2020 Autumn Term 1

The know zone

  • Time for re-assessment
    The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed many inequalities within the education system, further underlining the need for real change when it comes to primary evaluation, says Primary Specialist Tiffnie Harris. More
  • Parent planning
    Pay and Conditions Specialist Louise Hatswell explains maternity leave and other entitlements for parents-to-be working in the education sector. More
  • Contextualised offers
    Should more universities be giving disadvantaged students a lower offer? Kevin Gilmartin examines the inconsistent and complicated world of contextualised offers. More
  • Project restart
    Business Leadership Specialist Hayley Dunn highlights some of the key changes to reporting for academies and trusts, including resumption of data collections and greater transparency on executive pay. More
  • Words of wisdom
    We asked members to share a top tip for someone starting a new headship role this September and share a book recommendation that may help anyone new to the role. Here's what you said... More
  • A vote of confidence
    Assistant Head Rich Atterton says being on ASCL Council has enabled him to experience first-hand the Association's ability to shape and influence national education policy and debate. Here he shares his love for Council, teaching, escape rooms and... ballot paper. More
  • #TGIF
    The lack of discipline, general sense of ennui, the dreadful weather... and the fact that the weekend still seems an age away. Tell me why I don't like Thursday, asks Carl Smith. More
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The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed many inequalities within the education system, further underlining the need for real change when it comes to primary evaluation, says Primary Specialist Tiffnie Harris.

Time for re-assessment?

At ASCL we have had concerns for some time about the way primary children are assessed and how primary schools are held to account. Our 2018 report Sense and Accountability: Holding our primary schools to account for what matters most (www.ascl.org.uk/sense-accountability) set out these concerns and pinpointed seven key principles vital for creating an effective and fair accountability system, including the need to start from a shared understanding of what outcomes we as a society want for our children and young people; a set of measures that incentivise schools to deliver on these outcomes; and fairness to schools in different circumstances and contexts. We made 15 recommendations for improvement, some of which have been implemented. However, many of our 2018 worries persist.

The Covid-19 pandemic and widespread school closures meant that the government had no choice but to cancel all statutory primary assessments this year. They also took the inevitable – but, nevertheless, welcome – step of suspending the 2019–20 performance tables and other public-facing accountability measures. These were the right decisions.

Other moves included the delayed statutory roll-out of the Reception Baseline Assessment (RBA) for 12 months. This was supported by ASCL for going some way towards strengthening primary schools as they move forward into September, allowing them more time to focus on building relationships with children as they embark on their school journey.

It is important to recognise that next year cannot simply be ‘business as usual’.

Learning and wellbeing

Teachers will need time to accurately assess both children’s learning and their wellbeing after months out of school and to plan a curriculum that recognises and builds on their vastly different starting points.

Let’s not forget that some children may also still need to be taught remotely as they may be self-isolating, and schools will need to plan for potential local lockdowns or even another national lockdown.

In response to the changes made at secondary and post-16 levels, Ofqual undertook wide-ranging consultations on what modifications may be required to the content, structure and timing of GCSEs and A levels.

Yet, as Leader was going to press, no similar consideration has been given to changes to statutory assessment at Key Stage 1 or 2. This lack of parity is a concern and it raises the fear that a ‘business as usual’ approach to primary assessment will encourage a narrowing of the curriculum at a time when, more than ever, it should be opened up.

Assessment data will be relatively meaningless next year and certainly won’t provide any true information about a child, a school or the effects of the pandemic.

If accountability is switched back on in 2021 and performance tables are used to measure schools, this will be dangerous and damaging. If there are no further considerations made to the delivery of SATs next year, this will only create a cramming culture.

The effects of the pandemic on school communities cannot be compared and even less so if there are further local lockdowns over the coming months. Schools need to be encouraged and enabled next year to focus on what is right for their pupils and communities. Children have to be re-engaged with learning to make up for time out of the classroom.

Academic transition

Assessments, as a measure of primary pupil progress, can be taken in a range of different ways. ASCL’s SixIntoSeven (https://opendataproject.org.uk/sixintoseven) is just one solution that supports the process of academic transition.

The pandemic has only further exposed the many inequalities within the education system and future loss should be the issue for the next academic year in primary schools with a focus on getting the right provision in place for all pupils to succeed.

The government could see the last few months as an opportunity to reconsider longer term changes to how we assess primary children and how we continue to hold our schools to account.

This could be a positive opportunity to reshape the system in this new world and to create a system that is pioneering, robust and fit for purpose in enabling all children to thrive and succeed into the future.

Tiffnie Harris
ASCL Primary Specialist