Tuesday, 5th April, 2011

This is just a brief blog to acknowledge the publication today of the interim report by Lord Bew’s inquiry into Key Stage 2 assessment.

I have to say, I have been impressed with the amount of evidence garnered by this review. More than 4,000 people responded to the online consultation, and the review also heard from 50 people in person. There is a lot of research referenced. I gave evidence myself, setting out concerns raised in Education by Numbers, and discussing with the panel the strengths and weaknesses of the current system.

On a snap judgement, Bew seems to me to be taking a more thorough look at this subject than any other government inquiry since I’ve been covering this ever-contentious field. There is, for example, more evidence on display in this report than that discussed in the last government’s “expert review” on assessment, which concluded in 2009 and led to the scrapping of Key Stage 2 science tests.

As I said to the latest inquiry, it is still amazing, I think, that more than 20 years into this system of national assessment there has been no comprehensive observational investigation into the extent and nature of test preparation and other side-effects, if extensive test preparation is to be seen as a side-effect, of results pressures in schools.

 In the absence of this detailed study, perhaps this latest investigation – brought about, don’t forget, following industrial action last year against the KS2 tests by the National Association of Head Teachers – will be the most thorough we are going to get.

That said, I worry that its remit – and perhaps the tight economic situation – will limit its scope to make radical change. OECD evidence stating, says this interim report in a reference to the remit handed to it by Michael Gove, that “external accountability is a key driver of improvement in education” needs to be scrutinised carefully, too. I’m not sure that the OECD does have quite the evidence that high-stakes test-based accountability of the English/American sort has driven improvement, as measured by OECD test data. It may be, of course, that the remit is not specifying that England sticks with test-based accountability similar to the current sort, but I wonder if that is the hint. Anyway, the OECD evidence does deserve closer study, which I will get on to in the coming days/weeks.

There is also evidence cited in Bew which is highly relevant to this debate which is new to me, and hopefully will form the basis for future blogs on this site. So watch this space.

 If you’ve been following me on twitter, you’ll also have noted a string of tweets from me when the report was published today. I’ve just cut and pasted them below, essentially because they serve as my instant judgement “edited highlights” of the report. They are meant to be read from the bottom up.


Warwick (@warwickmansell on twitter if you want to follow me and aren’t already doing so)

Russell Hobby, gen sec of NAHT: heads looking forward to a “radical shake-up” of assess system. Criticism of current system “overwhelming”.

Final report expected June at the earliest, I think.  

Phew! That’s enough on that, for now. Impressed with range of evidence being used.Recomms will be interesting, esp given tight remit,economy

That last tweet reflects what was always a quietly powerful criticism of current system, I think. (And was cited by M Gove in 2009)

Bew: “feedback suggests secondary schools make limited use of stat test data to support transition”.Many 2ndary heads concerned re over-prep  

Bew: some discussion among some assessment orgs of stimulating a “market” in testing.

Bew: Headteachers involved in the [now abandoned] pilot of single level tests said they had gone positively.

Bew: split views on abolition of science tests; some say science now more fun; but general view that science teaching had “lost impetus”

…but writing tests generated most concern. Some 43 per cent of online consultants said they were “inadequate”; 33pc “not v effective”.  

Bew: “Widespread recognition” that tests themselves are well-developed.

Bew: some junior school heads concerned they lose out under current system, as some “infant schools inflate their KS1 assessments”

…but some research suggests replacing tests with TA might disadvantage poorer pupils, some ethnic groups  

Blimey: Centre for Policy Studies says current tests are “biased towards families from middle class homes”.

Bew: testing regime can disadvantage both high- and low-attaining pupils.

 Bew: feedback suggests progress and achievements of children with special needs not “appropriately recognised, celebrated” by current system

Bew: Cambridge Primary Review team argue that current national test data provide little useful information on national education performance

Bew: 59 pc of respondents said more weight should be placed on teacher assessment

Bew: 2009 DCSF survey found 65pc of parents valued their children taking KS2 tests.  

Bew: 2008 survey by the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations found 78 pc of parents placed high/med value on external tests

Bew: 15 per cent of online respondents criticised impact of test data on Ofsted judgements, “some expressing deep concern”.

Lord Sutherland, who conducted review of test marking shambles in 2008, among those criticising current system.  

Bew: ASCL believes league tables are “driving the whole education system”, leading to assessment for own sake, rather than re pupils’ needs

Bew: many heads say they “have to” teach to the test, despite clear evidence it is a poor strategy. [Unsurprising, when jobs are on line]

Bew: most respondents said they supported testing; way the data get used is problem.  

Bew: 62 per cent of online consultation respondents had concerns about the way test data are used.  

Bew cites OECD reseach saying “high-stakes accountability”..But accountability systems work very differently in different countries, I think

 Bew: 50 per cent of respondents wanted league tables removed.

Interesting..Bew review says one of its key tasks will be to define purposes of statutory assessment;system then designed to fit these purps

Bew: almost all respondents have questioned the purposes of statutory assessment.

Bew: most of the evidence submissions (61 per cent) were from primary heads; 23 per cent from primary teachers; only 4pc from parents.  

Bew: many contributors recognise positive features of current system, eg “impact on driving up achievement, progress”, which we shd protect.

Bew: “significant concerns” about focus on children on borderline of national test levels.

Bew: 4,000 responses to online consultation. Many schools feeling that they must drill children for tests is “deeply worrying”.

Bew: It is “increasingly clear that there is not a single set of solutions which can command universal support.”  

Bew: “Change is clearly needed” but acknowledges “complexity in the challenge we face”.