The NEU is part of the Independent Commission on Assessment in Primary Education (ICAPE). Chaired by Professors Dominic Wyse and Alice Bradbury from University College London, ICAPE took evidence from educators and researchers with expertise and interest in assessment, curriculum and pedagogy.
In November 2022, the commission published its evidence-led report on statutory assessment in primary schools in England. The review was based on an extensive review of the literature and on surveys of parent and teacher experience.
Surveys conducted by ICAPE found the majority of parents and teachers are dissatisfied with the current assessment system. Participants said testing increases workload, narrows the curriculum and negatively impacts children's wellbeing.
This is because assessment is not currently designed to support learning. Its main purpose is to hold schools and teachers to account. For children's learning to become central to the life of the school, ICAPE recommends that school accountability and assessment should be separated.
To achieve this, the report states new principles for assessment, alongside a five-year plan for change, which includes:
- The removal of all statutory testing in primary schools.
- The establishing of a national sampling instrument that would monitor national education standards and support school improvement.
- The use of holistic and inclusive assessment in schools, which would demonstrate the breadth of a child's abilities, skills, and achievements.
- Consultation with teachers on the rollout of reforms, so thinking about workload and professional development is thoroughly integrated into the process of change.
ICAPE's report affirms the concerns of parents, teachers and pupils. The NEU wants to see an assessment system that supports children's learning and gives meaningful information to school staff and to parents.
More Than A Score
More Than A Score has published a comprehensive report, bringing together new research with academic evidence and case studies of teachers, heads and pupils, to make the case that formal tests have no place in primary schools during this recovery phase of education.
One Nation Conservatives
In its paper on the future of education, the One Nation group of Conservative MPs wrote:
''Rather than having SATS, surely it would be better to evaluate a pupil's progress rather than national testing at 11. Similar to GCSEs, time spent preparing for SATS could be better used for teaching subjects in depth. Testing is good but should be designed as a tool for feedback to individual teachers and schools rather than being used to monitor and penalise schools."
In June 2021, the British Educational Research Association (BERA) published High standards, not high stakes: an alternative to SATs.
BERA's case is simple and forceful. To understand the performance, the strengths and the problems of primary education we don't need to make every primary pupil go through the rigours of high-stakes assessment. We don't have to devote weeks of curriculum time to preparing for SATs. We don't have to endure, against all our better instincts, the narrowing of children's learning experience that led one teacher to write to the NEU that between Christmas and SATs week she 'hadn't taught anything but English and Maths'. In place of universal testing there is a better way.
Learning from European experience, BERA proposes testing a weighted national sample of pupils in a broader range of topics. This would provide a year on year understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the system. Linked to surveys of pupil, teacher and parent experience, it would provide what BERA calls a 'richer exploration of educational processes than the current system allows'. New 'assessment instruments … including but going beyond literacy and numeracy tests and their current narrow remits' would focus on broader issues on pupils' development. There would be surveys, for instance, to pick up topics such as cyberbullying, mental health and the impact of Covid-19. Whatever the focus, the aim would be to understand in depth the learning and experience of pupils – and the responses of their schools.
Schools would use data from the national sample to reflect on their own experiences and compare themselves with their peers. Sample items from a national bank of assessment instruments would enable schools to provide helpful information for parents about their child's achievements. SATs would be phased out.
The NEU wants to see an assessment system that supports children's learning and gives meaningful information to school staff and to parents.