Education Select Committee: primary assessment inquiry

Thank you to Deputy Head Michael Tidd for the following article. 

It’s not every day you get invited to the Houses of Parliament – and in fact, I still haven’t been. But I did at least get to go in the posh glass building next door to provide evidence to the Education Select Committee for their inquiry into primary assessment.

Anyone who knows me, or reads what I’ve written, knows that I’ve plenty to say on the topic – but with only an hour, and with MPs in control of the questions, I wasn’t sure I’d have time to say everything I wanted to.

The Select Committee has decided to hold the inquiry after the various headlines and events surrounding primary assessment over the past year, and they started with a very big – and vague – question about the purpose of assessment.

A considerable amount of discussion revolved around how the changes to primary assessment in recent years had affected teaching, learning, the curriculum and, of course, children. I think it’s fair to say that we highlighted a number of concerns in all those respects. Speaking personally, I’m broadly in favour of statutory assessment at the end of Year 6, but with our experiences of the very challenging reading test last year, the hugely frustrating writing assessment framework, and the clear reduction of time spent on science and other foundation subjects it’s clear that the impacts are significant.

I was also very clear that I felt that the organisation of the changes had been unhelpful, with too much delay causing confusion last year. To their credit, though, the Department for Education does seem keen to listen and engage with teachers more this year to try to get things right for the future.

Accountability reared its head again when discussing tests. As I’ve written on these pages before, I think tests can be hugely useful in school – when they are used to help teachers to identify what children can do and what further help they need. That’s related to, but separate from, what children achieve on key stage 1 or 2 statutory tests. I’d honestly like to see schools using more small-scale tests and assessments as part of formative assessment processes. The problem comes when low-stakes checks turn into high-stakes examinations.

The Chair of the committee, Neil Carmichael MP, seemed keen to hear what role tests should have in the statutory processes by which schools are held to account. The three of us on the panel agreed the value of testing more broadly, but equally stressed that as soon as tests become a measure of accountability, they become less useful as teaching and learning tools. We only have to look at the culture of re-testing that happens at secondary to show that end of key stage tests are rarely formative.

The importance of parents was also mentioned – not least in relation to sharing statutory results. I argued – I think quite fairly – that statutory test results only tell a small part of the story of a child, and that the real information comes from the knowledge a teacher holds about children based on all the other assessments we do throughout the year.

If there’s one message I hope the committee has taken away, it’s that teachers aren’t opposed to assessments - indeed, very few are opposed to tests altogether – but that it’s the way the resulting data gets used that presents the challenges.

Follow Michael Tidd on Twitter @MichaelT1979


formative assessment, key stage 1, key stage 2, statutory tests, summative assessment

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