On 14th September, just as we were all getting settled into the new school year, the DfE published not one, but two documents of considerable importance: ‘Primary assessment in England: Government consultation response’ and the 2017/2018 ‘Teacher assessment frameworks at the end of KS2’. Both documents reveal changes to the primary maths curriculum that will no doubt affect our approach as teachers and leaders.

Whilst the most imminent and significant changes involve writing and reading, there are also some interesting developments in Maths.

Wide contributions to the consultation

Turning first to the primary assessment consultation response, it’s worth noting that several mathematics organisations responded to the consultation: The Mathematical Association and The Association of Teachers of Mathematics; NRICH, Centre for Mathematical Sciences, University of Cambridge; National Association of Mathematics Advisers; Mathematics in Education and Industry; Early Childhood Mathematics Group.

Now that’s not to say that they agree with the response, but at least such key players have had an input and the opportunity to change policy and practice, as did many headteachers, teachers, unions and local authorities.

Previously we knew that there were no plans to introduce new assessments until the 2018/2019 academic year and that the plans for KS2 Maths and reading test resits had been scrapped. Along with that information came the promise of a commitment to creating a ‘stable, trusted primary assessment system’.

But what new information do these new documents have for us?

Here are the 9 important changes to primary assessment and the curriculum we’ve identified.

1. Reduction in the number of Early Years Goals

The early years foundation stage profile (EYFSP) will stay but the DfE are reporting that the response to the consultation was that ‘the [early learning goals] should be clarified and refined in a number of areas, in order to better assess a child’s development at the end of the early years foundation stage.’

The main thrust of this clarification appears to be that the number of early learning goals (ELGs) which are assessed and reported on will be pared down from the current 17, with a focus on aligning the ELGs with KS1 expectations, particularly the 12 ELGs which make up the ‘good level of development’ indicator.

The report seems to place a heavy emphasis on the strengthening of literacy and numeracy teaching and learning in the early years.

The reduction in the number of ELGs assessed and reported on sounds like music to our ears but some critics are likely to link this to the narrowing of the curriculum already seen in KS4 with the EBACC and in KS2 when many schools focus more on Maths and English than the broader curriculum. The report says that the reduced assessment and reporting will focus ‘on those areas that have the strongest correlation with future attainment’ but does say that schools should retain ‘the breadth of the EYFS curriculum’. The question is whether or not that will actually happen in practice.

2. Trial of new baseline test

The new baseline will be subject to a large-scale pilot trial in the 2018/2019 school year. The document makes it clear that the baseline will be carried out by teachers, that it shouldn’t feel like a test and that the data shouldn’t be used to judge teachers or pupil progress, nor should it be used to determine inspection outcomes. Many will point out that although that is the intention, the opposite will almost certainly become the case as school leaders and teachers fear accountability for low results.

This focus on preparation for KS1 might ring alarm bells for some – is this actually the precursor to the new reception baseline test which is due to be rolled out in 2020? Could this be another shift in curriculum content with raised expectations of children in the early years? Some Year 1 teachers might rejoice in the fact that children will come more ‘ready’ for KS1 whereas others will question whether this will actually be the case and Early Years staff may cry ‘too much, too soon.’

3. Renewed focus on link between Early Years and later life

The report cites the Duncan et al meta-analysis of six international studies (2007) which concludes that early skills in reading and mathematics are most closely associated with later academic achievement. The new baseline test in 2020 is being developed so that it ‘correlate[s] with attainment in English and mathematics at the end of Key Stage 2’.

This focus on the early years as being an influencing factor in achievement later in life is crucial, but whether or not this needs to centre around testing and other forms of assessment is questionable.

4. Changes in Early Years descriptors

As well as focusing on particular ELGs (mathematics being one of them) it is proposed that there will be changes in the descriptors for each goal with a view to making them clearer and more concise to ensure that expectations are consistent from setting to setting. The aim is also to ‘ensure that the ELGs reflect the latest evidence on child development and predictors of future attainment.’

It is not yet clear as to when these newly rewritten descriptors will be made available but any changes to the ELGs that are made will come into effect from the 2020 to 2021 academic year.

It’s not easy to recommend any practical steps for Early Years leaders and teachers to take but it might be worth evaluating current mathematics practice to identify how it might hold up to a more focused emphasis on the subject. This might be best done with an eye on the Year 1 curriculum and how the ELGs match up to them.

