I am an NEU official, whose work is focused on curriculum, assessment, and pedagogy. Since 2016, at least, when the new model SATs were introduced, union members in primary schools have been telling us that the biggest impediment to satisfying, good quality teaching is the system of high-stakes assessment. It increases workload and stress among teachers, narrows the curriculum and provokes bad pedagogy (in the form of drills and rote learning). For pupils, it makes learning much less than it could be – a place of anxiety for some and undue competitiveness for others. From this perspective, the case for change is overwhelming. We need to find many ways of making it – from argument in schools and collaboration with parents to the kind of authoritative, reflective research-based work which I hope the Commission will be able to carry out.
Like many who work in education, I never cease to be amazed and frustrated by the refusal of the guardians of the primary assessment system, the DfE, to assemble any credible defence of that system. Tired sound bites and reference to thin research or dogmatic assertion are shamefully inadequate in the face of the problems that beset our schools. Nothing has yet disturbed the government’s conviction that whatever the challenge – dealing with the ‘disadvantage gap’, recovering from the effects of the pandemic, measuring the performance of schools – the answer is to carry on as we are, with an outdated approach that other countries abandoned some time ago. I hope that the Commission will illuminate the issues that the government wishes to keep shrouded in obscurity.
I am encouraged by the sense that there is growing support for ‘something to be done’. Many of those who ten years ago accepted the arguments for high-stakes testing have changed their minds.
Recommendations for reform based on expert and practitioner consensus and grounded in good research are likely to find a new and receptive audience. I look forward to being part of a Commission which is set on making a difference.