Aspects of the writing assessments are unsuitable for children with special educational needs and disability according to a report by the education committee.

The Education Committee published it’s eleventh report of session 2016–17 on Monday, concluding it’s inquiry into primary assessment.

The inquiry into primary testing was launched on 23 September 2016 following a chaotic year in which parents and teachers were confused by new KS2 Sats. The way in which children at primary school were assessed changed considerably in 2016 to reflect changes to the curriculum.

The report follows 393 submissions of written evidence, a series of oral sessions which included questions to Nick Gibb MP as well as visits to Eastbrook Primary Academy and West Denton Primary School.

The committee said that a focus on spelling and handwriting has disproportionately affected pupils with dyslexia or dyspraxia, and there has been criticism of the level of difficulty of the tests.

The committee also  welcomed the review of assessment for pupils working below the standard of national curriculum tests and “looks forward to the implementation of its conclusions.”

The Rochford Review, published last October, recommended dropping the statutory requirement to use performance scales (p scales) to assess pupils, and called for the statutory introduction of “engagement scales” for pupils with severe learning difficulties.

The focus on spelling and handwriting can disproportionately affect pupils with dyslexia or dyspraxia, and there has been criticism of the level of difficulty of the tests.

In response to the Education Committee’s inquiry into primary assessment reforms, DYT submitted written evidence. We focused on how primary assessment specifically affects SEND learners and how the next steps the government takes must fully consider this impact.

Our views to the inquiry included: 

  • Any change to primary assessment must consider the way in which assessment affects both the content of the curriculum and classroom practice. We are concerned that the focus on maths and English in primary testing is narrowing the curriculum significantly
  • We believe that the government should consider whether the KS2 tests, as they stand, in the light of the Equalities Act (2010) are discriminatory against SEND learners.
  • Given this year’s disappointing results, we worry that the tests are set at too high a level for all eleven year olds, especially in regard to reading. This has a particular disadvantage for learners with literacy difficulties. Even the access arrangements which help SEND learners to take statutory tests cannot mitigate against inaccessible test design.
  • Since the abolition of levels, teachers must now report whether a learner is ‘working towards’, is ‘at’ or is ‘exceeding’ national expectations for their year group. In the case of SEND and where a learner’s attainment is below their peers’, ‘working towards’ does not give either receiving schools or parents useful information. This is because it remains unquantified where they are in relation to a developmental scale.
  • A focus on SEND learners in any future consideration of primary assessments will enable all children to demonstrate their attainment in the tests.

Read the committee’s full report.

Read DYT’s recommendations and summary to the committee

The committee raised a number of different problems with primary assessment, including the “high stakes” link between the tests and accountability and  that the emphasis on technical aspects of writing not supported by evidence.

Commenting on the report Neil Carmichael, Chair of the committee, said:

“Many of the negative effects of assessment in primary schools are caused by the use of results in the accountability system rather than the assessment system itself.

The resulting high-stakes system has led to a narrowing of the curriculum with a focus on English and maths at the expense of other subjects like science, humanities and the arts.

It is right that schools are held to account for their performance but the Government should act to lower the stakes and help teachers to deliver a broad, balanced, and fulfilling curriculum for primary school children.”

DYT will respond to the government’s consultation on primary assessment and the Rochford Review, the deadline for which is 22 June.  

Following the Dissolution of Parliament on 3 May 2017, the education select committees has now ceased to exist. Until the committees are reappointed in the new Parliament following the General Election on 8 June 2017, there are no chairs or members of the committee.

Read More: 

Schools Week: The 13 ways MPs want primary tests improved

TES: Primary Assessment: Five warnings issued by MPs today

Other Education Committee reports this week: