House of Commons education committee advises banning of KS2 SPaG, nearly

As reported in today’s Schools Week, the House of Commons education committee has published a report on primary school assessments which is largely critical and therefore substantially challenges their sustainability. Whilst not calling for them to be scrapped – could you imagine such a sensible but politically unique conclusion – the criticisms would logically suggest so for those of us not encumbered by the traditions and conventions of committees reporting and governments ignoring.

Of most interest to me, and perhaps the most scathing, is the criticism of the KS2 SPAG [or GPS, I think it is actually now termed]. Whilst the natural ‘conciliatory’ recommendation from the committee is that these fundamentally useless tests be made non-statutory, rather than scrapped, this is nonetheless a trenchant dismissal of their value. Should the Conservatives be imminently re-elected, this advice will no doubt be ignored.

This is the key English subject observation and criticism from the report, in Section 3 Design and development, under Writing:

‘34. However, moving away from the ‘secure fit’ model will not remove the focus on technical aspects of writing, something that was raised in evidence to our inquiry. Professor Dominic Wyse, UCL Institute of Education, wrote:

The assessment of writing in statutory tests in England in 2016, and for some years previously, suffers from two major flaws: 1. the undue separation of the composition of writing from the transcription elements of grammar, spelling and punctuation; 2. An undue emphasis on decontextualised grammatical knowledge. Both of these flawed features of assessment are contrary to research evidence.

35. The Minister said that the focus on spelling, punctuation and grammar had arisen following the Bew review. However, the review specifically stated “writing composition should always form a greater part of overall writing statutory assessment.”

36. The balance of evidence we received did not support the proposition that focusing on specific grammatical techniques improved the overall quality of writing. We support the Department’s proposal to use a ‘best fit’ model for teacher assessment of writing. We recommend the Department should make the Key Stage 2 spelling, punctuation and grammar test non-statutory, but still available for schools for internal monitoring. As well as short term changes to writing assessment, the Government should carry out a thorough evaluation of the reliability of teacher assessment judgements and reconsider whether it is appropriate to use these judgements for accountability purposes.’ [Their bold print].

You can read the full report here.

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