Nicky Morgan is facing mounting criticism over recent changes to Keystage 1 and 2 assessments, with the NUT considering strike action as teachers are beset by last-minute alterations, withheld information, unfeasible performance standards, and a hugely increased bureaucratic burden. The scheme includes new assessment criteria, new standards, increased testing and a host of other changes, yet teachers have found the guidelines vague and unhelpful. The new changes were instituted with little notice, and have dramatically increased the workload for teachers, who have been forced to familiarise themselves with the new material in a very short space of time.
The writing assessments have been a particularly fraught subject, with the new guidelines containing “bizarre” stipulations and providing a complicated checklist of 15 separate skills over three separate performance levels to be applied to six different writing exercises. A series of escalating complaints from teachers and head teachers over these changes recently saw Schools Minister Nick Gibb give in and reverse his decision to bring forward assessment deadlines by one month. It has also been agreed that new and clearer guidelines will be released and that schools will not be put on probation measures on the grounds of 2016 tests. The underlying problems remain, however, and English writing is far from the only subject affected, with one deputy headteacher creating a series of tables to try to explain the new assessments to baffled children.
The government now finds itself under pressure from all sides, with calls from the NUT to suspend this year’s SATs examinations and the NAHT headteachers’ union likely to push for further concessions after Nick Gibb's compliance with its recently-issued ultimatum on the KS2 writing assessment. While much of the drama over the government’s changes will be played out between the Department for Education and the various unions, it is ultimately primary school students who will bear the brunt of the new policies. The increased focus on testing and the sharp rise in minimum standards is likely to put further stress the already overstrained child population, and the constantly shifting government guidelines will only translate to further distress as students struggle to understand what is expected of them.