaching assistants: http://t.co/Z4basqS7Ox

Schools, Pupils and Characteristics January 2013: http://t.co/wIpVZg8JT9 Primary FSM down 0.1% to 19.2%; secondary FSM up 0.3% to 16.3%

Series of Jamie Reed PQs following up on Ofsted’s ‘Unseen Children’ Report: http://t.co/1P0wSgQ0p9 (Col 236W)

No Rich Child Left Behind – on the ‘upper-tail inequality’ in US education: http://t.co/dg73xDwHWW

Report of an Expert Panel considering reform of the measure of socio-economic status deployed in NAEP: http://t.co/gOmSdrLxSn

Breaking the Glass Ceiling of Achievement for Low Income Students and Students of Color from The Education Trust (US) http://t.co/MGYMJglK44

“The distribution of opportunity in our education system is nutty”: http://t.co/oo7Ri27gnS – Fair point

Labour also reported to be proposing admissions reform: http://t.co/MunADl43Zz  – devil will be in the detail here

Funding of NZ schools according to socio-economic deciles under further scrutiny: http://t.co/jvHglmxt9H

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Selection and Independent Sector

Thin end of the wedge if it’s OK for politicians to say one thing and do another when choosing private education?  http://t.co/8aQ8eXeEcl

So what feedback to we have on the CEM 11+ pilot in Bucks? Exactly how much less coachable is it? http://t.co/Rg1EwHj5rO – I’m sceptical

Subject to DfE approval Invicta GS to run Sevenoaks grammar annex – now seem OK sharing site with Trinity Free School http://t.co/xSs2Eh63Hg

All the papers seem to be reporting the Independent Schools Census 2013. I guess it’s published here towards tiffin: http://t.co/drLgzU0bQd

TES report on the Independent Schools Census 2013: http://t.co/XtxDOqe3Xs – and here is the Census itself at last: http://t.co/p6EKqHKqpr

Today’s Sutton Trust Research on Selective Comprehensive Schools: http://t.co/vipxLDdv7a  and associated press release http://t.co/MsISlp7Sh0

The Ethics of Tutoring: http://t.co/BYWpvluyfw  – refreshingly honest

Hang on! ‘Moronic repetition and preparation for cognitive ability tests’? Aren’t they supposed to be non-coachable? http://t.co/8FlcE4UCUr

Oxford Times profiles Tim Hands, incoming Chair of HMC: http://t.co/BvlmuGwlw0  – who sounds like he might make waves

I simply don’t believe that Chelmsford HS’s change of 11+ test will materially change its intake: http://t.co/wdZZci6dtn

I see Mr G is delivering ‘a fresh vision for the independent sector’ today: http://t.co/LzVIKMoXRc

Mr G’s speech turned out a different animal: http://t.co/MBsmWmynkh – I worry his high expectations are too narrow, like a hurdle in a race

Tony Little says he and others can’t see an overarching ‘big picture’ vision for the Government’s education reforms: http://t.co/XlRGAnzzB8

New GSA President joins the chorus of disapproval: http://t.co/61ltLEtM7s

Outside the elite institutions, the private sector in US education is dying out argues Chester Finn: http://t.co/ypeIcFjln5

Love the ambiguous ‘too’ in the final para of this on Eton and poverty of aspiration: http://t.co/tVEVEEos38

Fair Admissions Campaign Statement: http://t.co/8Qfoa2DSJ8 Will map religious and socio-economic selection. FAQs: http://t.co/Tp1svgyGfJ

Centre for Market Reform of Education on its Tutors Association Consultation: http://t.co/7iWZx3FRwL  More detail here http://t.co/85qoGqevWq

The rapid expansion of online tutoring in the UK: http://t.co/s7oDRmdqbe

These are the grammar school statistics: http://t.co/H27wwW5ik8 cited in today’s latest Mail article on the subject: http://t.co/J8n5Ct1JKH

Grammar schools and the myth of social mobility: http://t.co/ltOADwOJve – Exactly

I wonder if Hitchens would support the wholesale introduction of ‘contextualised admissions’ into grammar schools: http://t.co/QcougJ89fb

@headguruteacher I still stand by most of what I proposed in Jan 2011 – essentially an OFFA for (grammar) schools: http://t.co/8ZvhNo2RA0

Post on selection by @headguruteacher: http://t.co/sajaOw2nSN  Appears to suggest GS select on attainment, not on ability so FSM imbalance OK

The continuing expansion of grammar school places: http://t.co/7yqrNsW2Nb  – How many are adding 1FE+ post academisation?

A second, competing, proposal to run a satellite grammar school in Sevenoaks: http://t.co/KomIp9xlzO

Chris Ray calls for 11+ admission via assessment days: http://t.co/oKjIBRg8Ad – I agree

HMCI prods independent sector towards stronger partnership with state schools: http://t.co/M46q0kiJCg and http://t.co/mbIY0UAeJz

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https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/352672826341343232

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GP

July 2013

Whither National Curriculum Assessment Without Levels?

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Do you ever get engaged with an educational issue, try to interest and involve others and find you are flogging a dead horse?

It’s difficult to know whether you alone can see the significance of the issue in question, or whether you have identified an imaginary problem, or something which has no real importance to others, perhaps because they understand things better than you; can see their way through more clearly.

I feel that way about assessment under the new National Curriculum. So, in an effort to clarify – for myself as well as others – whether or not there is a real point to address, let me restate the case.

I have been worrying away against this bone (of contention?) for some time. Consequently I feel rather less secure about some of this argument than normal so, if I have got something seriously wrong, do please help me to understand what it is!

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The National Curriculum Expert Panel

Back in December 2011, the National Curriculum Expert Panel published its Report ‘A Framework for the National Curriculum’

Chapter 7 of the Report is about The Form of Programmes of Study and Attainment Targets. (For ease of reference I shall adopt the shorthand ‘PoS’ and ‘ATs’ other than in direct quotations. The emboldening in those quotations is mine.)

The Chapter begins by distinguishing between the two:

‘Programmes of Study highlight the focus of teaching and learning activities and how they might be developed. Attainment Targets are intended to make clear the learning outcomes that are expected as a result of experiencing the Programme of Study. Whilst the former describes what should be taught (‘recommended routes to attainment’), the latter confirms the standard expected (that ‘one has arrived’).’

After highlighting the importance of precision in ATs – and a lack of precision in the level descriptions within the current National Curriculum – the Panel opines that:

‘Attainment Targets in the presently established level descriptor form should not be retained…Instead, and consistent with separating ‘what is to be taught’ from ‘statements of standards’, we suggest an approach in which the Programme of Study is stated as a discursive statement of purposes, anticipated progression and interconnection within the knowledge to be acquired. Attainment Targets should then be statements of specific learning outcomes related to essential knowledge. This approach has the benefit of greater precision – both in orienting teaching and giving a clear rationale for teaching content – and in respect of assessment, since the Attainment Targets would be both detailed and precise.’

They suggest further consideration is given to the idea (attributed to Paul Black) that PoS could be:

Presented in two parallel columns. A narrative, developmental description of the key concept to be learned (the Programme of Study) could be represented on the left hand side. The essential learning outcomes to be assessed at the end of the key stage (the Attainment Targets), could be represented on the right hand side…

Taking this approach has much greater technical and practical integrity, and is likely to improve both learning and assessment. The key challenge will be to write Attainment Targets that are as few and concise as possible in the choice and expression of ‘essential’ learning outcomes. We do not want to encourage the promulgation of huge numbers of atomistic and trivial statements of attainment that characterised earlier versions of the National Curriculum.’

In the next Chapter, on Assessment, Reporting and Progression, the Expert Panel expresses concern at the use of National Curriculum levels in assessment.

They propose a ‘mastery model in their place:

‘We have therefore opted to recommend an approach to pupil progression that emphasises ‘high expectations for all’ – a characteristic of many high-performing jurisdictions. This conveys necessary teacher commitment to both aspiration and inclusion, and implies the specific set of fundamental achievements that all pupils should attain. The anticipated outcome remains that pupils are ready to progress at the end of each key stage, having mastered the knowledge identified in relevant schemes of work and/or Programmes of Study.’

Under this model, the ‘threshold criterion’ of summative assessment becomes the judgement of whether pupils are ‘ready to progress’:

‘The approach to progression that we are proposing carries implications for assessment, since the purpose of statutory assessment would change from assigning a ‘best fit’ level to each pupil to tracking which elements of the curriculum they have adequately achieved and those which require more attention.

For the reasons we set out in the previous chapter, the focus of ‘standard attained’ should be on these specific elements, rather than a generalised notion of a level. In plain language, all assessment and other processes should bring people back to the content of the curriculum (and the extent to which it has been taught and learned), instead of focusing on abstracted and arbitrary expressions of the curriculum such as ‘levels’. We believe that it is vital for all assessment, up to the point of public examinations, to be focused on which specific elements of the curriculum an individual has deeply understood and which they have not. As the research on feedback shows, summary reporting in the form of grades or levels is too general to unlock parental support for learning, for effective targeting of learning support, or for genuine recognition of the strengths and weaknesses of schools’ programmes. In line with Early Years Foundation Stage reporting, this suggests more detailed profiling of students’ attainment. There must be great care to avoid the problems of the past regarding development of highly cumbersome and bureaucratic assessment and reporting arrangements. However, we believe that constant assessment to levels is itself over-burdensome, obscures the genuine strengths and weaknesses in a pupil’s attainment, obscures parental understanding of the areas in which they might best support their child’s learning, and likewise, weakens teachers’ clear understanding and identification of pupils’ specific weaknesses or misunderstandings.’

The Panel adds that reporting:

‘Could be based on a ‘ready to progress’ measure broken down into key areas of subjects’

while Performance Tables:

Could be constructed on the basis of the proportions of pupils in any cohort having reached the ‘ready to progress’ level at the end of the key stage.’

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Response to the Expert Panel

In June 2012, the Secretary of State published his response to the Expert Panel Report, in the form of a letter to its Chairman, also publishing initial draft PoS for Key Stages 1-2 in the core subjects of English, maths and science.

The letter says:

‘In order to ensure that every child is expected to master this content, I have, as the panel recommended, decided that the current system of levels and level descriptors should be removed and not replaced.

As you rightly identified, the current system is confusing for parents and restrictive for teachers. I agree with your recommendation that there should be a direct relationship between what children are taught and what is assessed. We will therefore describe subject content in a way which makes clear both what should be taught and what pupils should know and be able to do as a result.

I have considered carefully the panel’s suggestion that, in primary schools, all pupils should be expected to have grasped core content before the class moves on. The international evidence which you provided on this issue is indeed both interesting and important.

I do agree with the panel that there needs to be a relentless focus on ensuring that all pupils grasp key curriculum content. The removal of level descriptors and the emphasis in the new Programmes of Study on what pupils should know and be able to do will help to ensure that schools concentrate on making sure that all pupils reach the expected standard, rather than on labelling differential performance.

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.’

The FAQ briefing accompanying the announcement makes clear that the draft core primary PoS have been set out on a predominantly year-by year basis:

‘to give sufficient clarity in the progress pupils are expected to make from Year 1 to Year 6’

But this does not compromise schools’ flexibility:

‘Maintained primary schools are required to teach a Programme of Study by the end of each key stage. Schools will however continue to have the flexibility to move content between years, so long as they cover all the content by the end of the key stage. They will also be able to move on to the content covered in the next key stage early if they believe it is appropriate to do so.

The briefing explains that there will be further announcements about how the new National Curriculum should be structured including ‘issues such as the nature of attainment targets’ and there will be further consultation ‘on how attainment should be graded as part of the statutory assessment arrangements’.

The initial draft PoS in the primary core each have a single generic AT:

‘By the end of each Key Stage, pupils are expected to have the knowledge, skills and understanding of the matters taught in the relevant Programme of Study.’

This might suggest that the Government is taking the view that the sole purpose of the AT is to form a connection between the PoS and an associated end of KS assessment, whether a statutory test or teacher assessment. In all other respects, it is relying on the PoS to define subject-specific learning outcomes, contrary to the advice received from the Expert Panel.

To date I have seen no commentary on whether the draft PoS are sufficiently specific and outcomes-focused to support this expectation, but there must be some cause to question whether all of them consistently manage to be so, especially given the necessity for precision emphasised by the Expert Panel.

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Second National Curriculum Review Announcement

On 7 February 2013, the Secretary of State made a second announcement, simultaneously publishing a slew of documentation including draft PoS for KS1-3 in all subjects and draft PoS for KS4 in some subjects including initial drafts in the three core subjects.

Other documents included a National Curriculum consultation framework document and associated Consultation Document and a consultation on Secondary School Accountability.

The latter says:

Accountability for primary schools and post-16 providers will be considered in separate consultation documents, which will be published shortly.’

The National Curriculum consultation document has this to say about ATs:

‘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.

We are currently seeking views on how to improve the accountability measures for secondary schools in England. The consultation can be accessed here

Approaches to the assessment of pupils’ progress and recognising the achievements of all pupils at primary school will be explored more fully within the primary assessment and accountability consultation which will be issued shortly.’

This is accompanied by a single broad consultation question: ‘Do you have any comments on the proposed wording of the attainment targets?’

The associated Framework Document shows that the generic AT has been extended to all draft PoS but the wording has been slightly revised:

‘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.’

There is no reference to arrangements for grading pupil assessment as heralded in the June letter. The inference is presumably that this will be addressed in the still-awaited consultation on primary assessment and accountability (which leaves a big question mark over KS3 assessment.

Shortly after publication, however, it was confirmed that there would be a new grading system at the end of KS2. This news reached us via a Westminster Education Forum event which was open only to those who paid, and was publicised in a press report hidden behind a paywall:

The Department for Education is to announce plans for new grades that will rate pupils’ attainment at 11, form the basis of league tables and be used to identify under-achieving schools. Ministers must also decide whether to order extra tests for the most able children, or have a single set of tests with some questions designed to challenge the brightest pupils.’

I noted how odd it was that no explicit reference was made to this in the National Curriculum Review documentation itself, especially given the reference in the June 2012 letter.

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https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/302323740459536384

 

Where Does this Leave Us?

