Government Assessment Shambles

Remember this?

Pay particular attention to this section of the pledge:

  • giving schools more notice of significant changes to the curriculum, exams and accountability, and not making changes to qualifications in the academic year or during a course, unless there are urgent reasons for doing so

At Greenways we have been pro-active in adapting to life without levels, producing our own bespoke assessment system and making sure that the children are clear about what it is they are learning. All of this good work risks being derailed by recent in-year changes and guidance. Exemplifications, details of the tests, guidance about how progress will be measured, all of these have been delivered in-year, some as late as last week. At the same time the submission date for teacher assessments in writing have been brought forward a month to May, with exemplifications only available from last week.

(By the way, with regard to writing, confusion reigns as to whether we moderate against the interim framework, the exemplifications just released  or our own system, or indeed against all three. As usual we are ahead of the game and have mapped out the links between the three different system to make the moderation process easier and have already built in additional moderation meetings. A big piece of work undertaken at very short notice.)

In Year 2, we have only recently found out about what is going to be expected in terms of both teacher assessment and the new tests. Have a look at this article about teacher assessments in writing. This stems from a  meeting on 5th February, with the writing exemplification document issued only a week before:

The message is clear; we need to change what we teach, teach to the tests and move away from teaching about good writing to a far more formulaic approach, and all of this with just a small amount of time left in-year to deliver these changes.

Michale Rosen is equally scathing about the proposed reading test for 7 year olds:

Again, we need to dumb down our teaching to enable our children to do well in these tests, rather than focus on mastery, a very different approach to the intentions behind the new curriculum.

It doesn’t get any better in Year 6. The new system was not supposed to be a box ticking exercise, and yet that is what it has become:

And in times of a much-reduced local authority capacity whilst at the same time increasing levels of accountability for their schools, authorities also need to be brave and do what is right for the children. Not everyone has the confidence that they will be this brave:

So, what next?

We haven’t even mentioned maths yet. We know we have made an excellent start in delivering the new curriculum and see strong evidence of progress and learning in the classrooms. But there are no guarantees how closely the Year 6  maths papers will actually match the new curriculum and all schools feel that this year will be something of a lottery. Is that really how school leaders should feel?

The National Union of Teachers has already called for the tests to be cancelled:

I last week received a letter from Russell Hobby, General secretary of the national Association of Headteachers:

Dear Ashley,

So, assessment: enough is now enough, isn’t it?

Three and a half thousand of you were kind enough to respond to my email about the ongoing farce of writing teacher assessment. 99.5% confirmed the change of date had serious workload implications. The government has broken its promise.

Armed with this evidence I took your case directly to the schools minister Nick Gibb on Tuesday. The government were unable to defend the decision.

Between that email and this one, however, the writing exemplification materials were released – months too late. From these we learned:

  • The expected standard is actually closer to a 5c than a 4b.
  • The materials themselves are unusable in the short time we have remaining to us. I am not even sure they can be properly read in the time remaining to us.

Not only have you had to deliver a more demanding new curriculum in just two years. Not only have you lost ten percent of this year’s teaching time before the assessment. You have just learned that you need to attain several terms more progress in the few months remaining to you.

I suggested to the minister that either they reset the date of submission and recalibrate the standard or they suspend entirely the use of floor standards and league table data this year – they should just admit that they have no idea what the data will look like or mean. To hold people accountable to it would be a travesty.

I have given the government one week from today to provide a response to this. If we do not receive an adequate one – and by that I mean a dramatic change in their plans – then we will act this year to protect pupils and schools.

It doesn’t stop with writing. This is one immediate response to the specific teacher assessment issue. There are far wider problems. We remain opposed to many changes in assessment, from reintroducing tests at KS1 to times tables tests at KS2 to re-sits in year seven to inappropriate content in both key stages.

It looks like a boycott is on the cards unless there are significant changes to the system this year. It is important to note that, whilst clearly teachers and school leaders have additional workload issues when ill-thought out and late-notice changes are made, the genuine victims are the children. The system now put forward by the government this year can only harm learning and progress, do not reflect a mastery curriculum and revert to a mechanical and formulaic view of what learning looks like and that is fundamentally not fair.

Maths……No Problem!

National Curriculum in Focus

National Curriculum in Focus is dedicated to unpicking the new curriculum and how to understand and develop the requirements of the new programmes of study for mathematics. You can find previous features in this series here

Planning for misconceptions – Teach, Learn, Confuse

The focus on mastery in the National Curriculum is a focus on understanding. Understanding builds from experiencing a concept in lots of different ways in different contexts. One of the most striking observations about the lessons taught by teachers from Shanghai, as part of the national England-China project, has been that the teachers focus on provoking misconceptions. One of the visiting teachers explained this as: ‘Teach, Learn, Confuse.’

For some teachers, planning to confuse and expecting all children to struggle within maths lessons will be a new experience. The importance of struggle in learning has been highlighted by numerous educationalists (including Stigler, Dweck and Boaler) and can be represented by the Learning Pit (Nottingham) where cognitive conflict or ‘wobble’ is encouraged in order to make learners think deeply.

This focus on provoking misconceptions is part of a focus on reasoning and allows learners to develop sound generalisations. Misconceptions, which can lead to incorrect generalisations, are often the result of limited experience and a limited diet of questions which have provided a one-dimensional view of a concept. Planning for misconceptions can be supported by using the Teaching for Mastery booklets produced by the NCETM. The questions in each domain give a sense of the breadth of understanding expected and many are deliberately shaped to expose misconceptions. For example the following question from the Y2 booklet could expose a number of misconceptions, all arising from a limited experience of finding quarters:

Y2 assessment materials question

Depending on the children’s experiences they may consider that:

  • the first does not have a quarter shaded because they can only see two parts
  • the second does have a quarter shaded because it is one of four parts
  • the third and fourth ones do not have a quarter shaded because they have not seen a square split like this for quarters before (it has always been split into four squares) and they do not think that the rectangle or triangle can be a quarter of the square. They may also think that one of them is correct and that the other cannot be because they look different to each other so can’t both be a quarter of the same sized square
  • the fifth one does not have a quarter shaded because it is not split into four parts or because the parts shaded are not together.

The starting point for any teaching sequence in maths is to be clear about what it is the children need to understand about the concepts included and, therefore, what they should be able to generalise at the end of the teaching sequence. This then leads to considering potential misconceptions; it will be important to plan for children to explore concepts in a variety of contexts and expect them to use a variety of representations in order to expose and address misconceptions and build a more complete understanding. This is explained in the Teaching for Mastery booklets as follows:

“A pupil really understands a mathematical concept, idea or technique if he or she can:

  • describe it in his or her own words;
  • represent it in a variety of ways (e.g. using concrete materials, pictures and symbols – the CPA approach);
  • explain it to someone else;
  • make up his or her own examples (and non-examples) of it;
  • see connections between it and other facts or ideas;
  • recognise it in new situations and contexts;
  • make use of it in various ways, including in new situations.”

This list of ways to demonstrate understanding provides teachers and pupils with different ways to challenge thinking and explore concepts. It is important to note that sometimes teachers will expose misconceptions which they had not anticipated (for an example of this, see the Seen and Heard article this month); we are always interested in unusual and unexpected misconceptions so please email these to us for inclusion in future issues of the magazine.

Ten things the maths team want you to know (1)

Respect…our new fortnightly focus from Monday

If you want to look at what respect feels like, take a look at this amazing TV ad:

Respect is a little bit of a juxtaposition; it’s a simple yet complex concept. Is respect earnt or automatic? Do you give respect to get it back?

It might be worth starting with this definition from Wikipedia

Respect is a positive feeling of admiration or deference for a person or other entity (such as a nation or a religion), and also specific actions and conduct representative of that esteem. Respect can be a specific feeling of regard for the actual qualities of the one respected (e.g., “I have great respect for her judgment”). It can also be conduct in accord with a specific ethic of respect.

Respect can be both given and/or received. Depending on an individual’s cultural reference frame, respect can be something that is earned. Respect is often thought of as earned or built over time. Often, continued caring interactions are required to maintain or increase feelings of respect among individuals. Chivalry, by some definitions, contains the outward display of respect.

Respect should not be confused with tolerance. The antonym and opposite of respect is disrespect.

How does this definition manifest itself in school?

This article from the Echo this week is all about respect and might be worth discussing with the children?

And there are lots of resources here which might engage boys in particular:

This article is more geared towards adults but a useful activity might be to consider writing a list of things you can do to earn respect:

And this is just a great article to read for parents and teachers alike: