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Assessing pupils engaged in subject specific learning - P4 and above

 Blog posts are written by guest writers from the world of education. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of NAHT.


Tony Newman considers the implications of Rochford’s recommendations relating to pupils engaged in subject specific learning, covering pupils from P4 to the top of the interim pre key stage standards.

Tony Newman has worked for 40 years in the Special school sector at Primary and Secondary level in a variety of settings covering all aspects of SEND. He was Head of a Primary school for pupils with Complex Learning Difficulties for 18 years and is now a Special School Consultant Headteacher on the Wirral.

Tony has been a member of NAHT for 25 years, on the National Executive for the last nine years, and is one of two elected Special School representatives on this body.

NAHT is surveying members’ views on the Rochford proposals – please do make sure that you complete the NAHT survey so that your views can inform our response to the government consultation. The NAHT survey is available here.

I must start by saying that, despite their obvious flaws, the P Levels were an effective way of measuring progress, and have given those of us working with pupils at early developmental levels a framework and vocabulary to discuss progress.

Many schools will continue to use them for non-statutory assessments, but the facility to use this data to explore the national picture will be lost. Durham University’s P Scale project had begun doing this and was able to look at trends and patterns in progress for pupils working below and into National Curriculum levels.

It is difficult to see how the new standards will be able to replicate this.

The rationale behind the recommendations of the Rochford Review is logical. They bring pupils working at early levels in line with the Key Stage standards. The progression from ’Entry to the expected standard’ (at the lowest end) to ‘Working at the expected standard’ is clear.

They have worked very hard to find a path through this complex area and have produced a thoughtful and cohesive document.

However there are a number of issues which need further work and exploration. These are mainly around the sensitivity of the new system to capture progress of pupils working at early levels.

Firstly, we need to discuss if there is a gap between the seven Areas of Cognition and Learning and Entry to the expected standard. Looking at Maths, it seems the Entry level skills are at around P6 (of the old P Scales). Using national data from a commercial scheme we know that at KS1 around 75% of pupils are below this skill level (P6). At KS2 it is still over 30% below. This means that these pupils will leave primary school having not registered at even the lowest level of the new standards. Looking at a recent cohort in our school the progress from KS1 to KS2, although modest, was captured by the P Scales. An actual example is a pupil who moved from P3 (ii) to P5. This represents slow but definite and recordable progress. However, this pupil would not have registered at Entry to the expected standard.

Secondly, in general terms, there are concerns about how the five proposed Pre Key Stage levels cover what was a much more finely divided progression from P5 to NC Level 3. It appears that under the previous Progression Materials it was easier to demonstrate progress. A single National Curriculum sub-level was sufficient, under Progression Materials, to move from median to upper quartile.

Thirdly, P Scales allowed progress to be recorded across school life at primary and secondary school. For pupils at secondary school (who will not sit formal exams) it is difficult to see how any data will be collected to inform the national picture and allow benchmarking against peers.

Finally, if these proposals are accepted, there will need to be lengthy discussion on how schools will be judged in relation to them.

My feeling is that the Rochford Review has done a good job in devising a system which aligns with the mainstream one. Whether it suits the needs of pupils who were formally at the P Scale level is questionable and colleagues should reflect on this as they make their responses.

Do complete the NAHT survey here to help inform NAHT's response to the Rochford proposals.

First published 09 May 2017