Stressful, testing times

Haven’t we been here before?

Primary school headteacher quits over government’s curriculum reforms with emotional letter
On the controversial Sats exams, Ms Ahmad told The Independent: “I don’t have an issue at all with assessment but why do we have to put these pressures on children? In Year 6 it is exam conditions. In my opinion it is wrong – these children are 10 or 11.

“I feel that cannot put children’s needs first, and in my opinion that is the most important thing. I would do anything to look after my children but it has become harder and harder to do.” Earlier this month, The Independent revealed that thousands of parents are expected to withdraw their 10- and 11-year-olds from the Sats exams next month over concerns about their wellbeing.

Here’s Michael Rosen’s view on the SATs, from a few years ago now.

Michael Rosen: They say we’ve politicised the children’s stress. No, it’s the stress that’s political.
When you have high stakes*, summative**, norm-referenced*** testing, (e.g. SATs) you have to have enough questions which a given percentage of people will get wrong. That’s because the people who design these tests are told that the results have to come out looking right on a particular kind of graph. This is the so-called ‘normal’ distribution of children or students doing a given exam. If a test is given and ‘too many’ children appear to have done well, then the test will be condemned as being ‘too easy’ and newspaper columnists will say that the country is going to the dogs. So, these kinds of tests must have the ‘right’ proportion of failures. It has to be built-in to the test, and into the lead-up to the tests – in other words into what we call ‘education’ (!).

I guess those issues haven’t gone away. But look the government says it’s all going well, right?

Primary school tests show schools rising to the challenge
The national Key Stage 2 results show that 61% of primary school children in England achieved the expected standard, compared to 53% last year.

Better data? We’re all in it together

As someone relatively new to this sector and keen to check I’m going about things the most effective way, I was greatly interested in this new report from the Independent Teacher Workload Review Group, as it claims to “have developed recommendations to eliminate unnecessary workload in the recording, inputting, monitoring, and analysing of data”.

Data Management Review Group report: Eliminating unnecessary workload associated with data management
This report from the Data Management Review Group sets out principles and recommendations to reduce the workload burden on teachers. It calls on all parties in the education system to reduce the unnecessary burdens of data management by ensuring that every data collection has a clear purpose, and that the process is as efficient as possible.

Whilst the report does suggest some sound principles for effective data management — be clear on the purpose, identify the most efficient process, ensure the data is valid — I was disappointed there weren’t more recommendations that I could really get my teeth into and run with.

It was certainly interesting to read their suggestions for the DfE, including a call to “bring forward the release of both validated and unvalidated data to as early as possible in the cycle so it is available when decisions are taken to prevent unnecessary duplication by schools” and a recommendation that they should “reduce the number of different log-ins schools need to use simply to access and share information”. (All to be accepted, apparently.)

I felt, though, there was little I could directly take on board, as most of it was either just common sense and already taking place, or outside my sphere of influence.

But perhaps that was their point; for us to make any headway in increasing data management efficiency, we have to accept we’re all in this together, from the DfE and Ofsted, to local authorities and governing boards, not just data managers and teachers.