Press release

Key Stage 2 testing, assessment and accountability review: final report published

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The panel reviewing the testing, assessment and accountability system at the end of primary school publishes its final report.

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  • More trust in teachers
  • Fair balance between teacher assessment and tests
  • Greater emphasis on progress of pupils
  • New rolling averages for schools

Lord Bew, the cross-bench peer who chaired the panel, and the headteachers and education experts represented on it, said their recommendations would make the system fairer for schools, teachers and pupils, and would help raise attainment.

They said they hoped the system they had devised would achieve a stable consensus among teachers and the Government.

Education Secretary Michael Gove set up the review last year. He said external accountability at Key Stage 2 was vital because it was shown to drive up standards but agreed the current system was flawed and could be improved.

More than 4,000 schools boycotted the tests in 2010 (26 per cent of the 15,515 maintained schools expected to administer them). Heads at those schools, and others, argued the test results led to unfair league table rankings and meant children were drilled for the tests rather than given a broad education.

The panel today says that there must be external school-level accountability in the system but that more trust should be placed in teachers, with a greater weight given to their assessment of pupils. A wider range of data - including new progress and attainment measures, and rolling averages - should be taken into account to give a less arbitrary and fairer picture of a school’s performance.

The report recommends that:

  • The current writing test should be replaced by teacher assessment of writing composition. This will ensure pupils can be more creative and will overcome the dangers of teaching to the test. This teacher assessment should always make up the larger part of any overall writing judgement.
  • As part of writing, there should be a spelling, grammar, punctuation and vocabulary test. The panel believes a test will raise attainment in these areas and is appropriate because there are clear right or wrong answers.
  • Maths should continue to be externally tested.
  • Reading tests should continue but should be refined over time.
  • Science should continue to be teacher assessed with a sample test to monitor national standards.
  • Speaking and listening should continue to be teacher assessed.
  • Three-year rolling averages should be introduced to give a rounded picture of a school’s performance.
  • There should be a greater emphasis on the progress of pupils:
    • Progress should be one of the two headline published measures, alongside attainment. Any overall judgement of a school by the Government, local authorities or Ofsted should give at least as much weighting to progress as attainment.
    • There should be a strong focus on the progress of every pupil, as well as greater emphasis on the progress of each Year 6 cohort. A new progress measure should be introduced to focus on the performance of lower-attaining pupils. Schools which work hard to accelerate the progress of those who started with low prior attainment should be recognised. This will help stop schools focusing on children on the Level 3/4 borderline.
  • New progress and attainment measures should be introduced for pupils who have completed all of Years 5 and 6 in a school. This would recognise that schools should not be held wholly responsible for the performance of pupils who have just joined them.
  • Teacher assessment judgements should continue in English, maths and science, and should be submitted before test results are announced. This will mean more weight is attached to them and allow longer for these results to inform Year 7 teaching and learning.
  • Transition to secondary school should be eased for pupils and their new teachers. There should be more detailed reporting to secondary schools so Year 7 teachers know right from the outset a pupil’s attainment and the areas where extra work is needed.
  • Pupils who are ill on the day of a test should have a week to sit it, rather than two days.

Lord Bew said:

At the start of the process, different members of the panel were in very different positions on many aspects of the system. There were many conflicting views presented to us and we enjoyed healthy debate on every issue.

I am very pleased that we are today able to produce a set of recommendations which we unanimously believe will lead to a better system, one that will do the jobs everyone wants it to do. It will improve standards, benefit pupils and be fairer for teachers. But it will still give parents the vital information they need and hold schools accountable.

The importance of this issue cannot be over-stated - it affects hundreds of thousands of children, their teachers and their parents, both now and in the future. We must get it right.

I hope that both the Government and teachers are able to reach a consensus so that assessment at the end of primary school can have the confidence of all parties involved.

Lord Bew added:

There is compelling evidence that external school-level accountability drives up achievement and pupils’ progress. But it must be fair and representative of a school’s performance. Publishing more data - including new progress and attainment measures, and rolling averages - will help parents and others hold schools accountable in a fairer, more rounded way.

There should be a greater emphasis on teacher assessment. Teachers are best placed to give an assessment of their pupils and uniquely qualified to identify the areas on which a child needs to focus in order to improve.

But there is also a need for externally marked tests as they give confidence that results are reliable and credible.

That is why we have recommended a system which will properly balance the two forms of assessment. We looked at each core subject separately and considered the most appropriate way of assessing them. We concluded that a test is not appropriate for every subject. The writing test has been heavily criticised and we believe writing composition should in future be teacher assessed. At the same time, we think that, for instance, maths is well-served by a test.

Education Secretary Michael Gove welcomed the report, saying:

Lord Bew and the panel have clearly listened extremely carefully to all the evidence and feedback, and considered a wide range of options.

Their recommendations represent an educationally sound approach while taking account of different opinions. They are fair for teachers and schools. They give an opportunity for pupils to showcase their abilities. They still give parents the vital information they need about how their school is performing, in a range of new and different ways.

The Government will now consider the report and its recommendations in full, and take into account the views of the teaching profession, before formally responding next month.

The panel members

Tim Sherriff, the headteacher of Westfield Community School in Wigan, said:

These recommendations represent a significant move towards an assessment system that values the opinions of teachers, holds schools accountable in a fairer way and places an increased focus on the progress of all pupils irrespective of their starting point.

The recommendations will improve the system for children, and the combination of writing composition being teacher assessed, moving the reporting date of teacher assessment for all core subjects earlier to give it more emphasis, and allowing pupils who are ill a full week to sit the tests, will mean it is not just about one week in May.

Lubna Khan, the headteacher of Berrymede Junior School in Ealing, west London, said:

We have considered a wealth of information from a vast array of stakeholders who are clearly very passionate about the education of our children. We share their passion and concern. Our children and their educational welfare have been at the heart of intense deliberations and I am pleased that we now have concluded with a set of recommendations that we hope will enable educationalists to maximise the academic potential of all our pupils.

Kate Dethridge, the headteacher of Churchend Primary School in Reading, said:

I am pleased that our recommendations address many of the widely-held concerns among the teaching community about the current system. The changes to the assessment of writing, in particular, will give pupils more opportunity to demonstrate what they can do and encourage much broader teaching across Year 6. I believe these recommendations will lead to a fairer system, which is less stressful for all involved, including, most importantly, children. The publication of this report is the start of a journey towards placing more trust in the judgements of teachers.

Greg Wallace, the executive principal of Best Start Federation in Hackney, east London, said:

I believe this is the right set of recommendations for all pupils. I am particularly pleased that, while our recommendations will address many of the concerns of headteachers and teachers, we have been able to protect the least advantaged pupils by ensuring that maths and reading remain externally tested. I believe a test of spelling, punctuation, grammar and vocabulary will help drive up standards - alongside teacher assessment of writing composition it will help ensure children master basic writing skills and are encouraged to write broadly across the whole of Year 6.

Helen Clegg, the executive headteacher of Shiremoor Primary School, North Tyneside, said:

I feel that the measures will fairly acknowledge the efforts made by individual schools to support their pupils’ learning and achievement, within a wider accountability system. For the schools that work very hard to achieve against the odds, the focus on progress will, I think, be very welcome.

Ruth Miskin, the founder of Read-Write Inc. and a former primary headteacher, said:

I am convinced that the new Key Stage 2 assessment arrangements will help all schools put greater focus upon the progress of their most vulnerable children. I am particularly pleased that we have been able to put forward recommendations as to how reading will be assessed in the future. These changes will help ensure all children become fluent readers and a full secondary school curriculum will at last be accessible to all children.

Sally Coates, the principal of Burlington Danes Academy in Hammersmith and Fulham, west London, said:

We have listened carefully to a wide range of evidence and feedback, and considered many different options over several months. I believe we have decided on a coherent package of recommendations which will lead to a fair and educationally sound approach to Key Stage 2 testing, assessment and accountability. As a secondary school principal I am particularly pleased that the proposed changes will mean more meaningful data is provided to secondary schools. The data will also arrive earlier in the summer term so that we have more time to use it. This will make it easier for my staff to plan for the teaching and learning of the new Year 7 intake, and will help to ease the transition of new Year 7 pupils.

Miriam Rosen, former executive director of Ofsted, said:

Ofsted has consistently highlighted weaknesses in the transfer of information about the attainment of pupils between primary and secondary schools and in its use by secondary schools. The more detailed reporting recommended by our panel, combined with the earlier reporting date for teacher assessment judgements, will mean secondary school teachers will receive timely and useful information about their new pupils. I would encourage all secondary schools to make good use of the improved information to prepare for the teaching and learning of their new Year 7 intake. This would help to improve transition between primary and secondary, which is a significant weakness of the current system.

Notes to editors

  1. The final report can be found on the Review of key stage 2 testing, assessment and accountability section of the Department for Education’s key stage 2 review website.

  2. The panel received nearly 4,000 online responses and about 100 written submissions, and took evidence directly from around 50 stakeholders, during a 12-week call for evidence.

  3. Lord Bew is a cross-bench peer, Professor of Irish Politics at Queen’s University in Belfast, and a Member of Royal Irish Academy (MRIA). He was a historical adviser to the Saville Inquiry from 1998 to 2001.

  4. Membership of the panel in full is:

  • Lord Bew - chairman
  • Helen Clegg OBE - executive headteacher, Shiremoor Primary School, North Tyneside
  • Sally Coates - principal, Burlington Danes Academy, Hammersmith & Fulham
  • Kate Dethridge - headteacher, Churchend Primary School, Reading
  • Lubna Khan - headteacher, Berrymede Junior School in Ealing
  • Ruth Miskin - founder of Read-Write Inc. and former primary headteacher
  • Miriam Rosen - former executive director, Ofsted
  • Tim Sherriff - headteacher, Westfield Community School, Wigan
  • Greg Wallace - executive principal of Best Start Federation, Hackney
  • Representatives of Ofsted and Ofqual acted as observers.

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Published 23 June 2011