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Written statement to Parliament: Primary education

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Justine Greening, Education Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities

Today, 19 October 2016, Education Secretary Justine Greening announced new proposals to provide clarity for primary school teachers over the way their pupils are assessed. These proposals  including a pledge not to introduce any new tests before 2018, will bring a period of stability for teachers and pupils and allow time for our important reforms to bed in. The proposals are contained in a Written Ministerial Statement laid today.

This government is committed to building a country that works for everyone and that means having the highest aspirations for all children. But we know that when it comes to their education, if a child starts behind other children, all too often they stay behind. When children leave primary school they should have acquired a firm grasp of the basics of literacy and numeracy. I know that all parents and teachers want this for our children too.

Summer 2016 saw the first pupils taking the new assessments in English and mathematics at the end of primary school. They were set against the new national curriculum which has been benchmarked against what the highest-performing countries around the world are teaching their children. As a result, the new assessments rightly raised the bar on what we expect pupils to have been taught by the age of 11, better preparing them for secondary school and beyond. In the past, although we saw high proportions of children meeting the previous lower standard at the end of primary school, too often it did not translate into good qualifications at the end of secondary school.

Although the new assessments this summer were rightly more challenging, teachers and pupils rose to that challenge. 66% of pupils met or exceeded the new ‘expected standard’ in reading, 70% did so in mathematics and 74% did so in writing.

The pace and scale of these changes has been stretching. Our objective is to make sure that children are ready for the next stage of their education. We know, and Ofsted inspectors understand, that the 2016 assessments and results mark a break with the past and are not comparable with the preceding years. In recognition of this, I am reaffirming the commitment that no more than 6% of primary schools will be below the floor standard in 2016.

It is right that we do more to identify schools where pupils are not fulfilling their potential and 2016 saw a greater emphasis on pupil progress in the accountability system. To take the next step, we are laying regulations around ‘coasting’, so that schools not making enough progress get the focus and support that they need to improve. We expect a small proportion of primary schools to be defined as coasting this year.

Because of the changes to primary assessment, I want to be clear that no decisions on intervention will be made on the basis of the 2016 data alone. Regional Schools Commissioners and local authorities will work together with the current leaders of the small minority of primary schools below the floor or coasting to help and support the schools to move forward in a positive direction.

It is important that we now set out a clear path to a settled system where our collective focus can be on achieving strong educational outcomes for all children. There has been significant change in recent years, but the timeline from this point will bring greater stability, with no new national tests or assessments introduced before the 2018 to 2019 academic year.

As part of this I am setting out steps to improve and simplify assessment arrangements. First, we have worked closely with the profession to improve the guidance for the moderation of teacher assessment. It is important that we have a consistent and reliable approach across England. This new guidance will be accompanied by mandatory training for local authority moderators. Second, the key stage 1 grammar, punctuation and spelling test will remain non-statutory for schools this year, with tests available for teachers to use if they choose. Third, we will not introduce statutory mathematics and reading resits on children’s arrival in year 7. Rather, we will focus on the steps needed to ensure a child catches up lost ground. High-quality resit papers will be made available for teachers to use if they wish, as part of their ongoing assessments. In addition, we will introduce a targeted package of support to make sure that struggling pupils are supported by teachers to catch up in year 7.

Whilst the steps set out above will make improvements in the current academic year, we also need to now set out a longer term, sustainable approach. Early in the new year we will launch a consultation on primary assessment and the implications for accountability. This will cover key issues, including the best starting point to measure the progress that children make in primary school, and the role and operation of teacher assessment. Whilst we take time to consult on assessment arrangements, the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile will remain in place for the 2017 to 2018 academic year.

Last year, the Government commissioned Diane Rochford to lead an expert review into the assessment of pupils working below the standard of the national curriculum tests and to make recommendations that ensure they have the opportunity to demonstrate attainment and progress at primary school. I am grateful for the work of Diane Rochford and her team and we are publishing their report today. Its recommendations will also form part of the consultation.

I look forward to engaging with parents, teachers and unions on these issues in the coming months.

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