Curriculum and assessment

ASCL position statements

What is the context?
In July 2020, the government announced that almost all statutory primary assessments, including SATs, will go ahead in 2021, despite the significant disruption to children’s learning as a result of the ongoing effects of the Covid-19 crisis. 
We are still waiting for confirmation on whether or not performance tables will be suspended in 2021, as they were in 2020. ASCL’s clear position is that this should happen (see position statement on external accountability in 2021). 

ASCL position:
ASCL believes that SATs should be cancelled in 2021, even if performance tables are suspended. This decision needs to be made quickly to provide much-needed reassurance to leaders, teachers and children, and to enable schools to plan appropriately. 

SATs should not, in our view, be replaced with any other national form of assessment this year. Instead, schools should be trusted to assess children themselves, and to report the outcomes of these assessments to parents and to the secondary schools Year 6 children will go on to next year.
ASCL understands that the government will want to find ways to understand the impact of the pandemic on this year’s cohort. We would therefore support the government if they wished to take a sampling approach, asking a representative sample of schools to undertake SATs, with the results of those tests to be only reported at a national or regional level, and not linked to specific schools.

Why we are saying it?
The stated role of SATs is to assess the performance of schools, not individual pupils. Schools will have had such different degrees of disruption over the year leading up to SATs that any attempt to use these assessments to compare schools will be meaningless and potentially hugely misleading. 

The children whose education has been most disrupted will be disproportionately from disadvantaged backgrounds, who will therefore be even more likely than usual not to achieve national expectations. Going ahead with SATs therefore risks labelling large numbers of disadvantaged children as ‘failures’, with all the issues that could create.

If SATs go ahead this year, schools will spend time preparing children for them, which could be much better used in supporting them to catch up with lost learning. 

What is the context? On 1 October, the DfE published the Remote Learning Continuity Direction, which places a legal requirement on schools to provide ‘immediate’ remote learning for any individuals, groups of pupils, or whole cohorts which are unable to attend school due to the pandemic. This will be a legal requirement from 22 October until the end of the 2020/21 school year.

It updates previous advice on remote learning in the DfE’s full Guidance on Opening Schools (June 2020). The quality of immediate remote learning has not changed since this guidance was published, which includes the criteria that remote learning should be of the equivalent length to learning in school, and should include daily contact with teachers.

ASCL position
The Remote Learning Continuity Direction is an excessive, unnecessary and unwelcome measure, given most schools are already planning for and providing remote learning – and it shows a lack of trust in the schools sector.

It is not realistic or sustainable to require schools to provide ‘immediate’ remote learning, of the same length as learning in school, to any individuals or groups who are unable to attend school, while some pupils remain in school.

There continue to be major barriers to accessing high-quality learning remotely, including access to technology and to suitable home-learning environments. Government measures have failed to address these problems adequately.

Why are we saying this? The reopening of schools has been more difficult than anticipated, due to local and national increases in the Covid-19 infection rate, a shortage of testing and a lack of clear guidance being provided for schools. It is inappropriate to put new, statutory demands on schools during this time, when they are dealing with the immediate pressures of the pandemic while delivering a broad and balanced curriculum, and are already supporting pupils who cannot attend school.

For many pupils of all ages, access to technology remains a barrier to accessing remote learning. Government schemes to provide technology have not always been successful, and the current advice does not reflect the reality of the situation.

It is our view that the government are asking teachers to fulfil two roles rather than one; teach a full timetable in school whilst offering an equivalent and parallel provision for those who are isolating. This is not sustainable and will have a detrimental effect on staff workload and wellbeing.

From 22 October, schools will be legally obliged to provide remote learning when the means to achieving this remain beyond their control.

What is the context? In October 2018, ASCL launched an independent Commission of Inquiry to look into how to improve the prospects of the ‘forgotten third’ of young people who do not achieve at least a grade 4 pass in GCSE English and maths at the end of twelve years of schooling. 

In September 2019, the Commission published its final report. The report included fourteen recommendations to help address this issue, covering early years, curriculum and pedagogy, teacher education, and the qualifications system. 

These recommendations included calls for a long-term review both of the English curriculum from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage and of the GCSE exam system as a whole. The Commission also recommended a new approach to end-of-primary assessment and accountability, and the replacement of GCSE English Language with a Passport in English, to be taken by all pupils at the point of readiness between the ages of 15 and 19.

ASCL position: ASCL thanks the Forgotten Third Commission of Inquiry for the expertise and commitment they brought to the question of how we can improve the prospects of the ‘Forgotten Third’.

ASCL fully supports the recommendations in the Commission’s final report, and adopts these as policy.

Why are we saying it? We must do more to improve the life chances of those children and young people, disproportionately from disadvantaged backgrounds, for whom the current education system simply isn’t working. We must also find better ways to recognise the achievements of all young people. We believe that acting on the recommendations in this report would make a significant and positive impact on these young people’s lives and futures. 

What is the context? Access to detailed data on the results of general qualifications supplied to centres by awarding organisations has become more complicated as a result of linearisation. In previous years, the breakdown by units could be uploaded to respective centre databases, alongside the final grade. This allowed schools and colleges to automate the communication of the detail to pupils on the day of results. This in turn allowed for the centre to prioritise the needs of individuals who required specific support on the day.

It is now the case that detailed exam data for the new linear A Levels and GCSEs is only available on the boards’ extranets. As such, separate files need to be downloaded from each of the boards. The impact is that pupils are not receiving the detail in their results letters unless the school manually inputs the data having extracted it from the variety of different sources. This requires a significant volume of work under very tight timescales and has the added risk of human error.

