A crisis in assessment, forced academies and variable inspection quality are among the key areas that need to be urgently addressed to correct flaws in the education system, says the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT).
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT, said: “We have seen the recent disruption caused to many young people’s lives by the decision to change GCSE grade boundaries mid-way through the academic year. This alone has thrown up wider concerns about the state of school assessment across all phases of education from five to 18. The exam system has become a statistical monster that no one seems to understand, be able to predict or control.
“NAHT members are in a robust mood as we enter the party conference season. We are taking responsibility for standards with our school improvement project which is designed to help members’ schools achieve a ‘good’ Ofsted rating within three years. We are encouraging members to exercise their freedoms by designing new curricula in partnership with their communities. And we are guiding members through turbulent times in facing the industrial action spreading across our schools.
“It is clear that an unhealthy relationship between assessment and accountability is at the heart of many of the deficiencies of our education system. The government needs to go further than new qualifications in order to solve deep problems such as:
- teaching to the test and the ‘exam optimisation’ of our schools, which together narrow and impoverish education;
- perverse incentives which lead to the wrong choices for students, such as early entry or dumbing down exams. We work in a system which rewards the secure route to average rather than the risky route to excellence;
- the failure of the method known as ‘comparable outcomes’ to recognise that cohorts of pupils may have improved between Key Stage 2 and the GCSE stage;
- inconsistent measures of school improvement;
- the controversy around forced academies and the use of government powers to address under-performance - resulting in the creation of a shadow inspection system operating with the Department for Education (DfE). This shadow inspectorate has on occasion targeted the wrong schools and ignored good practice. It is not unusual to see schools above the floor target being steered towards becoming a sponsored academy against their better judgement.
- The implied denigration of professional judgement which enables government to set standards and prescribe teaching methods without reference to experienced practitioners – 91 per cent of primary teachers found that the new phonics screening check told them nothing new, for example (see joint union release in these supporting press statements).
“Schools should be accountable and students must have the opportunity to take the rigorous academic qualifications which can lead to higher education and good jobs. Learning should be broad and deep and challenging; not instrumental or tactical or soft. The NAHT supports these objectives and proposes the following goals to help achieve them:
- Intervention for under-performance should be based on inspection outcomes in a reformed regime. This takes account of exam performance but also includes broader measures. The government should scrap floor standards and simply focus on those schools deemed under-performing (category four) during inspection. This creates clarity and coherence, enables nuance, works with the legal powers of intervention and produces a manageable number of interventions to deal with
- More weight should be given to teacher assessment at primary level which offers a much safer guide to consistent ability levels than a one-off test
- If tests are used, results of Key Stage 2 achievements should be reported as national samples rather than as league tables which encourage teaching to test and are too often used as a simplistic and misleading guide to individual school performance
- The government should cease to build league tables around the percentage of 'GCSE' passes at C and above, and develop a points-based system that measures the progress of every student. If necessary, the points can be weighted to the qualifications most valued by higher education institutions and employers
- The profession should develop a greater range of course lengths and styles for Maths and English, to take account of the raising of the participation age and commit to ensuring every student gains a Level 2 qualification in these subjects by the age of 18. This would be better than a culture of repeated resits
- The award of a complete certificate for the English Baccalaureate should require evidence of broader activity in sport, culture and the arts and civic responsibilities such as volunteering
- To cope with the greater stress on the inspection system, Ofsted needs to develop a first line system of peer review, backed and moderated by school inspectors to maintain standards. This needs to be backed with a credible independent appeals process
- To demonstrate a commitment to professional judgement, the government should require schools to use a published diagnostic of reading ability, including decoding ability, in year one but cease to prescribe the exact nature of the test for schools which are good or better."
Visit this page for a summary of NAHT's key areas of focus.
Page Published: 21/09/2012