The key inferences that I draw from this history are as follows:

  • The Expert Panel’s suggestion of a two-column approach to the NC, with ATs appearing alongside the PoS, has been set aside in favour of the PoS plus a single generic AT which applies solely to overall achievement at the end of each Key Stage.
  • The Government’s response to the Expert Panel’s suggestion that mastery and readiness to progress should form the basis of assessment is so far unclear. One might expect the upcoming consultation to clarify exactly how this will be squared with a grading system that will:

.‘Recognise the achievements of all pupils, and provide for a focus on progress…so that we can recognise and reward the .highest achievers as well as identifying those that are falling below national expectations’

  • We know that there will be a new grading system in the core subjects at the end of KS2. If this were to be based on the ATs as drafted, it could only reflect whether or not learners can demonstrate that they know, can apply and understand ‘the matters, skills and processes specified’ in the PoS as a whole. Since there is no provision for ATs that reflect sub-elements of the PoS – such as reading, writing, spelling – grades will have to be awarded on the basis of separate syllabuses for end of KS2 tests associated with these sub-elements.
  • This grading system must anyway be applied universally if it is to inform the publication of performance tables. Since some schools are exempt from National Curriculum requirements, it follows that grading cannot be derived directly from the ATs and/or the PoS, but must be independent of them. So this once more points to end of KS2 tests based on entirely separate syllabuses which nevertheless reflect the relevant part of the draft PoS. The KS2 arrangements are therefore very similar to those planned at KS4.
  • We know that there is discussion about whether or not to adopt a ‘core plus extension paper’ model for end of KS2 tests, to stretch the highest attaining learners. The decision on this point may also offer clues about the eventual shape of the grading system (If there is an extension paper it might be more likely to lead to the award of a ‘starred grade’ rather than a higher grade, for example.)
  • Pending the promised consultation, there is uncertainty about what happens to grading and reporting before the end of KS2. One imagines that the Government will wish schools to continue to undertake a separate end of KS1 teacher assessment, so as to provide a basis for a separate measure of progress across KS2 as a whole. It would be helpful if that used the same grading scale as end of KS2 assessment. End of KS3 assessment remains shrouded in mystery.
  • Once we move beyond end of Key Stage assessment to consider end of year assessment it becomes even harder to read the runes. It is conceivable that all such reporting could be grade free and based on the Expert Panel’s suggestion of ‘more detailed profiling of pupils’ attainment’, although – in schools still following the National Curriculum – that would have to be built upon the PoS in the absence of more specific ATs. Schools might choose to incorporate into profiles their own internal grading systems but, in practice, there is likely to be pressure to align end-of-year grading with the end of Key Stage grading arrangements. Parents will obtain greater clarity that way.
  • Those that still follow the National Curriculum might be able to utilise the year-by-year breakdown of the core PoS – ie basing their judgements on whether the learner has the knowledge, skills and understanding of the matters skills and processes specified for the year in question – but that is rather undermined by the statement in the FAQ briefing that schools have full flexibility to move content between years if they wish. And of course it does not apply outside the primary core and some schools will not follow the National Curriculum at all.

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What Kind of Grading Scale?

All of which leads us to consider the design of a suitable grading scale.

It would seem to need two separate components, one reflecting attainment, another progression (These could be maintained as two entirely separate scales if necessary, but it seems more informative to link them together).

How many points should there be on each of the two sub-scales?

The current Primary Performance Tables focus principally on three levels of achievement at the end of KS2: ‘Levels 3 or below’,’ Level 4’ and ‘Level 5 or above’. However, the recent introduction of Level 6 tests suggests that greater differentiation is required, if only at the top end. That would suggest a four-point attainment sub-scale, or a five-point scale if there is a case for additional differentiation at the bottom as well as the top to maintain symmetry.

The Government might choose to move to a letter-based sub-scale A-E to put distance between the new arrangements and the old National Curriculum levels. Grade A would represent ‘well above grade expectations’; Grade E ‘well below grade expectations; Grade B ‘above grade expectations’; Grade D ‘below grade expectations’ and Grade C ‘at grade expectations’

As for progression, under current arrangements the key distinctions for Performance Table purposes are based on low, middle and high attainers, defined in terms of their KS1 performance and whether or not they have made the expected two levels of progress across KS2 (eg a Level 3 high attainer to Level 5+).

Under the new arrangements, if we assume that the same five-point A-E attainment scale is deployed at the end of KS1 as at the end of KS2, it would be possible to adopt a straightforward three-level progression sub-scale: 1 – an improved grade compared with KS1; 2 – the same grade as at KS1; 3 – a worse grade than at KS1.

This would produce some very similar to the Aunt Sally I published last June.

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Declined(3) E3 D3 C3 B3 A3
Maintained(2) E2 D2 C2 B2 A2
Improved (1) E1 D1 C1 B1 A1
Well below (E)  Below (D)  At (C)  Above (B)  Well above (A)

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Schools could be rewarded in Performance Tables for the proportion of their pupil cohort making good progress. In June I suggested a system of credits and double credits as follows:

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Declined(3) x x x x x
Maintained(2) x x
Improved (1)   √√ √√ √√ √√
Well below (E)  Below (D)  At (C)  Above (B)  Well above (A)

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I also suggested that an additional credit might be awarded for any pupil receiving a tick in receipt of the Pupil Premium.

Should this grading system be applied to end-year in-school subject-specific assessment, I proposed a broad equivalence between the attainment grade awarded and curricular performance which draws on the concept of mastery as proposed by the Expert Panel.

It was expressed in terms that apply only to schools still following the National Curriculum, but nevertheless adding significantly to the prescribed PoS in each subject. (I called these additions ‘the school’s supplementary curriculum’):

  • Well below: Has mastered the core National Curriculum requirements with difficulty; at significant risk of falling short of mastery; requires continued targeted challenge and support to maintain it.
  • Below: Has mastered the core National Curriculum requirements with support and made some progress with the school’s supplementary curriculum.
  • At: Has mastered the core National Curriculum requirements and the school’s supplementary curriculum.
  • Above: Has mastered the core National Curriculum requirements and the school’s supplementary curriculum with ease; beginning to anticipate the next stage of the National Curriculum programme of study;
  • Well above: Has mastered the core National Curriculum and the school’s supplementary curriculum with ease and is already mastering the next stage of the National Curriculum programme of study; requires continued targeted challenge and support to maintain this level of progress.

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I find it conceptually difficult to think about such issues, needing constantly to remind myself of the implications of a scenario where National Curriculum levels are no more and a substantial proportion of schools (admittedly fewer in the primary sector) are not following the National Curriculum.

So do I have this analysis correct, or have I made a wrong turning at some point above? Are there alternative, better outcomes than the one I have proposed and, if so, what are they?

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Postscript

Following publication of Warwick Mansell’s post on the same topic, plus a brief Twitter exchange, I’ve been re-examining some of the argument above. Most of it still stands, though it seems most likely that – rather than creating an entirely new and parallel framework of AT-like outcome statements on which to build the preferred suite of KS2 tests – the final version of the core PoS are likely to be used for that purpose.

Such a decision would reinforce the importance of incorporating within the core PoS the set of tightly-drawn outcome statements that the Expert Panel advocated. In the absence of further clarification – and pending release of the primary consultation document – we must assume that scrutiny of the draft PoS during the current consultation process should take on board this added dimension.

If the KS2 tests are to be based on the PoS, rather than a separate set of ATs derived from them, the relationship between the tests and National Curriculum coverage becomes even more intimate. Whereas it might have been possible to define a different PoS that nevertheless satisfied a separate set of National Curriculum ATs, that option now seems closed. It follows that academies will have little choice but to follow the core PoS rather closely.

So closely, in fact, that it might have been preferable simply to vary academies’ funding agreements to make adoption of the core NC compulsory. But that would have all the makings of a major U-turn. Schools might object that they had been led to adopt academy status on false pretences.

There would be relatively less negative reaction if such a variation was confined to the primary sector, but that would raise the difficult question why primary academies should enjoy less curricular freedom than their secondary counterparts.

(That said, one could point to the same primary-secondary distinction amongst state-maintained schools still bound to the National Curriculum, since there is considerably more detail in the primary core than in the secondary equivalent.)

Even if this funding agreement route towards compulsion of primary academies to follow the core is deemed a bridge too far, a decision to link tests to the PoS may itself create something of a backlash, at least to the extent that primary academies have taken the academy route to buy themselves freedom from the relatively prescriptive requirements for English, maths and science.

What happens in the foundation subjects remains unclear. In many of those the draft PoS are much slimmer and it must be open to question whether they can sustain the weight of any assessment process. It may be left to schools to devise ATs that cover their own ‘supplementary content’ as well as the PoS.

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.GP

February 2013

Where Have We Got To With National Curriculum Reform? Part Two

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This post contains a detailed summary of the tranche of National Curriculum Review and associated publications released on 7 February 2013. It examines the implications of the changes proposed, including the impact on high-attaining gifted learners.

Old NC logo CaptureThis is the latter part of a bigger study of the National Curriculum Review since the first Government response in June 2012.

Part One itemises the issues outstanding following that initial response and offers a narrative-cum-commentary on subsequent developments, up to the day before publication of the second response.

Part Two sets this new compendium of documents in the context of earlier progress, considering whether they properly address the outstanding points following the June 2012 announcement, as well as those emerging from subsequent developments.

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The Oral Statement

During the evening of 6 February, rumours began to emerge on Twitter that a National Curriculum Review announcement would finally be made the following day, some eight months on from the previous announcement.

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https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/299246325764071425

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There was some scepticism given the number of times the announcement had apparently been delayed in the past. But, by the morning, there were press stories from normally reliable sources including The Independent, The Guardian and the BBC. (These links go to updated versions of the original articles).

The Secretary of State duly made his statement to Parliament at 11.30am that morning and his Department released the associated documentation as soon as he had finished speaking. A parallel statement was delivered in the House of Lords that afternoon.

The statements summarise the changes proposed, concentrating primarily on Key Stage 4 reforms. Mr Gove said that:

  • Consultation supported the case for changes to GCSE examinations, but the plan to introduce English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBCs) – with single exam boards offering completely new exams in specified subjects – had proved ‘a bridge too far’.
  • The Government would concentrate instead on GCSE reform. GCSEs should be linear qualifications with all exams normally taken at the end of the course; there would be assessment of extended writing in subjects such as English and history; in maths and science there would be greater emphasis on quantitative problem-solving; internal assessment and use of exam aids would be minimised.
  • GCSEs would remain ‘universal qualifications’ – the Government would expect ‘the same proportion of pupils to sit them as now’. But students would not be ‘forced to choose between higher and foundation tiers’.
  • There would be new GCSEs in English, maths, the sciences, history and geography, these to be in place for teaching to begin at the start of academic year 2015/16.

Little of value emerged from the brief debates that followed. The Labour Opposition called the announcement ‘a humiliating climbdown’ and pressed for cross-party consensus on future arrangements.

When challenged as to why he had not acted sooner, the Secretary of State said only that:

‘I was clear that the programme of reform we put out in September was ambitious, and I wanted to ensure that we could challenge the examinations system—and, indeed, our schools system—to make a series of changes that would embed rigour and stop a drift to dumbing-down. I realised, however, as I mentioned in my statement, that the best was the enemy of the good. The case made by Ofqual, the detail it produced and the warning it gave, as well as the work done by the Select Committee, convinced me that it was better to proceed on the basis of consensus around the very many changes that made sense rather than to push this particular point.’

This suggests that it was the combined weight of Ofqual and the Select Committee – rather than the outcomes of consultation – that ultimately caused the volte face.

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https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/299788036839976960

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The Documents

The documentation can be divided into three subsets, relating to the National Curriculum, Key Stage 4 Reform and changes to the secondary accountability system respectively.

I have included below hyperlinks to all relevant publications available on the Department for Education’s website:

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Material relating to the National Curriculum itself

A home page carries links to The Consultation on the Draft National Curriculum Programmes of Study

This in turn provides links to:

  • An associated publication ‘The National Curriculum in England – Framework Document for Consultation’ which contains overarching statements that apply to the curriculum and National Curriculum as a whole, as well as draft programmes of study and attainment targets for each National Curriculum subject (excluding the proposed programmes of study for KS4 English, maths and science). Each subject-specific draft programme of study (apart from KS4 English, maths and science) can be obtained from a separate page. Hyperlinks to each are included in the commentary below.
  • Separate initial draft programmes of study for KS4 English, maths and science. The associated commentary says ‘further versions will be developed alongside work on reformed GCSEs in these subjects and a formal consultation on the drafts will take place later in the year’.

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Material Relating to GCSE Reform

This comprises:

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Material Relating to Secondary Accountability

A new Consultation Document on Secondary School Accountability on which responses are due by 1 May 2013.

This refers to an upcoming parallel consultation on primary sector accountability which has not yet been published (and no specific date is given for its publication).

There is (as yet) no additional overarching commentary from DfE – such as a Q and A brief – to help readers interpret these documents and understand the connections between them. Such material may be added in the next few weeks as the consultation progresses and issues emerge from the various commentaries that are published.

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The National Curriculum Reform Proposals

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National Curriculum Structure

The consultation document on National Curriculum Reform makes a familiar two-fold case for change: comparison with the best performing jurisdictions worldwide and research evidence of deficiencies in existing arrangements.

It sets out plans for:

  • Retention of the current subject composition of the National Curriculum (apart from the relatively minor changes below) and of the existing Key Stage structure.
  • Greater rigour in English, maths and the sciences, compulsory study of a foreign language at Key Stage 2 and a new Computing programme of study replacing ICT.
  • Apart from primary MFL and Computing, no further changes to the required foundation subjects. KS4 students will still have access to subjects within each of the four defined ‘entitlement areas’.
  • Detailed programmes of study in the primary core subjects to give teachers ‘a detailed guide…to support them in bringing about a step-change in performance in these vital subjects’ while others ‘give teachers more space and flexibility to design their lessons by focusing only on the essential knowledge to be taught in each subject.’
  • Informal consultation on the draft KS4 programmes of study in English, maths and science – because they require further consideration alongside new subject content requirements for reformed GCSEs in these subjects. Statutory consultation will not begin until those GCSE content requirements are published. These core KS4 programmes of study will not be introduced until 2015, alongside the reformed GCSEs.

The Framework Document includes a helpful diagram showing the proposed structure of the new National Curriculum by Key Stage.

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Proposed NC structure 2013Capture

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Aims

The Framework Document describes the relationship between the National Curriculum and wider school curriculum, sets out proposed aims for the National Curriculum and draft statements on inclusion and on cross-curricular language, literacy and numeracy.

The draft Aims are very brief and emphasise knowledge over skills:

‘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.’

As well as seeking comments on the draft aims, the Consultation Document advances the suggestion that additional subject-specific aims are unnecessary and could be dispensed with, so teachers could form their own instead.

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Draft Programmes of Study and Attainment Targets

The Consultation Document seeks comments on the content of the draft programmes of study and whether it represents ‘a sufficiently ambitious level of challenge for pupils at each key stage’.

In relation to attainment targets the document says:

‘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…

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 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.

We are currently seeking views on how to improve the accountability measures for secondary schools in England…Approaches to the assessment of pupils’ progress and recognising the achievements of all pupils at primary school will be explored more fully within the primary assessment and accountability consultation which will be issued shortly.’

Comments are invited, meanwhile, on the proposed wording of the attainment targets which seem to be identical for each subject and are essentially vacuous:

‘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.

There is a question asking whether consultees agree that the draft programmes of study provide for effective progression between key stages. They are also asked whether they agree with the proposed introduction of computing in place of ICT.

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Inclusion Statement

Another question asks whether the National Curriculum embodies ‘an expectation of higher standards for all children’ and comments are invited on the impact on ‘protected characteristic groups’ (a footnote explains that these cover disability, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, gender identity, religion or belief and, for workforce issues, age).

Comments are not explicitly invited on the text of the draft inclusion statement, which is reproduced in full below:

‘Setting suitable challenges

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.

Responding to pupils’ needs and overcoming potential barriers for individuals and groups of pupils

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

A wide range of pupils have special educational needs, many of whom also have disabilities. Lessons should be planned to ensure that there are no barriers to every pupil achieving. In many cases, such planning will mean that these pupils will be able to study the full National Curriculum. The SEN Code of Practice will include advice on approaches to identification of need which can support this. A minority of pupils will need access to specialist equipment and different approaches. The SEN Code of Practice will outline what needs to be done for them.

Many disabled pupils have little need for additional resources beyond the aids which they use as part of their daily life. Teachers must plan lessons so that these pupils can study every National Curriculum subject. Potential areas of difficulty should be identified and addressed at the outset of work.

Teachers must also take account of the needs of pupils whose first language is not English. Monitoring of progress should take account of the pupil’s age, length of time in this country, previous educational experience and ability in other languages.

The ability of pupils for whom English is an additional language to take part in the National Curriculum may be in advance of their communication skills in English. Teachers should plan teaching opportunities to help pupils develop their English and should aim to provide the support pupils need to take part in all subjects.’

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Other Issues, Implementation and Timetable

Strangely there is no separate question seeking comments on the draft statement about language, literacy and numeracy across the curriculum.

There is, however, a generic question about the extent to which the National Curriculum ‘will make clear to parents what their children should be learning at each stage of their education’, plus questions about key factors that may impact on effective implementation in schools and about sources of support that schools will need.

The Document acknowledges that there are ‘mixed views’ about whether to phase in the new arrangements. It has concluded that September 2014 should be the default except where Key Stage 4 reforms justify a longer timescale. KS4 English, maths, science, history and geography will be introduced from September 2015 but ‘Changes to remaining subjects will follow as soon as possible after that’.

There is a proposal to disapply large parts of the existing National Curriculum from September 2013: schools will still need to teach the subjects, but not the prescribed content.

This would apply to English, maths and science in Years 3 and 4 and all foundation subjects throughout KS1 and KS2. Disapplication is intended to ‘give schools greater freedom to adapt their own curricula’.

Similarly, the current programmes of study for all KS3 and KS4 subjects would be disapplied from September 2013 – this to continue until the new programme of study comes into force for each relevant year group.

Consultees are asked whether they agree with such disapplication.

There is some disagreement between the two documents over the timetable. The introduction to the Framework Document says:

‘Subject to Ministers’ final decisions, and to the approval of Parliament, it is the Government’s intention that the final version of this framework will be published in the autumn of 2013, and that the elements that require statutory force will come into effect from September 2014.’

The use of the phrase ‘autumn of 2013’ suggests that the standard 12-month period for schools to prepare may be somewhat eroded.

But, according to the Consultation Document, results of the consultation and the Department’s response will be published over the summer and the final National Curriculum will be available ‘early in the autumn term’ (so is more optimistic than the Framework Document that schools will have close to a full year to prepare for introduction from September 2014).

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Subject-specific draft Programmes of Study

It is not possible in the space available to provide a thorough analysis of each draft Programme of Study, but here are very brief snapshots of each.

Incidentally, it is unclear whether the drafts PoS for English, maths and science at KS1-2 are identical to those issued in June 2012 or have been further revised.

  • English KS1-2 (40 pages) is also accompanied by an Appendix  (22 pages). This is actually two appendices, covering spelling and grammar and punctuation respectively. The former includes statutory spelling lists as well as non-statutory guidance. There is also a separate non-statutory Glossary (18 pages) described as ‘an aid for teachers’. The three combined add up to 80 pages, making them comfortably the longest subject-specific package. The PoS is hugely detailed, set out on a year-by-year basis, together with extensive non-statutory ‘notes and guidance’. There is a separate section on Spoken Language and the PoS contains the expected emphasis on phonics and learning poetry by heart.
  • English KS3 (7 pages) is positively sketchy by comparison. The requirements for Reading include: ‘a wide range of fiction and non-fiction, including in particular whole books, short stories, poems and plays with a wide coverage of genres, historical periods, forms and authors. The range should include high-quality works from: English literature, both pre-1914 and contemporary, including prose, poetry and drama; Shakespeare (at least one play); seminal world literature, written in English’. There is an additional requirement to study at least two writers in depth each year.
  • English KS4 (8 pages) is similarly brief. The Reading requirement includes: ‘studying high-quality, challenging, whole texts in detail including: two plays by Shakespeare; representative Romantic poetry; a nineteenth-century novel;  representative poetry of the First World War; British fiction, poetry or drama since the First World War; seminal world literature, written in English.’
  • Maths KS1-2 (44 pages) is again extremely detailed. It, too, is set out on a year-by-year basis and includes much non-statutory material ‘notes and guidance’. There are specific sections on Spoken Language and ICT (‘calculators should not be used as a substitute for good written and mental arithmetic’).
  • Maths KS3 (9 pages) is much shorter. It includes clear reference to problem-solving within the curricular aims and an introductory section which effectively covers mathematical skills.
  • Maths KS4 (10 pages) is much the same, with similar references to problem-solving and mathematical skills.
  • Science KS1-2 (39 pages) is similar in style to the draft PoS for English and maths. It too includes a discrete section about Spoken Language.
  • Science KS3 (15 pages) covers Biology, Chemistry and Physics as well as generic scientific skills and attitudes.
  • Science KS4 (18 pages) also covers Biology, Chemistry and Physics plus generic scientific skills and attitudes. In biology there is explicit reference to ‘the evolution of new species over time through natural selection’ and ‘the evidence for evolution from geology, fossils, comparative anatomy and molecular biology’.
  • Art and Design KS1-3 (6 pages) makes no reference to talent development. There is reference to ‘the greatest artists, architects and designers in history’ but no specific periods or artists are compulsory.
  • Citizenship KS3-4 (6 pages) includes UK governance and political system as well as volunteering and financial education. At KS3 there is an odd reference to ‘the precious liberties enjoyed by the citizens of the United Kingdom’.
  • Computing KS1-4 (7 pages) draws together computer science and information technology. The KS4 PoS seems unusually brief and is much less specific than those for KS2 and KS3.
  • Design and Technology KS1-3 (8 pages) has curricular aims that highlight cookery, food and nutrition above other areas and include the history of design and technological innovation.
  • Geography KS1-3 (7 pages) shows a reasonable balance between knowledge and skills within the subject aims. Press attention has focused on the removal of references to the European Union.
  • History KS1-3 (10 pages) has attracted most comment. The subject aims include both knowledge and skills. At KS1, all named historical characters are given as examples. KS2 expects a chronological treatment of British history from the Stone Age to the Glorious Revolution. Named individuals required to be covered are: Pepys, Cromwell, Caxton, Wycliffe, Chaucer, Llewellyn, Dafydd ap Gruffyd, Robert the Bruce, William Wallace, de Montfort, Thomas Becket and various kings, queens and emperors. KS3 requires coverage of ‘The development of the modern nation’ (General Wolfe to the Boer Wars) and ‘The twentieth century’. Named individuals required to be studied include: Wolfe, Clive, Bacon, Locke, Wren, Newton, Adam Smith, Nelson, Wellington, Pitt, Olaudah Equiano, Gladstone, Disraeli, Chamberlain, Salisbury, Lloyd George, Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin, Atlee, Gandhi, Nehru, Jinnah, Kenyatta, Nkrumah, Attlee, Thatcher. May Seacole is exemplary only (ie preceded by a ‘such as’). There is a strong emphasis on British (primarily English) history throughout.
  • Foreign Languages KS2-3 (7 pages). The ‘Purpose of study’ includes opportunities to ‘read great literature in the original language’. The languages specified are French, German, Italian, Mandarin, Spanish, Latin or Ancient Greek. Spoken language requirements do not apply to the ancient languages.
  • Music KS1-3 (6 pages) contains no requirements to study specific musical genres or composers and there is no reference to talent development.
  • Physical Education KS1-4  (8 pages). There is reference to competitive sport, dance, outdoor activities, swimming. Only at KS4 is there reference to ‘becoming a specialist or elite performer’. This reference seems inconsistent since there are no comparable statements in other subjects such as art and music.

The contrast between the last of these – 8 pages covering all four Key Stages – and the first – 80 pages covering just two Key Stages – is hugely marked. The brevity of the PE PoS will become even more stark if subject-specific aims and the attainment target are stripped out.

This contrast illustrates perfectly the point made in Part One of this post, that there will be inevitable pressure during consultation to add detail to the over-brief PoS and, conversely, to strip it from the over-detailed PoS in the primary core.

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Revised Proposals for Key Stage 4

The Secretary of State’s letter to Ofqual is a response to Ofqual’s earlier advice on the Government’s proposals for KS4 reform – cited by the Secretary of State as influencing his decisions – and contains his ‘policy steers on the development of the new qualifications’.

These are very similar to those set out in the Oral Statement summarised above.

  • The GCSE qualification will stay in place, though subject to significant reform. New-style GCSEs are to be ready for teaching from September 2015 in at least: English language, English literature, maths, biology, chemistry, physics, combined science (double award), history and geography. The aim should be for all subjects to be ready for teaching from September 2016 if possible. Ofqual should give schools at least a year’s familiarity with revised regulatory requirements before they start teaching the new-style qualifications.
  • There should no longer be a combined English option and all combined science options should be worth two GCSEs. Further advice will follow about ‘the subject suite in mathematics’. There are no plans to publish content requirements for subjects outwith the EBacc.
  • GCSEs will continue as the basis on which schools will be held accountable for the performance of all their pupils. But the value for individuals ‘must take precedence ahead of ensuring the absolute reliability of the assessment’.
  • ‘I am persuaded by your advice that we should not move to a single Awarding Organisation offering each subject suite at this time’ but the position will be kept under review.
  • Ofqual will want to take proposals for the new accountability system into consideration when designing new regulatory arrangements.
  • GCSEs should remain ‘universal qualifications of about the same size as they are currently, and accessible, with good teaching, to the same proportion of pupils as currently sits GCSE exams at the end of Key Stage 4’. But there must be ‘an increase in demand’ at Grade C ‘to reflect that of high-performing jurisdictions’. At the top end there should be more challenging content and ‘more rigorous assessment structures’.
  • Reformed GCSEs should avoid higher and lower tier papers ‘while enabling high quality assessment at all levels’. The approach will vary between subjects and ‘a range of solutions may come forward’ such as ‘extension papers alongside a common core’ (which is therefore not seen as two-tier). ‘There should be no disincentive for schools to give an open choice of papers to their pupils’.
  • GCSEs must test extended writing in subjects like English and history, have ‘fewer bite-sized and overly structured questions’, and there should be more emphasis on quantitative problem-solving in maths and science. Internal assessment and use of exam aids should be kept to a minimum ‘and used only where there is a compelling case to do so’.
  • There is a strong case for a new grading scale and Ofqual advice is requested on this. Changes ‘should differentiate performance more clearly, particularly at the top end’. For English and maths, pupils might receive more information direct from awarding bodies.

Ofqual has already responded to the Secretary of State’s letter. Although the letter is broadly positive, Ofqual clearly signal that the timetable is challenging, will need to be kept under review and, if necessary, delayed.

The Response to Consultation Document is relatively brief and adds little, but it does provide a useful context in which to consider the steers set out above.

A colossal 84% of respondents felt that the EBC proposals had not identified ‘the right range of subjects’. Many said that the other subjects should not be devalued. There was significant opposition to the proposed ‘Statement of Achievement’

Interestingly, it says that ‘Nineteen per cent of respondents said that new qualifications should be comparable with international tests like PISA or with qualifications used in other high-performing jurisdictions.’

The discussion of tiering notes that:

‘A small majority (56 per cent) of respondents said that it would not be possible to end tiering across the full range of English Baccalaureate subjects, with the remainder fairly evenly split between those who thought it was possible and those who were unsure. Those who felt it would not be possible were often unsure that a single exam could assess all abilities, while others felt that tiering works well or that removing it might impact disproportionately on low attaining pupils. We asked what approaches might enable tiering to be removed; the most frequently suggested methods were a wider range of questions and additional papers aimed at narrower ranges of abilities.

AOs [Awarding Organisations] said that there would be particular challenges with removing tiering from mathematics qualifications, but most said [apparently contradicting the preceding point]  that it would be possible to develop qualifications which allowed all pupils to access all grades without using tiering. Some of the AOs spoke favourably of taking an approach where the qualifications are accessible to all pupils but may be taken at different ages depending on when each pupil was ready for them.’

Turning to internal assessment:

Almost half of respondents said that none of the English Baccalaureate subjects could be entirely externally assessed, while a quarter said that all of them could be. Almost half of respondents thought that mathematics could be completely assessed externally, while around a third thought each of the other subjects could be entirely externally assessed. Practical science work was the aspect that was most commonly cited as requiring internal assessment, with oral ability in languages, English communication and geography fieldwork all identified by a significant number of people.’

As for the timetable for implementation:

‘The majority (55 per cent) of respondents said that schools will need more than 18 months to prepare for new qualifications, while a further 23 per cent said that they would need between 12 and 18 months. Only five per cent of people said that schools could be ready in less than 12 months.’

The proposed timetable above still allows twelve months.

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Proposals for Secondary Accountability Reform

The consultation document on Secondary School Accountability begins with a statement that the timetable will be determined in the light of responses – with implementation of various elements in either 2015 or 2016.

The focus is exclusively on the publication and use of school performance data: there are no changes proposed to Ofsted inspection, though the document does consider how Ofsted will ‘use the headline measures in its work’. The level at which floor targets are pitched is also not addressed: information will only be available once the reformed GCSEs have been further developed.

The aims and vision reintroduce the concept of a ‘high autonomy, high accountability’ system. The latter should be fair, transparent and:

‘reward schools that set high expectations for the attainment and progress of all their pupils, provide high value qualifications, and teach a broad and a balanced curriculum…The aim of the changes to assessment and accountability is to promote pupils’ deep understanding across a broad curriculum and maximise progress and attainment for all pupils. Central to this is the need to make it easier for parents and the public to hold schools to account.’

The introductory paragraphs refer to a new Performance Data Portal (see below) but: ‘within this context, the school performance tables will continue to make key measures about all schools easily available’. These are the headline measures that most parents should be aware of and that Ofsted will use when judging schools’ performance.

The case for change rests on the contention that there are perverse incentives in the current system, while the floor targets in particular tend to encourage schools to focus disproportionately on the D/C borderline.

Schools can also be encouraged to focus on a narrow curriculum and current arrangements may also:

‘Adversely affect high attaining pupils. Ofsted have noted that some schools enter pupils for qualifications early to ‘bank’ a C grade, even though pupils would be better served by entering the qualifications later in the year and aiming for an A or B grade.’

The furore over GCSE English marking in summer 2012 is indicative of ‘what can happen when qualifications are placed under particular pressure by the accountability system’.

There are six specific proposals:

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First, to publish extensive data about secondary schools through a School Performance Data Portal, introduced in 2015, that ‘will bring all the information about schools onto one accessible website’.

The portal (also called a ‘Data Warehouse’) might be used to gather data from non-statutory tests deployed in secondary schools – including commercially available tests – and it ‘may be possible’ to enable schools to enter their own internal test data.

This might be helpful at KS3 where there is mandatory teacher assessment but parents do not receive test results. The Warehouse is described as helping parents contextualise the performance of their own children:

‘Parents would then be able to understand the results they receive about their own child more easily, helping them to make an informed judgement about whether their child’s test results represent good progress or a cause for concern’

But exactly how this would happen – given that individual pupils cannot be identified in publicly available data – is not explained.

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Second, to publish a threshold measure showing the percentage of pupils achieving a ‘pass’ [ie Grade C and above under current arrangements] in English and mathematics. This measure should be part of the floor standard.

This is justified on the grounds that the system should encourage schools to secure a good standard in key subjects amongst as many of their pupils as possible. A pass in English and maths is perceived as critical to pupils’ subsequent progression.

Since the GCSE grading system will change and there is also pressure to raise the level of what constitutes a ‘pass’, this is likely to be a more demanding threshold in future.

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Third (and perhaps most critically) to publish an ‘average point score 8’ measure based on each pupil’s achievement across eight qualifications and comprising three components:

  • English and maths (2).
  • Any combination of ‘three other current EBacc subjects’ (except that combined science cannot count alongside physics, chemistry or biology) (3).
  • ‘Three further high value qualifications’, whether in EBacc subjects, other academic subjects, arts subjects or vocational subjects that meet ‘the Department’s pre-defined criteria’ (3).

Schools will thus be incentivised to provide a broad and balanced curriculum ‘including the academic core of the EBacc as appropriate’. If pupils take more than three further qualifications, their best three will count. Pupils need not take eight qualifications – they may wish to concentrate on getting higher grades in fewer subjects.

The APS is expected to have currency amongst pupils:

‘Pupils will know their own score, and will be able to evaluate how well they have performed at the end of Key Stage 4 by comparing their score with easily available local and national benchmarks.’

The consultation paper argues that:

‘This approach incentivises schools to offer an academic core of subjects to their pupils, by reserving five slots for these qualifications. It allows schools flexibility to tailor the core as appropriate for their pupils. Including three further qualifications in the measure will reward schools that also offer a broad and balanced curriculum. Pupils can follow their interests to take further academic subjects, including but not limited to further EBacc subjects, arts subjects, and high value vocational qualifications.’

The point score system will not be developed until ‘decisions have been made on the grading of reformed GCSEs’.

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Fourth, that the key progress measure should be based on these eight qualifications, and calculated through a Value Added method, using end of Key Stage 2 results in English and mathematics as a baseline. This progress measure should also be part of the floor standard.

Hence the progress measure should ensure that schools are not penalised for an intake with relatively lower prior attainment:

‘It 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).’

This will ensure that each pupil’s achievements count equally:

‘Pupils’ scores across eight qualifications will be compared to the expectations that we have for pupils with their particular Key Stage 2 results. Progress measures give schools credit for helping all pupils, whatever their starting point. It will celebrate those schools that help children with low prior attainment achieve some good qualifications, and highlight schools in which pupils are not being stretched appropriately.’

There will be no incentive for schools to focus excessively on ‘pupils near a particular borderline’.

There are no technical details of how this measure would be developed, which raises several questions.

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Fifth, that schools should have to meet a set standard on both the threshold and progress measure to be above the floor.

The floor targets will be set in such a way that they are challenging and fair regardless of the prior attainment of a school’s intake.

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Sixth, to ‘introduce sample tests in Key Stage 4 to track national standards over time.’

Because the Government uses the same headline measures to track national standards as are used to assess schools’ performance, it can be hard to see whether changes are attributable to pupils’ performance or schools ‘gaming’ the system.

Consequently new sample tests, taken annually, might be introduced in English, maths and science, to track standards over time, building on the model established by PISA, PIRLS and TIMSS. The document asks how these could best be introduced.

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A series of questions is also asked about possible further accountability measures:

  • Whether the floor standard should be a relative measure in the first year of new exams. Because there will be relatively little data to inform the pitching of floor standards when reformed GCSEs are introduced, the consultation asks whether a relative measure might be used for the first year only, based on ‘the worst performing number of schools’.
  • How to publish information about the achievement of pupils eligible for the Pupil Premium. The Government plans to continue publishing ‘the attainment of children eligible for the Pupil Premium, that of other children, and the gap between them’ – and in relation to the threshold and progress measures above. The consultation asks whether any further measures should be introduced.
  • What other information should be made available about schools in headline measures, alongside the EBacc measure (which is a given). The document confirms that there will not be any changes to the current EBacc measure, which will continue to be published, its value lying in encouraging ‘schools to offer the full range of academic subjects to more pupils’. A ‘headline measure showing the progress of pupils in each of English and mathematics’ is also proposed ‘to show how pupils with low, medium and high prior attainment perform’. Exactly how these categories will be defined in the absence of National Curriculum levels, is not explained. These headline measures will compare schools with other similar schools – using a ‘statistical neighbours approach taking into account prior attainment’ – as well as national benchmarks. The document asks whether there are other measures that should be published (whether existing or new).
  • How to recognise the progress and attainment of all pupils in the accountability system, particularly considering pupils who, as now, may not be able to access GCSEs. The document expresses an aim to publish data giving information about such pupils’ progress ‘wherever possible’. Further consideration will be given to how it might be included in progress measures. The consultation question asks what other data could be published for schools, including special schools, to ensure best progress and attainment for all their pupils.
  • Whether the Department should no longer collect Key Stage 3 teacher assessment, whilst ensuring that the results of assessments continue to be reported to parents. The Government proposes to retain the statutory requirement to conduct and report KS3 assessments in all National Curriculum subjects, but to remove the requirement for the reporting of these results to DfE, so reducing bureaucracy. Since National Curriculum levels are going, DfE ‘could only collect very limited information at Key Stage 3 in future’.
  • How to recognise the achievement of schools beyond formal qualifications. The document says that ‘pupils do not necessarily need to achieve a very high number of qualifications; it is not necessary to take more than 8-10 GCSEs or other qualifications to demonstrate a breadth of academic achievement’. Since schools are required to set out their curriculum online, this might be supplemented by setting clearer expectations on publication of information about ‘the range of activities schools offer’. This could also be reported through the Data Portal.

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Assessment of these Proposals

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National Curriculum

In many respects, the revised draft National Curriculum is relatively similar to what we have now. The Key Stage structure is unchanged and there are no real surprises in terms of subject structure.

As noted above, there is huge variation in the length and detail of programmes of study, with the initial draft programmes in the primary core subjects much more specific than their predecessors and everything else stripped back to the bare minimum.

The extent of this imbalance is such that there will inevitably be pressure during consultation to reduce it, since there is no logical justification for increasing prescription in some subjects while reducing it in others (especially when academies are exempted from the National Curriculum in its entirety).

If the arguments in favour of improving flexibility and autonomy have any substance, they must surely apply as much in primary English, maths and science as any other subjects, but the Government is at risk of recreating the old National Primary Strategies under another name.

The consultation document makes clear that the Government would like to simplify the drafts even further, by removing subject-specific aims. They may even prefer to eliminate the attainment targets which are identical across all subjects and no longer serve any useful purpose.

The proposal to disapply the vast majority of the existing National Curriculum in 2013/14 is justified on the basis that it will help schools prepare for the following year when the new National Curriculum is introduced. But, if schools can cope without almost the entire structure for a year – and even longer in some KS4 subjects – the inevitable question arises whether they need it at all.

The revised inclusion statement deserves to be compared carefully with the current version which contains three clearly delineated sections:

  • Setting suitable learning challenges – describing how teachers should teach the specified knowledge, skills and understanding ‘in ways that suit their pupils’ abilities’.
  • Responding to pupils’ diverse learning needs – how teachers should provide opportunities for all pupils to achieve – and
  • Overcoming potential barriers to learning and assessment for individuals and groups of pupils.

The new version does contain an explicit reference to planning lessons to reflect different pupils’ prior attainment (rather than their abilities) but the statement that the obligation for those with low prior attainment is greater than the corresponding obligation to plan for those with high prior attainment appears discriminatory and unfair, for surely every learner has an equal right to their teachers’ attention, irrespective of their prior attainment.

Finally, there is nothing at all in the published material about how academies – who are not bound by the National Curriculum – are expected to respond to it. The FAQ briefing released in June 2012 made clear the Government’s expectation that many academies ‘will choose to offer it’ and they also described it as a ‘a benchmark for excellence’.  Some clarity about the translation of these expectations into practice might have been included on the face of the Framework Document.

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Key Stage Four Reform

The fundamental question is whether the Secretary of State’s change of direction is a minor adjustment or a major U-turn.

It is clear that the entire concept of a different qualification – the EBC itself – has been dropped, as has the plan to exert control over the supply side, by arranging for a single board to provide qualifications in each subject.

These were the two top-line features of the proposals set out in the original Key Stage 4 Reform Consultation Document and they no longer feature within the Government’s plans (although the latter will be ‘kept under review’). What remains is a set of significant but nevertheless second-level plans to change the structure and content of GCSE examinations.

When he appeared before the Education Select Committee in December, the Secretary of State was asked at the outset for his rationale for the effective abolition of specified GCSEs and their replacement by EBCs, rather than confining his efforts to retaining and improving GCSEs.

His answer was as follows (these quotes are from the Uncorrected Transcript of the Session):

‘We thought that it was appropriate to have a clean break with the system…

… With respect to the reason why we felt it was better to have a clean break rather than simply to continue, we wanted to ensure, first, that there was an element of innovation. We wanted to say that GCSEs, having been designed for a different world, had now had a period of time during which certain deleterious consequences had flowed from the way in which they had been designed and implemented, and we wanted to move to a new system.

We felt it would be better, if we were making the series of changes that we were making, to signal that clean break, not least the clean break between competing exam boards and a franchise system, by saying that it was a new qualification. We also felt that that new qualification would signal a higher degree of ambition overall for our education system.

Later in the same session he was asked whether he would be prepared to maintain ‘the GCSE brand’ since the changes he proposed could equally well be incorporated within the existing qualification, if the balance of opinions arising from the consultation supported that.

He replied:

‘I have to say that it is my strong view that attempting to breathe life into the GCSE brand would be in no-one’s interest, but if I can develop a better and clearer understanding of why it is that people believe that maintaining that brand or name would be a good idea, then I would be in a better position to be able to weigh that view and decide whether or not it had merit. I have to say, it would have to be a very powerful and seductive argument of the kind that I have not yet encountered that would incline the Government to change its view on that question, but we are open-minded about what the new set of qualifications could be called.’

It is clear that the Secretary of State’s views have undergone a seismic shift since he made those responses in early December 2012.

Turning to the specific proposals for reform, the insistence on the avoidance of tiered papers appears rather to fly in the face of the consultation responses. The wording of the report on those responses – quoted above – is not hugely convincing.

Moreover, the Government itself has no clear alternatives beyond a common core plus extension paper model that seems almost identical in principle to a tiered approach (since someone must decide who can access the extension papers unless everyone takes them).

The reference in the Ofqual letter to the possibility ‘that a range of other solutions may come forward’ sounds slightly forlorn.

As for the other elements, the combined effect of plans to increase the level of challenge at the ‘pass level’, improve stretch and challenge at the top end and introduce a different grading system across the board, seem to be potentially the most significant.

By ratcheting up the level of demand and changing the nomenclature of grades, any possibility of comparability between ‘old-style’ and ‘new-style’ GCSEs will be eliminated.

There is a risk that ‘old-style’ GCSEs will be regarded as devalued currency, while schools will have to manage a significant fall in the percentage of students achieving the top grades. This will remain a fixation in the media, regardless of efforts to shift to an ‘APS8’ headline measure.

It is likely that the strongest schools will cope better with the necessary adjustment, thus widening the gap between them and their comparatively weaker counterparts.

There are several loose ends, not least the ‘missing’ KS4 subject outlines, which should ideally have been published alongside English, maths and science as initial drafts ‘for information’.

It appears that the interesting references during consultation to taking examinations ‘when ready’ – rather than to a fixed timetable – have been set aside without further consideration. This is disappointing since ‘just in time’ assessment would significantly increase schools’ flexibility to adapt examination entrance to fit the needs of their students rather than vice versa.

Ofqual has already sent a shot across the bows in respect of the challenging timetable for implementation. The technical complexities associated with the required changes should not be underestimated and of course schools need generous lead-in times before the new courses start. A detailed implementation timeline is conspicuous by its absence.

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Secondary Accountability Reform

The Government has rather belatedly recognised that it needs to address significant issues about primary assessment and accountability, alongside the pre-announced secondary consultation, and this leaves a significant gap in our understanding of the future direction of travel.

It would have been helpful to have had some indication of the issues that this future consultation would address.