5. No change in statutory assessment for Key Stage 1 (yet)

Eventually, Key Stage 1 statutory assessment for mathematics will be removed in favour of the new Reception baseline, as discussed above. During the next 7 years children’s progress will still be measured from the end of KS1 (statutory assessment) to the end of KS2 (scaled score test). The KS1 tests will be made non-statutory from 2023.

6. Revised KS1 Maths frameworks in the next year

Not much of the response document is given over to this issue, but what it does say is that ‘revised frameworks for reading and mathematics at key stage 1, along with updated guidance and exemplification materials, will be published in due course, for first use in the 2018 to 2019 academic year.’ Quite what ‘due course’ means is anybody’s guess – judging by previous years I wouldn’t expect this until the back end of this academic year, possibly the beginning of next year (as has been the case with the revised KS2 frameworks this year).

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7. No more teacher assessment at the end of Key Stage 2

The government are intending to ‘remove the statutory requirement for schools to report teacher assessment judgements in English reading and mathematics at the end of key stage 2 from the 2018 to 2019 academic year onwards’. The reason given is to reduce the workload for teachers, however, teachers will continue to make these assessment judgements regardless of whether or not they have to report them, rendering the ‘reduction of workload’ reasoning fairly invalid. This decision has the potential to send a message of we don’t trust or care about your judgement, all we care about is tests.

However the need for reporting assessment data in reading and Maths is not totally removed: ‘Where pupils are working below the standard of national curriculum tests, teachers will continue to have a statutory requirement to assess pupils using the interim pre-key stage standards and to these judgements.’

Recommended article: Debunking the myth of expected progress at KS1 and KS2

8. Confirmation of KS2 primary multiplication check in Year 4 (2019/20)

The multiplication check, as a result of the consultation, is proposed to take place at the end of Year 4 – it isn’t clear if this means July, or another month in the summer term. Whilst some respondents questioned the need for such a test at all, the majority thought Year 4 would be the best time so as to ensure that there is ‘adequate time to support pupils to catch up if necessary, following the check [and before Year 6]’.

The ‘brief’ check will be administered online (although there will be off-line options) and results will be instantly available to teachers. The check will be piloted during the 2018/2019 academic year. The report suggests that schools might be able to opt into, or access the pilot materials, in order to familiarise themselves with the check, but this is not clear yet. (This pilot will also enable schools to familiarise themselves with the check before it becomes statutory, should they wish to.)

Implications of the primary multiplication check

There are obvious immediate implications here. Currently the curriculum states that children should know tables up to 12 x 12 by the end of Year 4; the Year 3 curriculum says children should be able to recall multiplication and division facts for the 3, 4 and 8 multiplication tables. These leaves Year 4 with 6, 7, 9, 11 and 12 – which is certainly an imbalance considering they might possibly only have until May to learn those (depending on when the test window falls).

Those who are currently in Year 3 will take the new multiplication check so those teachers will want to work towards making sure they’re secure, at least with the tables specified on the Year 3 curriculum, if not beyond that. Current KS1 teachers will also need to ensure children are secure with 2, 5 and 10 times tables in readiness for future years of the check.

Recommended article: How to teach times tables so pupils learn instant recall

9. No revised frameworks for mathematics at Key Stage 2

Whereas the writing interim assessment framework gets an overhaul and a change in how teachers assess it, there will be no change to the way teachers assess Maths as the DfE ‘believe that [the current] approach is broadly appropriate for reading, mathematics and science.’ The ‘pupil can’ statements within the frameworks for English reading, mathematics and science are unchanged. This means that Year 6 teachers have one more year of assessing children against the unchanged framework for Maths before the need for teacher assessment is scrapped (see above).

In conclusion, for Maths, all remains stable for the current year although bigger changes are on the horizon: the raised profile of mathematics in the early years, the way the reception baseline is assessed, the revision of the mathematics teacher assessment framework in Year 2, the multiplication check in Year 4 (Year 3 teachers have the most imminent job here) and the removal of teacher assessment in Year 6.

Liked this? Read our take on the Future of Assessment in Primary Schools [Review of The Headteacher’s Round Table Summit’.

Aidan Severs , Maths Leader , Assistant Vice Principal

Aidan Severs is a passionate wellbeing enthusiast and Primary Lead Practitioner. He writes for the Third Space blog on KS2 SATs, with a focus on teacher/pupil wellbeing.