ASCL position: Recent changes to the format of linear examination results do not provide sufficient information on grade boundary proximity. This prevents timely and necessary discussions with pupils and universities. For 2019, we urge JCQ-awarding organisations to agree a common accessible format for publication of such data to inform decision making for all stakeholders.

Why are we saying it? The administrative burden on centres has increased as a result of these changes. There is also an increase in anxiety for pupils who are not able to see the detail of their marks when they have not achieved the grade they had hoped for. We urge that Ofqual encourages JCQ to agree a common format for publication of such data.

What is the context? Following speeches from the HMCI Amanda Spielman, National Director Sean Harford and Ofsted’s initial review of the curriculum, Ofsted has been criticising secondary schools’ decisions to operate a three-year Key Stage 4.The revised Ofsted Framework is scheduled for 2019.

ASCL position: Evidence suggests that there is an even split of schools delivering a two-year and three-year Key Stage 4. ASCL robustly defends the right of school leaders to make such a moral decision in the best interests of students in their care. ASCL supports this basic tenet of a self-improving system.

Why are we saying it? Each school’s context is different and schools are responding to the demands of a revised national curriculum and reformed qualifications in every single subject at GCSE. School leaders are in the best position to determine how to structure their curriculum in order to give students the best educational opportunities and the best chance of success in these important qualifications.

In light of the DfE’s EBacc consultation paper, We re-affirm our commitment to our previous statement, namely that ASCL believes in a broad and balanced curriculum and affirms the right of school and college leaders to exercise professional judgements over curriculum decisions. School leaders will continue to make decisions about what pupils study and when, based on the best interests of their pupils.

JCQ and all associated examination boards should immediately review the methodology for the awarding of estimated marks when one component is lost. The methodology should ensure there is no systematic unfairness to the individual due to the loss of scripts.

ASCL supports Ofqual in tackling severe grading in GCSE MFL so that students learning mainstream GCSE MFL should have a reasonable expectation that they will get similar grades across EBacc subjects, without any systematic variation.

Personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education, including sex and relationships education (SRE), is an important and necessary part of all pupils’ education. PSHE (including SRE) should be a statutory* part of children’s learning.

To allow schools the flexibility to deliver high-quality PSHE and SRE which meets the needs of their communities, we consider it unnecessary for the government to provide standardised frameworks or programmes of study. 

*Statutory, but not prescriptive

There is need for certainty in the statement of intent over school performance table qualifications before students opt for and embark upon their subject choices.

ASCL agrees with the proposed National Reference Tests which will enable system improvement to be recognised. We welcome the fact that our concerns have been addressed, particularly in relation to the potential impact on vulnerable students and tiering of the maths paper. However, we hope that a representative sample will be used in order to ensure the statistical validity of these tests.

ASCL urges that national communication is urgently and frequency disseminated to all stakeholders in order to make clear the implications of qualification reform.

Whilst there has been no response to the DfE EBacc consultation paper, we re-affirm our commitment to our previous statement, namely that ASCL believes in a broad and balanced curriculum and affirms the right of school and college leaders to exercise professional judgements over curriculum decisions. We will continue to make decisions based on the best interests of our pupils. 

The white paper proposes re-sits in Year 7 for those pupils “who have not achieved the expected standards” at the end of Key Stage 2. ASCL is in total opposition to this proposal.

Building on the self-improving system, ASCL strongly supports an educational entitlement for every child to receive PSHE.

  • ASCL believes in a broad and balanced curriculum.
  • ASCL affirms the right of school and college leaders to exercise professional judgements over curriculum decisions – this is in line with the principles of subsidiarity.
  • ASCL has determined a set of outcomes for education and believes firmly that curriculum decisions should follow from these.
  • ASCL rejects determinism by either social background or by perceived intelligence.
  • ASCL believes that high-quality vocational education should be on a par with high-quality academic qualifications.
  • ASCL will work with government to develop a robust teacher supply strategy to ensure that we have enough teachers both nationally and regionally.

ASCL agrees with the proposal to strengthen the GCSE awarding system by introducing national references tests which will also enable system improvement to be recognised. However, we remain concerned about several practical issues surrounding the test’s implementation, in particular, the need to tier the maths test and the potential impact on vulnerable or anxious students at a critical time in their lives. Heads should have the right to veto the inclusion of such pupils in the tests.

We support the principle of system leadership in a self-improving school led system and where this is effective, it should be recognised. However we do not think it should be a requirement in formulating a judgement on leadership and management.

In a school-led system, it is for each school to determine the curriculum that meets the needs of its students in particular contexts.

A separate grade for curriculum would imply compliance with a set view of an imposed curriculum which may not be in the best interests of individual students. Judging the curriculum as part of leadership and management ensures it is for senior leaders and governors to determine the curriculum for their students.

Assessing progress accurately is a vital tool for schools.

The current levels make clear what needs to be taught and learned at each key stage and they have become widely understood by the profession, learners and parents. Removing these levels without any attempt to put a coherent national system in its place would significantly affect schools' ability to measure progress meaningfully, adversely affecting students' progress and achievement.

We strongly recommend a review of assessment that takes into account the revised expectations at KS2 and KS4. For all students to make maximum progress, schools need to work within a nationally benchmarked system of assessment that spans through the key stages and allows for data to follow students coherently through their time in education.

An essential part of qualification reform must be a clear statement on the standards which are required to achieve particular grades at GCSE and A levels. These grades must be criterion referenced so that all those involved (students, parents, teachers, governors, colleges, universities, employers) have a clear understanding of what is required. This will also allow the education system to demonstrate whether standards are improving or not. Once the grades and standards for the new GCSEs and A levels have been fixed, they should be kept for a set period of time.