It seems that the new-style secondary performance tables will be built around seven core elements:

  • The English and maths pass grades threshold.
  • The Average Point Score in eight subjects.
  • Value-added progression between KS2 English and maths combined and the APS8 measure.
  • Distinctions between the performance of those eligible for the Pupil Premium and other learners based on the measures above.
  • The EBacc.
  • A measure showing the progress made by low, middle and high attainers respectively in each of English and maths.
  • Measures yet to be defined assessing the progress made by those who cannot access GCSEs (and which would be appropriate for mainstream and special schools alike).

This would suggest an interest in significantly slimming down the existing Performance Tables and the relegation of several existing elements – such as the newly-developed KS4 ‘destination measures’ – into the accompanying Data Portal.

There are important unanswered questions about how this Portal can simultaneously provide for those interested in comparing the performance of schools and for parents, interested primarily in understanding how their children have performed in comparison with national benchmarks and with their peers. It would have been helpful to have seen an outline specification.

There are also significant technical issues associated with the definition in future of low, medium and high attainers and the development of the value-added APS8 progress measure.

Although the EBacc is retained as a headline measure, there is every possibility that the new APS8 will supersede it, because it is the chosen foundation on which the core progression measure will be built. There is a real possibility that the EBacc in its current format could wither on the vine, so this is potentially another major concession from the Government.

The consequences are potentially profound, since the current menu of desirable subject choices is significantly expanded, not least to include art, music and religious education.

Meanwhile, the privileged position secured by the sciences, foreign languages, history and geography is somewhat compromised. Given their perceived difficulty for many learners, one might hazard a prediction that the take-up of foreign languages is most likely to suffer, and just when it has been made compulsory at Key Stage 2!

The potential introduction of PISA-style sampling tests opens up the possibility of developing closer links between national assessment and the existing international comparisons studies. If they wished, the Government could effectively use the current PISA methodology to monitor annual national progress.

But this raises the spectre of such sampling tests beginning to dictate the curriculum, as the Government of the day becomes increasingly concerned to demonstrate that its reforms translate into a favourable showing in PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS. Some assurances about these matters may be necessary.

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Have all June 2012 commitments been honoured?

Despite the huge range of material that has been published, the answer is ‘not quite’:

  • We now have the full set of draft programmes of study for Key Stages 1, 2 and 3, albeit some months later than expected. The draft programmes of study for KS4 English, maths and science are still provisional and we lack the subject-specific content requirements for new-style GCSEs in history, geography and foreign languages.
  • We have the promised consultation on curriculum aims and spoken language development across the curriculum (although the consultation document rather neglects the latter).
  • There has been no second letter to the National Curriculum Expert Panel as we were originally led to expect but, more importantly,
  • There is no sign of consultation on how attainment should be graded as part of the statutory assessment arrangements.

The June 2012 letter to the Expert Panel said:

‘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 who are falling below national expectations. We will consider further the details of how this will work.’

We have reference to a new GCSE grading system, but the expectation of a new approach to grading for Key Stages 1-3 has so far been unfulfilled. It might potentially be wrapped up in the expected consultation on primary assessment and accountability, but that would presumably omit KS3.

Some clarity about the Government’s intentions with respect to this commitment is much to be desired.

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https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/299493021458763777

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Implications for High-Attaining Learners

The response within these proposals to the needs of high-attaining learners is, frankly, mixed.

The emphasis on greater stretch and challenge within the GCSE is welcome, as is the proposed new grading system, since the proportion of entries now securing A*/A grades makes the existing scale unsustainable.

The shift towards an average points score measure within the secondary Performance Tables is equally welcome, since it should hopefully remove any perverse incentive for schools to focus disproportionately on borderline candidates, at the expense of those at either end of the attainment distribution.

But the draft National Curriculum is more problematic. The huge degree of flexibility it permits could work in favour of high-attaining learners.

Schools may use such flexibility to plan and implement coherent curricular programmes – judiciously blending enrichment, extension and acceleration – for those who are well ahead of their peers and/or have already mastered the statutory material. (However, such flexibility will be severely curtailed in primary English, maths and science.)

The better schools will certainly do so – whether or not they are bound by the National Curriculum – but there is some reason to doubt whether less good schools will follow suit.

Moreover, there is currently no universal and reliable mechanism to spread effective practice from the better schools to the less good. As a consequence, the quality of curricular provision for high attainers is almost certain to be patchy – and remain so.

Parents may be able to exercise a limited degree of market choice, but only if they are given access to relevant data in an accessible form.

Some modicum of leverage could be introduced through the National Curriculum to ameliorate this patchiness, but the levers are either under threat or have not been fully deployed:

  • The draft inclusion statement rightly continues to reference the need to:

Plan stretching work for pupils whose attainment is significantly above the expected standard.’

But this is immediately undermined by what follows: ‘They have an even greater obligation to plan lessons for pupils who have low levels of prior attainment or come from disadvantaged backgrounds.’ Worryingly, this falls into the trap of assuming that high-attaining pupils do not come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Furthermore, it implies low attainers are somehow a higher priority. This infringes the principle – upheld in the shape of the new APS performance measure – that every learner has an equal right to challenge and support, regardless of their prior attainment.

  • Attainment targets have been reduced to a standard lowest common denominator which is essentially meaningless and could be removed entirely without any damage being done. But attainment targets and level descriptions were previously the basis for differentiation within the programmes of study. With the level descriptions stripped away, it is left entirely to teachers to decide how the programmes of study will be adjusted to reflect the very different needs of their pupils. In classes and schools where differentiation is already effective this is unlikely to have a deleterious effect, but in settings where high attainers are routinely under-stretched, there is no scaffolding for teachers to hold on to. The same point about dissemination of effective practice applies.
  • The Secretary of State’s previous commitment to a new grading system – in the core subjects as part of the statutory assessment arrangements – would have gone at least some way towards filling this gap. (Schools without their own established good practice might have been expected to apply the preferred methodology outside the core subjects as well.) But consultation on grading is conspicuous by its absence. It is not clear whether it will be picked up in the forthcoming primary accountability consultation or whether it has been set aside. As I’ve pointed out on several occasions, the recent introduction of Level 6 tests (which can no longer exist in their current form beyond 2014), as well as Ofsted’s concerns about underachievement among high attainers, render this particularly important at the top end

Overall there seems a certain precarious fragility about the capacity of the current proposals to embody ‘an expectation of higher standards for all children’ especially those – disadvantaged as well as advantaged – who are not being stretched to their full potential.

The risk is much greater in relatively weaker schools because they need more substantial scaffolding to support their practice.

But – just as Ofqual and the Education Select Committee brought about a radical rethink on Key Stage 4 reform, Ofsted is well-placed to ride to the rescue.

Their ‘landmark’ rapid response report on how schools teach their most able learners (though it seems not to have been announced officially) is due for publication ‘in the Spring’.

It is almost certain that the remit will extend to careful scrutiny of the current National Curriculum proposals. So one would expect the recommendations directed at central Government to push for further improvements if those proposals are found wanting.

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GP

February 2013

Where Have We Got to With National Curriculum Reform? Part One

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This post – released on the cusp of a long-awaited National Curriculum announcement – is a narrative-cum-commentary on key developments since the Government’s first National Curriculum Review response in June 2012.

I had originally intended that it would incorporate the detail of the imminent announcement and an in-depth analysis of the implications, for high-attaining learners in particular.

Old NC logo CaptureBut the publication of the second response has been so often postponed – and so much has happened in the meantime – that it seems far preferable to publish two shorter posts rather than one long-winded amalgamation. This way, I hope, the wood stands a better chance of being spotted amongst the verdant foliage.

So this first part will offer a resumé of National Curriculum and associated proceedings – such as the English Baccalaureate Certificate (EBC) – since June 2012.

It draws out some key issues that the upcoming announcement might be expected to address and highlights some fundamental tensions that it might hopefully resolve.

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Episode Seven

This is the seventh in a long series of posts tracking the story of the National Curriculum Review and associated developments.

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How Matters Stood in June 2012

The documents forming the Government’s partial response to the Expert Panel in June 2012 (together with the associated briefing) made clear some aspects of the future stages of the review and its timetable as they were then envisaged:

  • Revised draft programmes of study for non-core primary subjects would be published ‘later this year’ (ie last year – 2012), while formal consultation on the draft programmes of study for the primary core subjects of English, maths and science, originally released in June, would take place ‘towards the end of this year’ (again 2012);
  • The  Secretary of State would write to the Expert Panel about the secondary National Curriculum ‘in due course’ and there would be further announcements ‘in the new year’ (ie early 2013) on:

.‘How we can ensure that the National Curriculum in this country is as ambitious as those we have looked at in the highest performing education jurisdictions; how the new National Curriculum should be structured, including issues such as the nature of attainment targets and the key stage framework; how we can increase the degree of coherence between the content of the National Curriculum and GCSEs.

  • There would also be further consultation on the aims of the curriculum, in light of the Expert Panel’s recommendation that they should be defined (though the timing of this is not clarified). This would include provision to embed spoken language development across the curriculum as a whole; and
  • The Government would also ‘consult further on how attainment should be graded as part of the statutory assessment arrangements. The timing is not given but a useful gloss is offered in the Secretary of State’s letter:

.‘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 who are falling below national expectations. We will consider further the details of how this will work.’

These carefully laid plans were thrown into some confusion by an apparently sudden decision to reform KS4 qualifications by introducing the English Baccalaureate Certificate (EBC).

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The Advent of the EBC

When the Daily Mail reported initial plans for the EBC on 21 June, an explicit part of the package was the abolition of the secondary National Curriculum in September 2013. The paper confidently reported:

‘None of the plans require an Act of Parliament.’

That same day, Mr Gove, answering questions in Parliament, said only that the secondary National Curriculum would be ‘properly aligned with qualifications’ but, two weeks later, by 6 July, the narrative had changed significantly:

  • The secondary National Curriculum would not be abolished because legislation would after all be required – and because the Liberal Democrats had signalled that their support for such a move could not be taken for granted. (The Liberal Democrats also made clear that they had not been consulted on the plans at this point.)
  • There would instead be a ‘skeleton National Curriculum’ including ‘very, very short’ programmes of study that ‘will give teachers “extreme” and “almost total” freedom over what is taught’.
  • A source ‘very close to the Education Secretary’ is quoted:

.‘Our goals are to replace existing GCSEs in English, maths and science with substantially more demanding ones, and get Whitehall almost totally out of everything else to do with the secondary curriculum and exam system.’

The consultation on the EBC, once published in mid-September did not address substantively the relationship between EBC syllabuses and National Curriculum Programmes of Study.

The implication is presumably that, in the subjects covered by the EBC, syllabuses will drive the curriculum rather than vice versa:

We do not believe that Government should seek to determine this subject knowledge in detail: we will look to those who wish to provide our new qualifications to consult with subject experts, domestically and internationally, to prepare and propose truly world class syllabuses, and to provide evidence that they match the curriculum content taught in the highest performing jurisdictions around the world.

To aid Awarding Organisations in their considerations, we will set out our broad expectations for the subject content we would consider absolutely essential for these purposes, drawing on analysis of the best qualifications offered in other countries and using the consultation period to work with subject and education communities to develop appropriate content. We will be looking for Awarding Organisations to build upon these expectations by working directly with higher education institutions and learned societies to create a syllabus for each subject that is truly world class and provides an excellent preparation for further study…

 Our expectations of subject content will be published when we set out our final policy requirements to Ofqual at the end of the consultation period. Requirements for history, geography and languages will follow at a later date as these subjects are following a longer timeline.’

Warwick Mansell reported that a parallel announcement on secondary National Curriculum programmes of study was originally planned to coincide with the EBC announcement, but this decision was reversed at the last minute.

The logical conclusion from this must be that some at least of the draft programmes of study were deemed ready for publication in mid-September, well over four months ago. But subsequent evidence suggests that several of the draft programmes have been revised several times since.

Perhaps the late decision to withhold the September drafts suggests a lack of confidence in their readiness for external scrutiny, or maybe a conviction that the planned work ‘with subject and education communities to develop appropriate content’ during the EBC consultation period should be unfettered by reference to such drafts.

It is of course the case that these programmes of study would only be binding on the minority of secondary schools that are not yet academies, whereas the syllabuses would impact on all schools where pupils took EBC examinations.

The corollary of this is that academies (including free schools) would enjoy significantly greater freedom at Key Stage 3, but not at Key Stage 4 – assuming that both Key Stages were retained under the revised National Curriculum, which was not necessarily a given at this point.

Negligible information has been revealed about work commissioned to ‘develop appropriate content’ for EBCs during the consultation period, or how that was linked to development of the National Curriculum programmes of study.

A search on Contracts Finder reveals a reference to four 19-month contracts, concluded on 5 December 2012, to ‘develop English Baccalaureate Certificates further’. The total value is £39,600. The providers were secured through ‘competition as part of an existing framework agreement’.

One of the two suppliers is awarded three of the contracts, worth £30,000 while the fourth – worth the balance of £9,600 – goes to a different supplier. These presumably cover English, maths, physics, chemistry, biology (and possibly computer science).

At the time of writing no contractual documents are appended so there is no detail about expected deliverables or the timeline.

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Autumn Leaks

Although we still had to wait some time for the publication of the final versions, draft secondary programmes of study for the three core subjects of English, maths and science were leaked in late October 2012.

The story was originally picked up in the Guardian which remarked on the extreme brevity of the material:

‘The national curriculum for maths at key stage 3 is just two and a half pages long, and for key stage 4 it is just two pages long.’

There were perceived to be conspicuous gaps in content. It was said that in English there is no reference to:

  • spelling at KS3
  • distinguishing between fact and opinion
  • development of summarising and note-taking skills
  • ‘creativity in the English language’
  • taking part in structured group discussion
  • listening skills ‘ to judge and interpret what a speaker has said’

Moreover, there was no prescribed canon of English literature but:

‘Pupils must read a range of works including the British literary heritage from both the 20th century and earlier; at least one Shakespeare play; contemporary British literature including prose, poetry and drama; and seminal world literature written in English.’

It was reported that in maths there was no reference to:

  •  identifying and classifying patterns
  • producing ‘accurate mathematical diagrams, graphs and construction’ and
  • ‘using and understanding ICT so that it can be used appropriately including with the correct syntax’.

The same story was picked up elsewhere two weeks later. On 9 November, the BBC reported that a draft had been leaked to the TES and ‘seen by BBC news’. This is presumably the same version seen by the Guardian.

Rather strangely, this report quotes a NATE spokesman concerned that the English material is: ‘overly focused on “a relentless diet of canonical works”’.

