Challenging Changes

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David Bowie

Helen Davis

Helen writes for the Teacher Toolkit site from a primary perspective. She is a primary school teacher and a new headteacher who, after 27 years is still learning about learning. She says “it has been a challenge to swim and not drown during many of...
Read more about Helen Davis

Can anyone justify that the proposed key stage 1 and 2 assessments will lead to better teaching?


The is the first primary perspective post to be published on Teacher Toolkit.

(*Primary teacher? It is recommended to play this song when reading this post.)

No, not the title of one of the greatest songs ever, but more a ‘state’ where teachers find themselves constantly embroiled. Changes in which teachers’ voices do not appear to have any input. Changes which do not appear to be based on any child-centred needs. Changes with a core purpose of accountability, rather than quality of teaching and learning.

The new (KS) key stage 1 and 2 assessment arrangements are another addition on the list.

No teacher worth their salt has a problem with assessing children. We do it on a daily basis, in every lesson, in every question we ask and in every decision we make on where to take the learning next.

Teachers do not need scaled scores or frameworks to know where their children are. A successful teacher finds the gaps and fills them, a successful teacher opens the ceiling to learning and does so without limits.

Narrow Curriculum?

If teachers are sweating the small stuff and have to teach in a formulaic fashion; if teachers are having to spend time checking, ticking and form-filling then the art of teaching is lost and it becomes a drilled march through a narrow, less than relevant, curriculum.

shutterstock_58314529 Little blonde girl holding happy and sad face masks symbolizing changing emotions

Image: Shutterstock

On Twitter over the past few weeks, the KS1 and KS2 assessments for 2016 have seen many active voices. This post here by Emily Gazzard explains very eloquently the effects that sweating the small stuff is having on teachers and how the new KS2 Assessments are restricting the outcomes for children.

Gazzard made the following suggestions “that would make an enormous difference to teaching professionals and the children in our care:

  1. The “checklist” model of the statutory assessment criteria for writing to be changed to a “best fit” model.
  2. Removal of compulsory spelling lists from the statutory assessment criteria.
  3. Rapid publication of guideline raw scores which will denote the expected standard (for grammar and reading).
  4. At the end of this interim framework, national curriculum levels to be reinstated, allowing all professionals, pupils and parents to communicate once again with transparency and rigour.”

I’m Cross!

In support and in defence of assessment of 6 and 7-year olds, this blog here by Conor Heaven (@ConorHeaven) demonstrates the ill-feeling from a KS1 teachers point of view.

I’m too cross to even get started on the workload created for teachers of Year 6 and 3 times as much for Key Stage 1 teachers in making sure assessments against the framework/exemplification are dead on. Meeting the lead KS1 moderator involved the word maladministration 27 times – teachers will need to quintuple check data before sending it in due to fear about getting it wrong!

shutterstock_49131928 Angry woman

Image: Shutterstock

This post here from Ben Fuller, Lead Assessment Expert (it says so in the picture!) in Herts, explains the ridicule and minutia expectation of the KS1 teacher writing assessments and shows to me how the government is disengaged with actual quality teaching and learning in the classroom.

Can anyone within the Department for Education (DfE) justify this extraordinary requirement for seven-year-old children to write in such an old-fashioned tongue? The only way forward I can see is for every single year 2 teacher across the country to make sure that, between now and June 13, she or he has taught the children to include the specific phrases in their narrative recounts.

This week a tweet from ‘the’ Dame Alison Peacock (@AlisonMPeacock);

Key Stage 2 Assessment Dame Allison Peacock

Amongst others, the following replies were triggered:

  • “Approximately none I’d hazard.”
  • “Oh, I’m sure we’re all managing to cram in 6 years worth of grammar, punctuation and spelling!”
  • “Not very many … and the narrowing of curriculum now infecting Year 5.”
  • “My daughters school focused on SATS in Year 6, no geog or science at all!”

In Defence:

There were a few classroom defenders who were ensuring the full curriculum for their pupils. And quite rightly stating so. But, as we all sadly know, the high-stakes accountability of RAISEOnline guarantees the focus on mastering a SATs paper to the detriment of mastering a rich curriculum. Until after May of course, when the sky becomes the limit as to how children experience their last taste of primary school!

All is not lost. Sean Harford, Ofsted National Director, Education (@HarfordSean) has gained the respect of many on Twitter with his open communication and sharing of rationale. Although not about the assessments he very pleasingly stated:

Key stage primary assessment Sean Harford

How appropriate this message would be for Nicky Morgan and Nick Gibb in reference to the KS1 and KS2 assessments?

We Embrace Change!

As quality, reflective practitioners we are not afraid of change. We embrace it. It is part of what makes our job so interesting and engaging. It moves us forward as professionals. We have to be flexible so as to remain successful in achieving great outcomes for our children.

David Bowie was a success. A creative, out of the box, with no limits to his success. He changed and grew, exceeded and touched the whole word with his mastery. He didn’t require an age-related judgement to send him on his way.

Changes can be great, but not when they are detrimental and damaging to the greater cause.

Helen Davis writes for Teacher Toolkit.

  • Writer: Helen writes for the Teacher Toolkit site from a primary perspective.
  • Helen is a primary school teacher and a new headteacher who, after 27 years is still learning about learning. She says “it has been a challenge to swim and not drown during many of these years. However by keeping the focus on the children, providing educational experiences that engage and promote progress in all areas of development, I have survived by side stepping political agendas and sticking to my beliefs.”
  • She started teaching before the national curriculum or Ofsted existed and is now a headteacher of a brand new school. She has a wealth of experience on which to draw, from reception to year 6, expanding her subject expertise from the creative arts to an English and maths subject leader.
  • Read more about Helen and follow her at @HelenAnnDavis1
  • Contact Helen here.
Primary Headteacher Helen Ann Davies
Helen Ann Davies

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