This week, 10- and 11-year-olds across England are taking their Key Stage 2 assessments amid great changes in primary education. CentreForum will be monitoring results as they are released later in the summer. This briefing note provides a short summary of what will be new in 2016 and what we will be looking out for.

A new primary curriculum

Why has it been introduced?

  • To raise standards, increase rigour and deliver “essential subject knowledge”[1].
  • To address concerns that expectations – and therefore results – have lagged behind the highest performing jurisdictions in the world; the content of those curricula were analysed prior to determining the new curriculum for England[2].
  • To focus prescription by government on curriculum content, not on methods of teaching.

Who does it apply to?

  • Pupils aged 5-11 (in years 1-6), and mandatory in maintained schools in England[3].
  • Academies and free schools are legally required to provide a broad and balanced curriculum, for which the national curriculum is not mandatory but is a benchmark – one which will carry weight due to the statutory assessments that apply to all state schools (see below).
  • The national curriculum applies to pupils with special educational needs by default, but its application may be modified as appropriate within education, health and care plans for individual children with SEN[4].

What is different about it?

  • Reading, understanding and spelling wider and more difficult vocabulary, for example words including (for years 5 and 6): conscience, conscious, controversy, hindrance, prejudice, privilege, relevant and sacrifice.
  • Increased breadth and difficulty in the use of correct punctuation, grammatical structures and Standard English, for example relative clauses and adverbials in year 5, and passive voice and subjunctive form in year 6. Specified grammatical terminology must be learned by pupils in addition to correct application.
  • Pupils must now be able to recall times tables up to 12 x 12 by age 9, instead of up to 10 x 10 by age 11; and to add, subtract, multiply and divide fractions, in addition to understanding and ordering them as per the outgoing curriculum.
  • Introduction of algebraic expression and solution of problems involving up to two unknown numbers to the primary curriculum.
  • Introduction of evolution and of mechanisms that allow a smaller force to have a greater effect to the primary science curriculum.
  • Introduction of foreign language learning to Key Stage 2.
  • Expansion of the primary history curriculum to: Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, one post-1066 theme in British history, plus one of Ancient Sumer / the Indus / Ancient Egypt / the Shang Dynasty, plus Ancient Greece, plus one of early Islamic civilisation / Mayan civilisation / Benin (West Africa) in AD 900.[5]

Assessment changes in 2016

Why is the way the results are reported changing?

  • To reduce an unintended consequence of national curriculum levels – that they categorised pupils, resulting in different expectations and teaching, and perpetuating low attainment for some groups based on their early outcomes.
  • This new approach aims to reduce prescription and increase clarity of expectation by moving to a single set of learning outcomes for all pupils.
  • It also addresses concerns that national curriculum levels were mis-specified, and required uneven quantities of progress at different Key Stages.[6]

How is it changing?

  • Externally moderated tests used for accountability – in reading, spelling, punctuation, grammar and mathematics – will produce ‘scaled scores’ instead of a test level linked to performance descriptors.
  • Scaled scores position each child’s result relative to an expected standard; a score of 100 will equal the expected standard and be set roughly equivalent to level 4b under the old assessments.
  • ‘Anchor’ questions repeated across test years will be used to check whether any general increase in scores over time is justified.
  • Sampled science tests will be used to monitor national standards, but teacher assessments will continue to provide assessment for all pupils, as is the case for the writing component of English.
  • Only the reading test, writing teacher assessment, and mathematics test results will continue to contribute to headline school accountability measures; results for spelling, punctuation and grammar tests and science teacher assessments will be published separately but not be used in the floor standards.
  • Teacher assessments will be based on interim assessment frameworks describing attainment using 4 categories for writing, and a simple 2 category assessment of “working at the expected level”, or not, in other subjects. This approach will be reviewed for future years.

What to look out for in 2016’s results

CentreForum will be monitoring the primary school assessment results when they are first reported nationally at the end of August, and will publish its analysis and interpretation of the key messages from these.

What won’t the results tell us?

  • Whether the new curriculum is effective or not – this depends on what quality of preparation it provides for secondary education and the wider development of children, which cannot begin to be assessed until current primary cohorts progress through secondary school, sit their GCSEs and subsequent qualifications, and proceed to higher education and employment.
  • Interestingly, in two of the five jurisdictions on which the new curriculum for English was modelled due to their strong performance in international comparative assessments, the curricula have since been updated to introduce more flexibility and differentiation and less specificity around literacy and grammar [7],[8].
  • How pupil attainment responds to the full curriculum and assessment programme – the first cohort taking the new assessments in 2016 has only been taught under the new curriculum for two out of six academic years, and will not have undertaken the phonics screening check in years 1 or 2.
  • If the percentage of children reaching the expected standard goes down (or up), it won’t reveal much about the quality of teaching and learning this year – it will be a different, more challenging standard compared with previous years, and the precise setting of the expected level will involve some arbitrary judgement by the DfE.
  • What attainment will look like in two-to-three years’ time – with some of the content potentially new to teachers and parents as well as pupils, it is likely that it will take time for the teaching of the curriculum to bed in.
  • There are likely to be “abnormal” increases in attainment in the first few years of the assessments, reflecting an increasing match between what is taught and what is required, as opposed to a necessarily higher quality of teaching.

What should we look out for then?

  • Whether the change in curriculum and standards highlights strengths and weaknesses for different groups of pupils – the gender balance between boys and girls may shift based on aspects of knowledge and skills prioritised under this curriculum, and we should be able to make some assessment of what has happened to the disadvantage gap in 2016 using relative performance indicators.
  • Whether performance in some schools or parts of the country has previously relied heavily on aspects of the curriculum that are now deemed less important – some schools may find themselves unexpectedly close to or below floor standards.
  • Whether high attainers are further ahead of the pack than we thought they were – the new tests may reveal more differentiation between pupils near the top of the attainment spectrum who were previously clustered together by truncated assessment standards.
  • Just how ambitious the government is for pupil attainment – in this first year of results, the government will have to determine the shape of the new attainment distribution, including how near to the expected standard the national mean scores will be, requiring some judgement by the standards and testing agency[9]. These decisions will have implications for floor standards and therefore the speed of academisation under new and proposed powers to intervene.

Our emerging analysis of results will be provided on this dedicated information hub.

[1] Department for Education (2013) Reform of the national curriculum in England: Government response to the consultation conducted February – April 2013.

[2] Department for Education (2011) The Framework for the National Curriculum. A report by the Expert Panel for the National Curriculum review, Department for Education (2012) What can we learn from the English, mathematics and science curricula of high- performing jurisdictions?, Department for Education (2011) Report on subject breadth in international jurisdictions.

[3] Department for Education (2013) National Curriculum in England Framework for Key Stages 1 to 4.

[4] Department for Education (2014) SEND Code of Practice January 2015.

[5] Department for Education (2014) National Curriculum for teaching from 2015 and Department for Education and Employment (1999) National Curriculum Handbook for Primary Teachers

[6] Department for Education (2011) Review of Key Stage 2 Testing, Assessment and Accountability and National Curriculum Framework Expert Panel Report

[7] Ministry of Education, New Zealand (2007) The New Zealand Curriculum and Achievement Objectives by Learning Area.

[8] “Teachers use the Australian Curriculum achievement standards and content to identify current levels of learning and achievement, and then to select the most appropriate content (possibly from across several year levels) to teach individual students and/or groups of students.” Australian Curriculum, accessed 6/5/216.

[9] Department for Education (2015) Guidance: Scaled scores