Meanwhile, the ASE described the science programmes (separately covering physics, chemistry and biology) as ‘a dull list of topics’. They:

‘questioned why it had taken so long to produce and asked why it did not reflect the findings of the expert panel for the national curriculum review which reported in December last year’

but, rather conflictingly,

‘added that teachers could work with the slimmed down curriculum as they were “intelligent and creative”’.

Further comments from one of the Expert Panel suggested that this material also included the ‘overall aims for secondary education’, though these were unhelpfully ‘reproduced from primary programmes of study’.

The BBC published the briefest of extracts from the leaked material:

Key stage three: 11 to 14-year- olds – Prime numbers- Use of formulae- Fractions and decimals – Diffusion and osmosis- Acids and alkalis- Measuring forces – Shakespeare: read a play- Know an ode from a sonnet- Use correct forms in letters
Key stage four: 14 to 16-year-olds – Differential and integral calculus- Vectors and matrices- Trigonometry – Role of enzymes- Chemical formulae- The Doppler effect – Evaluate style and structure- Use accurate standard English- Read range of canonical texts

A report the following day by the TES was similar to the BBC’s, quoting the same two sources. However, the ASE seemed more negative if anything, arguing that there was little evidence of progression from one key stage to the next and questioning why it had taken a year (up to that point) to produce the new curriculum:

“It’s not a curriculum…It is a list, but not a national curriculum. If all the national curriculum is going to be is a list of knowledge, if that was the intention all along, then why did we have to wait so long for it?”’

Not to be outdone, the Daily Mail accentuated the positive with a report that the draft secondary English programme of study emphasised the importance of writing:

  • At KS3, pupils should be able to ‘write accurately frequently and at length, with increasing fluency and sophistication’ and ‘prepare personal and business letters using the correct form’.
  • The KS3 programme requires familiarity with 21 forms of writing including ‘articles and letters conveying opinions…autobiographies, screenplays, diaries, minutes and accounts’.
  • At KS4, they should be able to ‘increase the range of their writing’ and use ‘accurate spelling, punctuation and grammar’ (these hardly seem demanding requirements).

Rather oddly, none of the four sources chose to make the full documents available online to their readers. Although there are now supposed to be several different editions of these draft programmes in circulation, few if any have been published openly. This state of affairs is unhelpful to everybody.

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Never Mind the Quality…

A week later, another member of the Expert Panel offered a commentary on the IOE London Blog which helpfully breaks down the composition of the 30 page pack:

‘secondary English has been leaked with 6 pages, maths 7 and science 17’

This rather begs the question how the maths programme has increased by over 50% in length since the Guardian saw it just two weeks earlier!

We learn that the total number of pages is significantly fewer than required for the equivalent primary programmes of study which comprise ‘52 pages for English, 31 for maths and 40 for science’.

(We can however ‘expect exam boards to elaborate’, so implying that the EBC syllabuses are bound to be significantly more detailed than the programmes of study.)

At the other extreme:

‘It appears that each foundation subject (such as geography, art and PE) is to be described entirely in just two pages covering at least key stages 1-3.’

No source is given for this statement. The accompanying IoE Press Notice simply says that ‘it is understood that the Department for Education aims to describe the key knowledge for each foundation subject in two pages from ages five to at least 14.’

It may be that this is an inference from the instructions  given to the working party preparing a draft ICT Programme of Study:

‘DfE guidance makes clear that the new Programme of Study for ICT

  • Must be short: at most two sides of A4
  • Should include a statement of the purpose of the subject and the aims of the programme of study.
  • Should including a balance of content, along the lines of the Royal Society’s report “Shut down or restart”.
  • Should cover Key Stage 1-4, with a section about each key stage
  • Should encourage challenge and ambition’

While noting that brevity may not be a problem as long as ‘powerful concepts and significant topics’ are ‘identified by rigorous selectivity’ the IoE post suggests:

‘It may also be that it is a step too far to limit foundation subject descriptions to just two pages to cover so many years of primary and secondary education – it certainly appears remarkable.’

It asks why there are such disparities in the length of the programmes of study for different subjects at different key stages, criticising the comparative prescription in the primary core as counter-productive.

But it does not really develop this point – about the tension between curricular flexibility and curricular prescription – shifting instead to an equally important but very different argument about restricted subject choice within the wider school curriculum.

The point is however an important one. The factors impacting on the length and prescription of different programmes are essentially threefold:

  • Whether they are for core (detailed) or foundation (brief) subjects;
  • Whether they are for the non-academised primary sector (detailed), or the secondary sector, where academies not bound to follow the National Curriculum predominate (brief);
  • Whether they are effectively redundant because there will be parallel EBC syllabuses – secondary, particularly at Key Stage 4 (brief).

These factors produce a clear pecking order, with the primary core at one end and the secondary (especially KS4) foundation at the other.

As consultation proceeds, it is almost inevitable that pressure will applied to reduce these disparities by removing detail from the primary core and adding it to the primary and (especially) the secondary foundation.

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History Exemplifies the Tension Between Flexibility and Prescription

One could see this tendency in operation even prior to publication of draft programmes of study.

In mid-October, the Mail published another of its apparently well-briefed educational stories stating that the history programme of study would:

  • Give learners ‘a deeper understanding of history’
  • Offer ‘a narrative about British history and key international developments’
  • Include 200 key figures
  • Address at KS3 ’50 wider topics about the modern world’

Although the story offered up in mitigation the point that:

‘The current version of citizenship, which includes topics such as identities and diversity and how to negotiate, plan and take action has been cut back from 29 pages to one for 11 to 14-year-olds’

this does not alter the fact that such prescription in history cannot and will not be set out in such brevity.

The same story was repackaged twice on 29 and 30 December, with added detail of coverage:

  • Key Stage 1: placing events in chronological order; significant individuals such as explorers, scientists, rulers, saints, artists and inventors; and key events such as the Gunpowder Plot and history of the Olympic Games;
  • Key Stage 2: Ancient Greece, addressing myths, culture and individuals, including Alexander the Great; the rise and fall of the Roman Empire including the conquest of Britain and aspects of daily life; Anglo-Saxon and Viking settlement; changes in religious belief (pagans and Christians),; the Venerable Bede; development of a United English Kingdom including early kings such as Alfred, Athelstan and Ethelred;
  • Key Stage 3: Church, state and society in the medieval period, including the Norman Conquest, the feudal system and the growth of towns; King Henry II and Becket; King John, the barons, Magna Carta and the development of Parliament; King Edward I and wars with Wales and Scotland; Hundred Years War; Black Death; Peasants’ Revolt and Wars of the Roses; The Renaissance and Reformation in Britain; King Henry VIII, Wolsey, More and the Break from Rome; Queen Elizabeth I; the English Civil Wars, trial and execution of King Charles I; Cromwell; the Acts of Union; the emergence of Britain as a global power including industrial growth; Reform Acts; the early British Empire in America and the Caribbean; expansion of empire in Asia, Africa and Australia; the abolition of slavery; the French Revolution and Republic; the American War of Independence; Napoleonic France including Nelson and Wellington; developments in democracy, suffragettes and early Liberal reforms; the First World War, the Armistice, the impact of the war on British society; the rise of the dictators Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin; Second World War including Churchill and the Holocaust; post-war creation of the Welfare State, immigration, the change from Empire to Commonwealth; Cold War; the emergence of the EU.

There followed a battery of articles from those upset about the exclusion of Mary Seacole from the list of key figures. I took the view – admirably expressed in this article – that Mary Seacole is very much a second order issue because she is not a mandatory topic in the current National Curriculum and hence is taught in some schools and not others.

The more significant point seemed to be the difficulty in squaring  this extended list with a ‘skeleton National Curriculum’ including ‘very, very short’ programmes of study that ‘will give teachers “extreme” and “almost total” freedom over what is taught’. But others thought differently, as we shall see.

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Late Skirmishes

The Government maintained a discreet silence over these leaks and provided few further details of the process following the conclusion of the consultation on the EBC, though the Secretary of State did confirm in December that the content framework for EBCs:

‘should follow quickly upon the heels of publishing what the draft secondary curriculum will look like, early in the new year’ (Q102 – Uncorrected Oral Evidence)

This left open the possibility that there would be a problematic gap between publication of the KS4 draft programmes of study and the EBC Framework, or that publication of the KS4 programmes would be delayed until the EBC Framework was ready.

The precise relationship between programmes of study and syllabuses remained firmly under wraps, however.

In a perceptive editorial called ‘The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, the Times Educational Supplement (TES) drew an analogy between the authoritarian and libertarian traditions within the Conservative Party and the Government’s approach to the National Curriculum Review.

It suggested that a libertarian approach to the curriculum, resulting in far greater autonomy for schools, is counterbalanced and framed by an authoritarian approach to examinations.

This is not absolutely accurate however, since one can see from the curious case of History above how both traditions struggle for dominance within the Curriculum Review itself. Moreover, the pressure for the restoration of unwanted detail does not always emerge from a Conservative authoritarian tradition, but sometimes from their Liberal partners within the coalition!

Meantime the shadow Minister – Stephen Twigg – confirmed that Labour would, in effect, abolish the National Curriculum by ‘extending the academies’ freedoms…to all schools.

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https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/291097460934320128

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This was an entirely new announcement, to me at least, but it was hardly picked up by the commentariat. I have seen no further gloss or detail.

It shows Labour taking what must have been the Coalition’s original idea, discarded during the maturation of the EBC proposals, and making it their own. It will be interesting to see whether this line is maintained in the coming weeks.

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Last-Minute Delays: History Again

The long-awaited National Curriculum and KS4 Reform announcements were confidently expected in the final week of January 2013.

The DfE’s own timeline for schools was clear on this point (as were the Permanent Secretary’s own personal objectives, as published by the Cabinet Office).

Yet 31 January came and went without any activity.

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https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/296867248344272897

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So why were the announcements delayed at the last minute?

The Deputy Prime Minister may have been one fly in the ointment.

On 29 January a newspaper story quoting Liberal Democrat ‘sources close to’ the DPM revealed that he was:

‘determined to put a stop to plans reportedly put in place by Education Minister Michael Gove to remove Mary Seacole, renowned for giving sanctuary to soldiers during the Crimean War, from the National Curriculum.’

Another Liberal Democrat councillor is quoted as saying that the DPM:

‘has also privately insisted that the removal of Mary Seacole from the National Curriculum is “not going happen” ‘.

This seemed an odd battleground to choose, particularly since Seacole was never compulsory in the first place – and the pass has surely been sold by exempting academies from National Curriculum requirements anyway.

Maybe it can be put down to political opportunism, or simply personal rivalry.

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https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/296691384470106112

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Meantime, 24 MPs signed an Early Day Motion expressing their concern.

History continued to grab the headlines as a leaked draft of the programme of study was reported to contain no reference to Queen Victoria or other great Victorians including Florence Nightingale, Isambard Kingdom Brunel or Alexander Graham Bell!

According to the report:

‘The leak caused a flurry of activity at the Department for Education and a spokesman insisted that Queen Victoria would be included in the final history curriculum, which is due to be published shortly.

He said that the leaked copy of the curriculum was one of a number of drafts and added it would be “ludicrous” to suggest such notable figures would be left out.’

But, if a succession of Great Victorians has to be named on the face of the programme of study, what does this say about the principle of flexibility over prescription?

Doesn’t the new draft programme risk becoming even more prescriptive than the current version, which allows schools to choose between a study of Victorian Britain or Britain since 1930 and includes these names only as examples?

‘Impact of significant individuals and events: Lord Shaftesbury and the welfare of children; Robert Owen, Elizabeth Fry and improving the lives of ordinary people; Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and the Great Exhibition; Florence Nightingale, Mary Seacole and the Crimean War; Robert Stephenson, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and their impact on travel in Britain and to the wider world; David Livingstone, Mary Kingsley and world exploration; Alexander Graham Bell and the telephone.’

And meanwhile, Labour’s opportunism in condemning such omissions seems a little rich if they have really moved to a position where they would:

‘Extend the academies’ freedoms on the national curriculum to all schools’.

In another neck of the woods, there was an interesting story about a decision by the History Curriculum Association and Campaign for Real Education to distribute its alternative KS1-KS3 history syllabus to independent schools and academies.

This eight-page document is unlikely to radically reform history teaching, but it does exemplify the scope for an emerging market for curriculum specifications and materials. The bulk of development work – for KS1-3 at least – is expected to take place in schools, but there is nothing to prevent subject associations and specialist organisations from marketing their own solutions, most likely for particular market segments.

This provides an opportunity, as well as a threat. The downside is increasing fragmentation, with only school funding agreements, KS4 exam syllabuses and KS2 test requirements imposing any kind of commonality on schools not bound by the National Curriculum.

The upside is the scope to lever up standards through market-driven competition and the capacity to respond more thoroughly to particular needs, rather than via a one-size-fits-all approach.

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Last Minute Delays: Criticism of EBC Proposals

Perhaps more significantly, the Education Select Committee chose to publish a highly critical Report on the KS4 Reforms on 31 January.

The Government may not have wanted its own announcement to have clashed with this, or preferred to minimise criticism by ensuring that the EBC and National Curriculum announcements (and maybe a promised consultation on secondary accountability) were simultaneous.

The Select Committee expresses concern that ‘there is a lack of overall coherence in the Government’s approach to reform of the curriculum, qualifications and school accountability system’.

The Committee’s Report:

  • Calls for publication of secondary National Curriculum programmes of study and planned reforms of the accountability system as soon as possible, as well as publication of the ‘curriculum and educational outcomes’ for the new EBCs.
  • Says it has ‘not received evidence that GCSEs are so discredited that a new qualification is required…the Government must publish in full the results of its consultation and its analysis to justify its case that the brand is so damaged that it is beyond remedy.’
  • Expresses concern about the impact of the proposals on subjects outside the English Baccalaureate which ‘will be left with “discredited” GCSE qualifications for some time’.
  • Argues that ‘The Government must demonstrate that it has taken sufficient account of the likely unintended consequences of franchising [EBCs in each subject to a single exam board], such as an increase in pricing, and of the complexities of the tendering process’. It urges the decoupling of market reform from qualifications reform.
  • Says the Government should also: ‘make greater use of other levers at its disposal, such as the curriculum and supporting teachers’ professional development. The proposed timetable for reform must allow teachers sufficient time to prepare for the new qualifications. In addition, teachers must be provided with appropriate training and resources to support their teaching’.
  • Expresses serious concern over whether the proposals will help to raise standards, especially for the ’40 per cent plus of pupils who do not achieve the Government’s current floor standard’. It recommends that the government should reconsider proposals for a separate ‘Statement of Achievement’ for lower attaining students.
  • On the proposal for single tiered examinations wherever possible, recommends ‘that the Government takes advice from assessment and subject specialists on a subject-by-subject basis, as untiered assessment may be more effective and appropriate in some subjects than others’.
  • Recommends that the timetable is relaxed, because it is so tight that it risks compromising the quality of the qualifications developed as well as of the franchising process.

The Committee concludes:

‘There has been a lot of opposition to the proposals and many questions remain unanswered. Changes of this magnitude are best achieved with as wide support as possible across the education system, the wider economy, young people and their parents and, not least, the political spectrum. We call upon the Government to slow down the pace of reform.’

It remains to be seen which elements of the original proposals the Government will be prepared to sacrifice in the face of such criticism, if any.

The timetable and tiering seem particularly vulnerable, but several of the other points above are equally strong. There is a case for a fundamental rethink, but that would be politically unpalatable so some form of compromise is almost inevitable.

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The Secretary of State on Knowledge

On 5 February, Secretary of State Michael Gove made a ‘political’ speech at the Social Market Foundation which he used to set out his belief in the supremacy of knowledge.

When the speech was first arranged, both the organisers and the Minister must have expected the National Curriculum Review outcomes to have been in the public domain.

The fundamental arguments advanced in the speech are these:

  • Progressive education ‘sought to replace an emphasis on acquiring knowledge in traditional subjects with a new stress on children following where their curiosity led them…moved away from a set hierarchy of knowledge – literary canons, mathematical proofs, scientific laws, musical exercises and artistic traditions – towards a new emphasis on “learning to learn”. And one did not need to study a subject discipline to acquire these abstract skills.’
  • Social mobility has stalled over the last 40 years as a consequence of progressive education, because ‘the accumulation of cultural capital – the acquisition of knowledge – is the key to social mobility’. The acquisition of cultural capital is safe and well in parts of the private sector but there are (already) similar paragons in the state sector too.
  • The Left is hostile to excellence: ‘despite the abundant proof that children from every background can succeed academically there is still a remarkable resistance – especially among many on the left – to asking our education system to ensure more children do succeed.’ This was evidenced by negative reaction to the EBacc ‘even though it has exposed inequality in our society much more starkly than any Gini coefficient calculation could.’
  • Much of the criticism of the EBacc has been misplaced because the National Curriculum protects subjects outside it: ‘What is however – inviolably – in the national curriculum is a requirement to teach art and design, music, design and technology, while all schools must also teach religious education.  And there is a strict statutory entitlement that all schools must give all students the chance to choose a creative subject in their GCSE options.’
  • Returning to the core argument: ‘for the self-styled educational progressives nothing could be as redundant as imparting knowledge. If you want knowledge, they argue, Google it.’ But ‘unless you have knowledge – historical, cultural, scientific, mathematic – all you will find on Google is babble…And unless that knowledge is imparted at school, in a structured way, by gifted professionals, through subject disciplines – then many children will never, ever, find it. No matter how long they search across the borderless lands of the internet.’
  • However, cognitive science supports the case for knowledge (and so, by implication, Hirsch’s arguments about the accumulation of ‘cultural capital’) since ‘the definitive conclusion of all that research is that “the sort of skills that teachers want for students – such as the ability to analyse and think creatively – require extensive factual knowledge”’.
  • Hence the new National Curriculum ‘affirms – at every point – the critical importance of knowledge acquisition. We have stripped out the rhetorical afflatus, the prolix explanatory notes, the ethereal assessment guidance, the inexplicable level criteria, the managerial jargon and the piously vapid happy-talk and instead simply laid out the knowledge that every child is entitled to expect they be taught.
  • The new curriculum ‘will provide parents everywhere with a clear guide to what their children should know in every subject as they make their way through school. Of course, academies will have the freedom to vary any part of the national curriculum they consider appropriate….But with this new curriculum laying out expectations of what every child should be able to know with such clarity, all the pressures in our education system will be for greater rigour. And that will be reinforced by the changes we are planning for the national curriculum tests which all state primaries must ensure their pupils sit and the changes we propose for GCSEs and A-levels.’

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Where Does That Leave Us?

What can we draw from this speech, set in the context of the remainder of this post?

Despite the emphasis on knowledge it is clear that an effective curriculum depends on the interaction between knowledge and skills – one is just as essential as the other. Few contemporary advocates of progressive education would advocate the obliteration of knowledge acquisition and an exclusive focus on skills development.

But Gove the politician, rather than appearing in the guise of a sensible reformer restoring the balance between knowledge and skills, prefers to paint himself as the guardian of knowledge and his progressive opponents as skills-obsessed.

No evidence is adduced to support the contention that lack of cultural capital has been the key obstacle to social mobility. It may have been one factor but there are many others. In the schools context, attainment is key. No evidence is provided to make the case that schools have placed an artificial ceiling on the attainment of some learners by denying them access to cultural capital. Objections to the EBacc are a crude proxy at best.

The ‘excellence narrative’ is not entirely a matter of curriculum content and performance measures. As things stand, before the imminent  announcement, the removal of National Curriculum levels – and lack of discussion about how attainment and progression will be assessed in their absence – has been a far bigger issue.

Since some state schools are already providing an acceptably knowledge-driven curriculum under existing arrangements – and not all of them academies – the National Curriculum itself cannot be required to rectify the situation, especially since academies are not bound to observe it.

The new National Curriculum may have ‘laid out the knowledge that every child is entitled to expect they be taught.’ But that phrase hides a multitude of sins.

Does the National Curriculum define the requisite knowledge or does it provide a permissive framework for schools to adapt as they see fit? If it attempts different solutions in different subjects and key stages, are those distinctions justifiable and sustainable throughout the upcoming consultation and beyond?

Moreover, the National Curriculum can do no more than set out expectations which any academy can disregard. There is no entitlement, since parents will have no recourse if a school is not following any particular aspect of any programme of study.

The existence of this two-tier system, though it encourages innovation in one tier, will also make transition between schools far more problematic for many learners than it is at present (and especially at the end of KS2).

The references to statutory requirements and use of the word ‘inviolably’ are presumably signals that there will be no change to the existing requirement that schools must provide access at KS4 to a minimum of one course in each of four entitlement areas, one of which is ‘Arts’. This in turn suggests that Key Stage 4 will be retained as an entity. Neither of these were givens before the Secretary of State gave his speech.

Overall, the speech made a reasonable case for a stronger emphasis on knowledge in learning, but rather undermined itself by painting the issue in simplistic black-and-white either/or terms and by pretending that the Opposition is firmly in the enemy camp. It might reasonably be said to be half-right.

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https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/299048454741704704

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There was no attempt to address the tension between prescription and autonomy, though that may well turn out to be the single biggest issue as we scrutinise the draft programmes of study during the formal consultation process.

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https://twitter.com/GiftedPhoenix/status/299056140677943296

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GP

February 2013

Implications of Abolishing the Secondary National Curriculum

 

The furore over the possible reintroduction of a two-tier public examination system has entirely overshadowed the parallel proposal to abolish the secondary National Curriculum.

It is entirely possible that one is intended to be a smokescreen for the other for, in the absence of the former, the level of controversy and disagreement over the latter would have been much more pronounced.

Michael Gove courtesy of the Conservative Party

In an effort to redress the balance, this post examines some of the implications of abolition in the context of the outcomes to date of the National Curriculum Review.

For it is worth remembering that such an outcome would effectively render the secondary element of that Review an irrelevance. Much of the huge body of work undertaken since the Review was first announced in January 2011 would be entirely nugatory.

Presumably, all future work on producing programmes of study would be halted, though the future status of subjects for which single exam syllabuses are not produced  – potentially art and design, citizenship, design and technology, music and physical education – remains in doubt, as does the status of ICT and Religious Education for which different arrangements are known to apply.

At secondary level there would be no such thing as overarching National Curriculum aims (as recommended by the Review’s Expert Panel), no equality and inclusion statement and as yet unknown support for differentiation and progression. In essence, Key Stage 3 would no longer exist.

This post aims to ask some of the questions that will need answering before we can establish whether the political policy-making exposed in the media will stand up to serious scrutiny.

 

Key features of Plans Revealed in the Media

On 21 June, the Daily Mail reported on plans by Secretary of State Michael Gove:

  • To abolish the National Curriculum in secondary schools from September 2013;
  •  To invite examination boards to bid to become single provider of new, more challenging examinations (styled O levels);
  • New examination syllabuses would be introduced in September 2014 in English, maths, physics, chemistry and biology with first examinations taken in June 2016;
  • New syllabuses in geography, history and modern languages would be introduced in September 2014 if possible – with September 2015 as a fall-back position – so first examinations for these subjects would take place in June 2016 or 2017;
  • A set of ‘more straightforward examinations’ with a practical bias would presumably be introduced to the same timetable, though it seems that a combined science examination would be provided rather than the three separate sciences;
  • The ‘more challenging’ examinations would be designed for 66-75% of the cohort; the ‘more straightforward’ examinations would be designed for the remaining 25-33%;
  • The expectation that pupils should achieve the benchmark of 5+ GCSEs at grades A*-C would be dropped in favour of an English Baccalaureate benchmark, expressed in terms of achievement against the new examinations. (Such achievement would presumably need to be expressed at more than one level, otherwise there would be no baccalaureate expectation linked to the ‘more straightforward’ examinations.)
  • A consultation document on these proposals will be issued by the beginning of next term, permitting a 12-week consultation period over the Autumn,
  • But the consultation would be pre-empted by the bidding process for examination boards to offer the first tranche of examinations – in English, maths, physics, chemistry, biology and combined science (and possibly geography, history and modern languages). This would begin in the summer, with a decision by the end of 2012, so allowing a development and preparation period of 21 months before the examinations are introduced.
  • GCSEs would be examined for the last time in 2015. It is not clear whether schools could continue to opt for GCSE specifications if they chose, especially the IGCSE examinations, which have been applauded by the Government and which would need to continue to service demand in the independent sector and abroad.

Initial reports also mentioned that pupils would be able to take the challenging new examinations when they were ready, implying that early entry in Year 10 or even earlier would be encouraged where pupils have a strong chance of achieving a high grade. (There would also be flexibility to take them in Year 12.) However, the timescale above precludes early entry before 2014, so the first cadre of pupils starting the new syllabuses will not have this option.

The timetable also implicitly confirms that a two-year syllabus programme covering Years 10 and 11 will be the norm, as in the current Key Stage 4. The Expert Panel’s proposal that Key Stage 3 should be reduced to two years and Key Stage 4 extended to three years is not to be the default assumption.

Of course, with the National Curriculum abolished, the very notion of secondary key stages disappears. There will simply be a learning programme of five years’ duration for most pupils, though potentially shorter or longer for some, with the final two years typically dictated by the approved examination syllabuses.

 

Subsequent Clarification.

Clarification of these plans has to date been conspicuous by its absence. Mr Gove appeared in the House of Commons to answer questions about his plans on the same day they were revealed in the media, but gave little more away.

When asked explicitly about the abolition of the National Curriculum he said:

‘We want to make sure that the national curriculum in secondary schools is properly aligned with qualifications. One of the problems is that, to my mind, there are many admirable aspects of the secondary curriculum that we inherited, but also some very weak aspects. One of the problems is that both what is admirable and what is weak in that curriculum is overshadowed by what people have to do to acquire qualifications. In that sense, our secondary school system is the wrong way around in that weak qualifications determine what is taught and the only things considered worth teaching are those that are assessed. I want to change that to make sure that our qualifications are rigorous and that much of what goes on in secondary schools that is not assessed is properly regarded as valuable.’

The concept of alignment is subtly different to the concept of outright abolition, and this may possibly suggest some recognition that the latter would be a step too far, at least as far as the current Key Stage 3 is concerned.

 

The Situation for Academies and Free Schools

One obvious consequence of the abolition of the secondary National Curriculum is that the current distinction between the treatment of academies and non-academies will no longer apply.

By virtue of their funding agreements, Academies and free schools are not bound by the National Curriculum. The model funding agreement requires that:

  • The curriculum provided by the Academy to pupils up to the age of 16 shall be broad and balanced
  • The broad and balanced curriculum includes English, Mathematics and Science
  • There is provision for the teaching of religious education

The Department for Education’s online material on the National Curriculum Review says that:

‘Beyond this they have the freedom to design a curriculum which meets their pupils’ needs, aspirations and interests’.

The FAQ on the Review offers the following statement:

Will the new National Curriculum be taught in academies and Free Schools?

Academies and Free Schools will retain their existing freedom to depart from the National Curriculum where they consider it appropriate, but they are required by law, like all schools, to teach a broad and balanced curriculum. And all state schools will be held accountable for their performance in tests and exams which reflect the National Curriculum.

As is the case now, although academies are not required to follow the National Curriculum, we envisage that many will choose to offer it.’

There is a reference in the remit for the National Curriculum review to the National Curriculum operating as a ‘benchmark for excellence’ in schools that do not need to follow it:

This idea is not explained further, though Mr Gove developed it a little in his recent evidence to the Education Select Committee:

‘The majority of primary schools, certainly for the foreseeable future, will be governed by the National Curriculum explicitly, statutorily, because they will not be academy schools. The majority of secondary schools are either now academies or en route to become academies. The question is, given that they can disapply the National Curriculum, what reason do they have to follow it? The striking thing is that, of those schools that are academies, a significant number pay quite close attention to the National Curriculum, not least because it informs the content within GCSEs, and not least because GCSE performance is one of the primary accountability mechanisms. Even those schools that can totally depart from the National Curriculum and have never been governed by it-fee-paying independent schools-have tended-but not always-to follow in many areas the GCSE specifications and submit their students for GCSEs. The National Curriculum has a significant impact on what schools do. That impact is there because the Government is laying out a benchmark of what it believes students need to understand, skills that they need to have, the knowledge that they have to muster.

It is open to other schools to develop their own curricula, and for awarding bodies to develop their own qualifications. Where they do, that is a challenge to the National Curriculum. One of the things that I have been worried by is the growing number of schools that have the freedom to do so taking on the IGCSE, for example, and the complaints we have had, for example, from schools, and as a result of the LivingstoneHope Review, about specific areas of the National Curriculum, like ICT. Therefore I thought it was appropriate for us to overhaul the Curriculum, but at the same time make sure that it was schools that decided whether or not they wanted to adopt something that we hoped would be better, rather than me seeking to corral the creativity of good head teachers.’ (Q213)

It is not clear from this whether the Government formerly perceived value in the benchmarking capacity of the National Curriculum itself, as opposed to the public examination syllabuses which reflect and develop it at Key Stage 4.

