Assessment Changes for September 2015 and their Potential Impact on Social Mobility

There is continued confusion about assessment without levels and it is likely to get worse before it gets better. There is also increasing concern about the Reception baseline assessment to be piloted early in the autumn term.

A recent article by John McIntosh in the TES expresses concern about schools re-vamping assessment systems under a flawed Levels system. In reality, these schools had found effective ways of assessing the progress pupils made and enabled practical ways of supporting pupils’ academic and personal development so that they maximised their progress and development. Schools are re-vamping these because they worked not because they didn’t. Under the age-related curriculum (new ‘levels’ of expectation) these will work even better if well proven assessment systems are continued and are not fundamentally changed. We no longer have to worry about trying to merge incompatible standard values between key stages – what a nonsense that we expected a pupil at the end of Year 1 to move from a Level 2B to a Level 3B in one year when a pupil entering Year 3 with a Level 2B was given two years to get to a Level 3B. It is this type of muddled thinking that schools coped with for too long.

Schools that were providing excellent provision for their pupils can now really make an assessment system work to the advantage of their pupils so that all can gain equity and equal opportunity.

There are, however, two significant concerns that have to be set to one-side so that they do not block the high expectations we need to have of all of our children.

1. Mastery – this could seriously hold back the progress of all pupils. The argument that pupils had gaps in their learning and therefore the old system it wasn’t working is a flawed premise. All learners will have gaps at any one level of expectation – this really is ‘normal’. What is much more important is knowing what the gaps are, and more importantly, that the pupils themselves know what the gaps are so that they can make effective learning decisions, along with the teachers, as to how they can close the gaps. Our best schools have been doing this for years and have helped pupils to gain intellectually well beyond an age-related norm - GCSE Grade C or Level 6 equivalents by the end of Year 6. Also, let’s not forget that more than 40% of Year 6 pupils achieved Level 5 (age-related 14) by the end of the academic year in reading and mathematics. These pupils had mastered the Level 4 age-related expectation and had accelerated their learning well beyond that expectation. Early indications from schools already working to the higher expectations are that current Year 3 pupils are meeting the higher challenges and these schools will be expecting similar percentage outcomes for pupils at age-related 14 and 16 - even with the additional challenge - by the time next year’s Year 4 get to the end of Year 6. And why shouldn’t they? However, if schools believe that their pupils are not ‘allowed’ to cover the Key Stage 3 (or even Key Stage 4) curriculum then we are likely to see a significant proportion of underachievement amongst our most able pupils in state schools. I think it is worth asking: ‘Will our private schools be expecting less of their pupils?’ I think the answer to this is a resounding no! If this attitude by state schools is followed through there could well be significant differences between state and private school academic outcomes. Will this in effect increase the social divide rather than decrease it?

2. Reception baseline Assessment – in September schools will ‘formally’ begin to assess their children entering Reception. This is nothing new for schools. What is new is that these assessments will be used to measure how effective schools are in achieving value-added outcomes by the time these children reach the end of Year 6 in 2022. We are all well aware that children entering school from ‘deprived’ homes have not developed the same level of skills as those that are from more ‘advantaged’ homes. This does not mean, however, that they are not capable of acquiring these skills at a rapid rate so that gaps on entry are eradicated by the end of Reception providing a much more even picture of attainment regardless of background. Two things can potentially happen as a result of this weighting being placed on a Reception Base-line Assessment. Firstly, some schools are likely to keep this as low as possible - perhaps the same schools that kept their KS1 SAT scores low to enhance value-added in KS2 - so that they are able to show progress in its best possible light (especially as this will be the emphasis placed by Ofsted inspectors during an inspection). Secondly, it is likely that a depressed attainment on entry assessment will reduce the subconscious expectations of teachers for those children that performed least well on entry. As a result, this could have a significantly negative impact on the gaps between ‘deprived’ and ‘advantaged’ children as they progress through the next seven years. There has been so much good work completed recently, being pushed along by the government it must be said, on raising expectations of pupils from ‘deprived’ backgrounds it is not something that we want to slip away. Will the new measure reduce the impact of these increased expectations?

The changes that are taking place in September are probably the most fundamental changes to the education system for many years. And, potentially, they could have a hugely negative impact on long term social mobility, adding to existing concerns that student loans will also have a negative impact.

It is therefore important that schools really do stand up for what they believe in and do not get hood-winked in to believing that the best practice developed over the last twenty years or more has been a myth.

The linked article below – found by Incyte Director Jan Lomas – is great in identifying the pupil perspective (backed by significant research) on what they need in terms of feedback which enables them to learn well and make good progress.

Make It Count: Providing Feedback as Formative Assessment

To improve learning and to maximise progress does not happen, as Ofsted suggests it does because of the current over emphasis on the scrutiny of books, through teachers spending hours and hours on the rigorous marking of pupils’ books (they just don’t have the time to do this effectively). Nor does the scrutiny of books provide meaningful evidence to contribute to the overall judgements about rates of progress. To achieve this would take more than the whole length of an inspection schedule.

I think we all know that the best feedback happens during lessons and the linked article clearly identifies the importance of this from the pupils’ perspective. However, the learning process has to be delivered in a way that enables enough time to be found so that teachers can’t simply say they haven’t got time.

At Incyte, we believe in trying to ensure face to face feedback is at a maximum and is an integral part to the learning process. For a long time now we have advocated a four part learning process (TARR). The TARR process does not adhere to a precise length of time but to an effective learning process:

T = Teach

A = Apply

R = Reflect

R = Review

This learning process can take a few minutes or a few hours depending what is being taught and how much application is needed. However, the Reflect and Review aspects are flexible parts of the process and can occur at several points during the learning process. It is during Reflection that face to face feedback takes place (this could be part of self-assessment, peer assessment, group or teacher assessment) – the Reflection Time (sometimes called mini plenary – although this sometimes only leads to teacher reflection rather than joint pupil/teacher reflection) is the essential part of the process because this is where the identification of misconceptions and a sharing of understanding can take place to help move the pupils on. I have seen some fantastic examples that achieve accelerated progress within the learning process. The Review Time is the summing up of Reflection and is where key decisions are made by teachers and pupils on what they need to repeat/consolidate/learn next.

The key thing to note here is that this learning process ensures high quality feedback, secures the learning essentials in the minds of the pupils, reduces the possibility of forgetting key learning and reduces the time needed for revision or repetition at a later stage. It also reduces the time teachers have to spend marking outside the classroom. It, in fact, increases the time they have to plan the next session to identify how they are going to meet the personal needs of the pupils which is much more likely to improve the progress rates of the pupils.

All in all this type of process will provide the pupils with the best chance to maximise their own learning and to ensure the progress they make is maximised. Thank goodness for articles like this that bring us back to reality!!

As teachers and consultants, we need to ensure that schools/teachers remain grounded in what is best teaching and learning practice and are not deflected by misinterpreted whims on new methodology that has no supportive evidence that suggests, even in the first place, that it will work.

We are always keen for feedback and the thoughts of our consultants so please feel free to respond.

With best regards

Malcolm Greenhalgh

Director Incyte International Ltd

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