Dear Ms Morgan
I write to express my grave concern over the perfect storm that is set to engulf the assessment and qualifications sector of the English education system.
Let me preface my remarks by saying that I am not defending the status quo, nor am I opposed to change – the world changes and schools must reflect this fact. What concerns me most is the scale of the changes and the rapidity of their introduction.
Let me begin with the new national tests for Y6, introduced at the same time as a new grammar test for Y2.The overriding problem with the new national tests is the idea of a national standard (100) which, per se, is not controversial, except that nobody has any idea of what the new national standard is. The current guidance from the DfE is “equivalent to Level 4b”, in other words higher than the current standard. This is marginally helpful, but as nobody can say how many marks will be required to meet this standard, schools are left in the dark as to how well their pupils will need to perform. So much rests on these outcomes that it seems dangerous to rush these changes in before they have been properly trialled and the standards fully understood by those who have to prepare pupils for them.
There are also suggestions that national testing will be re-introduced for 7 year olds, meaning that with the Y1 phonics check, the grammar test and new national tests at Y2, our Key Stage 1 pupils will be assessed to death. One can only guess at the backwash effect on the curriculum.
Let me now consider the simultaneous reforms of GCSE and A Level. To say that this is ambitious would be to describe it generously. I prefer insane. How can you possibly reform A Level until you know what the standards are at GCSE? In 1982 I was part of a group of teachers who worked on something called the Joint 16+. This was the precursor to GCSE. The specification I worked on was accredited for first teaching in 1986 and first examination in 1988, in other words 4 years development and 6 years for first assessment. Here we are with 9 months to go before new specifications are to be introduced, and of the 156 which are to be introduced only 24 have been accredited.
To complicate matters further, the regulatory body OFQUAL will be leaderless as of next month, so no doubt there will be some form of interregnum until a new chief regulator has been appointed, with a concomitant further loss of momentum. Apparently there are no obvious candidates to pick up this poisoned chalice. Already damaged by the departure of executive director for general qualifications Ian Stockford, there are serious concerns about OFQUAL’s capacity to deliver such a massive programme of reform in such a short space of time.
In terms of impact on schools, departments are now expected to prepare, train and build up resources for teaching specifications about which they have no knowledge. Even the awarding bodies are beginning to raise concerns. especially in view of the fiasco over the maths specifications, where all four awarding bodies’ submissions were rejected, three for being too easy and one for being too hard!
If you persist in keeping to this unfeasible and ridiculous timetable, please be aware of the law of unintended consequences. I have no doubt that a couple of years down the line there will be DfE officials in testy meetings saying “But that’s not what we intended at all”. You have only to look at the history of controlled assessment – introduced in haste with little preparation and next to no training, and it became something different from what was originally intended and a millstone round the necks of teachers. There are precedents.
To avoid the looming apocalypse,
- ensure that primary schools have clear and specific guidance on the new national standard
- delay the introduction of the new examination specifications by a year at least
- stagger the introduction so that A Level follows on from GCSE
- do whatever is necessary, and rapidly, to ensure that OFQUAL has the capacity to oversee the changes
I am aware that it was your predecessor who instigated this perfect storm but it will happen on your watch while he is safely insulated from the blowback.