Free article: The future of Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 assessment

Published: Friday, 23 June 2017

John Viner looks at the consultation on primary assessment and what this means for schools.


  • Piloting new assessment arrangements in 2016 has led to consultations on change.
  • EYFS baseline will be statutory from 2019.
  • Key Stage 1 assessment may be dropped.
  • The Key Stage 2 tables check is on its way.
  • There will be changes to teacher assessment in Key Stage 2.
  • P scales are to be dropped.

Until the introduction of the new national curriculum tests in 2016, I spent five terms travelling up and down the country for a major training provider running two courses about Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 testing. Much of my time was spent explaining why levels made no sense and why the tests were now related to the ‘cognitive domain’ as much as the content. In other words, what was now being tested was less about how hard the question was than about the depth of thought – the cognitive demand – it required. This may seem like there is little difference from before, but linking testing to cognitive development was a change in thinking, and understanding the change helped teachers to prepare for the new-style tests.

There was not unqualified praise for the new tests. Although the move from a criterion-referenced approach to a norm-referenced one was absorbed with little fuss, the impact of moving from generating an unreliable ‘level’ to a precise scaled score left schools puzzled. Whereas 80% of pupils achieved level 4 or above in all of reading, writing and mathematics in 2015, only 53% met the expected standard in 2016. Teachers complained that some of the questions were too hard (reflecting a more challenging curriculum) and that pupils became distressed. 

Change was necessary and the DfE was quick to point out that 2016 had been a pilot year. But change takes time and statutory assessment continues to evolve. So, while there will be some changes in 2017, especially around moderated teacher assessment and perhaps in reducing the number of difficult questions with the highest cognitive demand, the DfE has launched a full-scale consultation on the future of primary assessment. Running in parallel is a consultation on the outcomes of the Rochford Review for the assessment of pupils working below the level of the tests. Both consultations closed on 22 June 2017.

The consultations are essentially statements of intent. While comments are invited on the key questions, the direction of travel is clear, perhaps with some soft amendments. There are implications for early years, for KS1, KS2, separate junior and infant schools, middle schools and special schools, so this is an important consultation.

Changes for 2017

The KS1 grammar, punctuation and spelling (GPS) tests are now optional. Schools are not required to administer them, report them or use the information in supporting teacher assessment. The tests will be available for download only. Pupils entering the reading and maths tests should, as before, be invited to attempt each paper, but teachers can use their discretion about rest breaks or early finishing. There are no material changes to the KS2 tests or their administration.

An excellent and detailed summary of changes for 2017 can be found in a helpful briefing note by the London Borough of Barnet, with Cambridge Education.

Consultation on primary assessment

Let’s start with early years. You will remember the failed attempt to introduce a statutory baseline. The assessment tool of choice was Early Excellence. Now, a Reception baseline is back on the agenda, with a planned introduction from 2019. However, there is likely to be a push for a more numbers-driven version, building on the work by Rob Coe et al through the Performance Indicators in Primary Schools (PIPS) project. The DfE regards this as a better assessment starting point than KS1 assessment.

With a baseline assessment in place at some point in the Reception year, the DfE is considering abandoning KS1 assessment altogether, although annual sampling would take place, similar to KS2 science. While this would address what the DfE sees as artificial manipulation of assessment at KS1 in order to demonstrate greater progress at KS2, it does not sufficiently solve the need to have an accountability measure in place for infant schools. The consultation raises the notion that infant, middle and junior schools should be judged on a different basis from all-through primary schools and instead be judged against each other using a common measure.

For KS2, and bearing in mind the DfE’s wish to reduce teacher workload, the most likely scenario is an end to teacher assessment for reading and maths. Consultation will be focused on introducing greater flexibility to the assessment of writing, perhaps from 2017/18. There appear to be no plans to change the GPS test, or to reintroduce science testing, other than the biennial sample (next in 2018). One of the reasons for this may be the rise in England’s position in international science tables. In the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results for 2015, out of 40 nations England is 15th in science, and in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS 2015) it is 15th in primary science and 8th in secondary science.

While the DfE has agreed not to reintroduce Year 7 catch-up tests, it has not stopped on the introduction of a KS2 tables check, which many thought was a bad idea. Consultation is not around whether it should be introduced, but when. There is a consultation option for Year 4, which is attractive in that it does not add a further burden to Year 6 and provides a similar maths check to that in reading by the Year 1 phonics check. The other options are Years 5 or 6.

The parallel review, on assessing pupils working below National Curriculum expectations, marks the long-expected end of P scales. They will be replaced with seven aspects of cognition and learning, with the consultation around the clarity and effectiveness of a new system. The consultation does not propose any changes to the pre-KS1 and pre-KS2 standards for reading, writing and mathematics, which were introduced as interim measures in 2016 and have been retained for 2017. Until the outcome of the consultation is known, schools are expected to continue with these statements and with P scales. For pupils currently on P scales, the intention is that their statutory reporting will end and that, instead, the DfE will collect only the pre-key stage standards pupils are at, not specific data for those who are not yet at those standards.

For pupils in Years 4, 5 and 6, there will be no material changes to the way progress is measured – being from KS1 reported levels to KS2 scaled scores. The progress of pupils currently in Years 2 and 3 will be measured from their KS1 teacher assessments, while that of children currently aged from 3 to 6 will be based on whatever are the revised arrangements for KS1 assessment. It will not be until children currently aged 2 reach Year 6, in 2026, that their progress will be judged against the new Reception baseline.

The planning sheet that accompanies this article is intended to focus leaders on what needs to be done. It could usefully form part of a school’s ongoing self-evaluation.

Further information


Use the following item in the Toolkit to help put the ideas in the article into practice:

About the author

John Viner has taught in both primary and secondary schools, with a long history of successful primary school leadership. He is now a full-time writer, inspector and adviser.

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