It is clear that, if they did, that value was readily sacrificed in the preparation of these new plans.

 

Implications of This Way Forward

 

A Level Playing Field?

Critics, including Estelle Morris, have suggested that the greater curricular freedom available to academies and free schools has been used as an incentive to grow that sector (though the perceived value of curricular flexibility to schools considering becoming academies has perhaps been overstated).

Under these new arrangements, there would be no such distinction in the secondary sector, though it will remain in position for primary schools. That is most likely because, whereas around half of secondary schools are now academies, only a small minority of primary schools have that status – and there is no real prospect of the majority of them becoming academies in the foreseeable future.

Although there is no further need to retain this incentive to persuade unwilling secondary schools to become academies, there may arguably be a backlash from those schools that did convert in the expectation of greater curricular flexibility for, under these plans, their advantage would be eliminated.

 

Outsourcing the National Curriculum?

In effect, the National Curriculum Programmes of Study – at least in Years 10 and 11- would be replaced by a set of compulsory syllabuses devised by the exam boards that win the competitions.

It would appear that the Government is keen to hold management of the secondary curriculum at arm’s length but, having closed down QCDA, its preferred option is to outsource it to the private examination boards, content that they will generate very significant income as a consequence, especially compared with their unsuccessful counterparts.

This in effect privatises the secondary National Curriculum while leaving the primary curriculum in the hands of the Government and may be regarded as ideologically questionable by those who would prefer to see curricular control retained unambiguously within the public sector.

It is not yet clear whether the Government conceives a similar role for universities in the design of examinations taken in Year 11 as it does in respect of those taken in Year 13. One might reasonably expect their influence to be more pronounced in the latter case.

However, exam boards may be required by the Government to accommodate several key stakeholders – not least schools themselves – in an advisory capacity.

 

The Nature of Exam Board Competition

It is not yet clear whether there would be a separate competition for each subject in each of the two sets of examinations, or whether boards would be allowed to ‘double up’. If a single board won all or most of the available competitions that might raise serious questions about the concentration of influence with a single supplier.

Nor is it clear how tightly the Department for Education will define the specifications for the tender, if at all. At one extreme they could broadly replicate the Key Stage 4 Programmes of Study; at another, they could give the competing boards carte blanche. A middle way is likely, but they will want to ensure that they do not replicate the development task for which they will pay the exam boards.

It is likely that consultees will argue for the specifications to contain the same safeguards that are currently supplied by the National Curriculum and GCSE requirements.

There may be greater pressure towards the retention of fully-worked aims and an inclusion statement than perhaps there might have been had existing arrangements continued, but it is not clear where these would be developed, unless by the government for inclusion in all syllabuses. Gifted educators will want to ensure consistency in the provision of stretch and challenge for the highest attainers.

 

Assessment, Grading and Reporting Issues  

Given the decision already announced to dispense with National Curriculum Levels across the primary and secondary key stages, assessment and grading requires significant further work under these new arrangements.

Mr Gove has already decided that:

‘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 who are falling below national expectations.’

This means new grading arrangements for end of Key Stage 2 tests but, insofar as they ‘provide a focus for progress’, those must also be mapped against end of Key Stage 4 grades awarded in these new examinations.

As far as Key Stage 3 is concerned, it must be possible to judge how far pupils have progressed since the end of Year 6 and how well they are progressing towards good grades at the end of Year 11.

It is likely that this will be done either by projecting forward the new KS2 grades or projecting back from the new KS4 grades. Ideally, the two sets of grades need to be designed so that one can see progression across the piece. My own ‘Aunt Sally would need to satisfy this requirement.

And of course the grades will be used to monitor whole school and system-wide performance, so school performance tables will have to be changed as will the Government’s own education plan ‘impact indicators and social mobility indicators. It will become much harder than it has been to judge continued progress over time against key gap-narrowing and social mobility measures.

 

The Disappearance of Key Stage 3?

The status and continuation of Key Stage 3 is not clear under these new arrangements. Will it be left entirely to schools to decide what programme of study to offer in Years 7-9, drawing as necessary on ‘ready-made’ solutions available for them to buy in, or will there be at least some degree of Government guidance?

Examination boards seeking extra profit may be encouraged to enter this market, offering preparatory syllabuses that bridge the gap between the end of Key Stage 2 and the start of the new examination syllabuses.

It may not be sustainable to maintain three totally different arrangements in the primary, early and later secondary years respectively. That is likely to be a recipe for confusion and render transition across these three stages more problematic than necessary.

 

Are Examinations at 16 an Irrelevance?

Although Mr Gove has admitted openly that his ideas are strongly influenced by what happens in Singapore, there is no reference so far to introducing an equivalent of Singapore’s Integrated Programme, which effectively removes Year 11 examinations for high-attaining students. The idea was floated in 2011 and I analysed it here.

There are those who argue that, with the impending increase in the school-leaving age to 18, examinations in Year 11 become increasingly meaningless and irrelevant and could potentially be eliminated for all learners. Were that to happen though, it is likely that end of Key Stage 2 examinations would assume even greater significance, so increasing the pressure on 11 year-olds taking the tests.

 

Overall

On top of all these complex and difficult issues, there is a host of problems associated with shifting from a single tier to a twin-track exam system.

Even leaving aside the huge equity and social mobility considerations which have so over-dominated the media coverage one must also take into account:

  • The significant cost, balanced against potential savings and where these will fall within the education system (we have yet to see any estimates);
  • The exceedingly tight timescale for the changes proposed, with a very short development and testing period for successful examination boards and precious little implementation time for schools (and extending one period inevitably shortens the other);
  • The enormous level of disruption and change that will have to be managed by schools simultaneously, alongside unprecedented levels of change elsewhere in the system. As OFQUAL has noted there are especially significant risks for secondary schools and the wider education system in simultaneously managing extensive reform to public examinations at 16 and 18. On the face of it, such double-banking is not the optimal approach, but this Government is determined to ensure that its reforms are all but irreversible by the time of the next General Election, scheduled for 2015.

 

Postscript

It appears from the latest speeches, debates and briefing that Ministers are now back-tracking from the idea of a two-tier examination system.

But vague and potentially irreconcilable ideas are being peddled in its place:

  • The majority of pupils will be expected to take challenging examinations in Year 11. None of these examinations will be tiered, regardless of subject.
  • Some pupils will take these challenging examinations later on, in Year 12 or 13. Some pupils will be able to take them earlier, if they are ready.
  • The pupils who don’t take the challenging exams until after Year 11 – and maybe also some of those entering during Year 11 or earlier – may take a less challenging examination (branded N Level) beforehand.
  • Presumably the N Level will also be available on a ‘when ready’ basis, so it could become an end of Key Stage 3 assessment for the majority. This would reintroduce another ‘high stakes’ assessment for pupils, but it would also allow the KS3 curriculum to be determined by N Level examination syllabuses.
  • The proportion of pupils entering the more challenging examinations has been placed at 80%, but that begs the question what provision will be made for the remainder.
  • It also poses difficult questions about whether effective single tier exams can be devised, especially in ‘linear’ subjects, for such a wide range of ability. It seems unlikely that the assessment industry is ready with robust adaptive tests that would eliminate the need for tiering.

As things stand, there is little prospect that the Government will offer further clarification ahead of the promised consultation document, which may not appear for another two months.

In the meantime, we face a situation in which: we know that National Curriculum Levels are abolished and will not be replaced; we understand that the secondary National Curriculum is abolished; there is an admission that further work is (still) required on assessment and progression, including for high achievers; and confusion persists about the future shape and structure of public examinations at age 16 and age 18.

It is hard to understand why the Government would willingly get itself into the situation where existing arrangements are judged inadequate but there is no clarity about what will replace them – and where discussions about the future National Curriculum are taking place piecemeal rather than in the round.

 

Second Postscript

Eight days after floating plans for the abolition of the secondary National Curriculum and the introduction of two-tier examinations in place of GCSEs, the Government has completed another of its signature U-turns.

Perhaps it was a deliberate ploy to propose an unacceptably radical reform, then to concede limited ground to arrive at something only slightly less radical, having neutered opposition through this stratagem.

Or perhaps it was a deliberate but miscalculated attempt to bounce the Liberal Democrat side of the Coalition while its leader was safely out of the country – a direct challenge to Deputy Prime Minister Clegg, who regularly manoeuvres his tanks on the Govian lawn.

The shadowy ‘sources’ that were behind the initial Daily Mail story chose the TES to explain the latest Government position. Maybe the Mail was being punished for garbling the original story: the follow-up was given to education journalists who might be expected to understand it better.

 

What Has Changed?

The new position is only subtly different to its predecessor:

  • The secondary National Curriculum will not be abolished, because that would require legislation;
  • So Ministers plan a ‘skeleton National Curriculum’ incorporating:

 ‘”very, very short” programmes of study that will give teachers “extreme” and “almost total” freedom over what is taught’.

  • The idea that examination boards will compete through a procurement exercise to offer single examinations in each subject is retained, but only in the core subjects – English, maths and science;
  • In the other English Baccalaureate subjects the examination boards would be required to improve their syllabuses – presumably by meeting specific requirements laid down by Ofqual on behalf of the Government. Syllabuses would need to satisfy these requirements to count towards the Baccalaureate;
  • A two-tier examination system is still planned. The new, more challenging ‘O level style’ exams would be taken ‘when ready’ and some students would not be ready until Year 12 or 13. By that stage, up to 80% of students might have taken them;
  • The new less demanding ‘N level style’ examinations would be taken, presumably in Year 11, by those not (yet) ready for ‘O level style’ examinations. We do not know what proportion of the cohort would be entered for ‘N level’. Some of the ‘N level’ entrants would upgrade to ‘O level’ at a later stage, but some 20% of the cohort would not;
  • This is likely to mean single board examinations at ‘N level’ in English, maths and combined science, and at ‘O level’ in English, maths, physics, chemistry and biology. The timetable for development and introduction is unchanged – the syllabuses would be introduced in September 2014 leading to first examinations in Summer 2016;
  • The Government’s twin goals are reportedly:

“to replace existing GCSEs in English, maths and science with substantially more demanding ones, and get Whitehall almost totally out of everything else to do with the secondary curriculum and exam system.”

  • But, strangely, these reforms only have a limited shelf life – of exactly four years. They will be outmoded in 2020 since the Government:

‘believes there is no point in planning further ahead because of technological innovations, such as plans by global elite universities like Harvard to make their courses available online. Sources in government argue that these changes will “break” the whole existing model of school and university education.’

What Are the Implications?

This new formulation leaves many of the existing questions unanswered and even manages to pose some fresh ones.

It is clear that the primary National Curriculum is likely to comprise detailed programmes of study in the three core subjects – ‘given the fundamental importance of these subjects as a foundation for further study and as the basis for our system of school accountability’ (DfE website) – and much shorter programmes of study in the remaining foundation subjects.

Similarly, there will be single syllabuses and single exams in the National Curriculum core subjects at Key Stage 4, but relatively greater choice of syllabuses and exams in the foundation subjects. The status of IGCSEs in the core subjects is unclear. Would they too be ruled out when the new single board exams are introduced?

What happens at Key Stage 3 also remains unclear, but it would not make sense if the approach was inconsistent with the other key stages, so one might expect fairly detailed programmes of study for the core subjects, providing a bridge between the primary programmes and the KS4 syllabuses.

In science a two-tier programme of study will be needed if students follow combined science or three separate sciences during KS3 rather than opting for one or the other at the start of KS4.

There is some ideological inconsistency in the reported desire to delegate responsibility for curriculum and examinations while retaining the capacity to set out detailed requirements in the core subjects, albeit outsourced to exam boards at KS4. After all, if schools can be trusted with foundation subjects then why not with the core subjects too?

One might also question why it is so necessary to delegate curricular responsibility when the Government is simultaneously centralising responsibility for school funding through mass conversion to academy status.

The notion of a curricular ‘benchmark for excellence’ for academies is somewhat compromised, especially outside the core subjects. At KS4, the benchmark concept is dismissed in favour of a single compulsory exam, imposed on academies and non-academies alike.

Big unanswered questions remain about whether the Government will specify overarching curriculum aims to replace the existing statement. Will there be a new inclusion statement and a new set of expectations for cross-cutting spiritual, moral, social and cultural development? Arguably these are significant components of a ‘benchmark for excellence’.

The reference to a 4-year shelf life is mysterious and troubling. It is not clear why provision of online higher education courses should have implications for the shape of the National Curriculum. Conspiracy theorists may smell a rat.

If school level courses were to shift predominantly online within the remainder of this decade, why would that necessarily invalidate the concept of a National Curriculum? Such a shift would arguably make it much easier to standardise provision across 20,000 different settings were a future government to see advantage in doing so.

It goes without saying that National Curriculum content needs to be kept under regular review given the development of knowledge and understanding, but that is a different issue.

Meanwhile, it appears that a two-tier examination system remains integral to the Government’s direction of travel. At least 20% of students will never be entered for the more challenging ‘O level-style examinations.

And it is by no means certain that tiered papers will not be needed in at least some of those examinations, so the argument that one type of tiering will simply be substituted for another may not hold water.

As I have already noted above, we will also need more demanding qualifications to challenge high-attaining students who achieve the highest grades in the ‘O level-style’ examinations by the end of Year 10, or even earlier.

It is interesting that the Education Select Committee is reported to be about to recommend single exam syllabuses rather than single exams in the core subjects and possibly the remaining English Baccalaureate subjects too.

That would still permit several boards to offer exams in each subject, so has clear advantages over the monopoly approach envisaged by the Government, at least for the core subjects.

But it would make sense for that syllabus to be written by the Government, which is at odds with the Government’s desire not to be involved. Such a national syllabus would be a National Curriculum programme of study by another name. (It is hard to see how the task could be devolved to one of the boards, though perhaps they could undertake it collaboratively.)

 

In Sum…

When we factor in the decision to abandon National Curriculum levels, it is still far from certain that this way forward amounts to a ‘qualifications and curriculum framework which supports and stretches every child’.

In recognition of the risks that it perceives, GT Voice is developing a policy statement which calls on the Government to take three key steps to tackle the issue of progression for high-attaining pupils.

More generally, there is a clear tension between a minimalist National Curriculum plus twin-track examination system and that critically important commitment.

 

GP

July 2012