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KS1 maths – What next for assessment?

In place of the recently removed KS1 maths assessments, the most sensible thing seems to be to do, well… nothing

Kieran Mackle
by Kieran Mackle
DOWNLOAD A FREE RESOURCE! Dominoes – Multiplication Game Resource For KS1 Maths

Teachers in England are standing at the precipice of one of the most significant changes to their working practices in a decade. Including in KS1 maths.

Not since the removal of national curriculum levels has the profession faced such a momentous shift in thinking.

After multiple delays, the end of the 2022/23 academic year marks the end of statutory assessments in KS1.

This is a chance for schools to make improvements that could have far-reaching ramifications for their teachers and pupils alike. 

KS1 assessment

Since 1991, schools have been required to report the attainment of pupils at the end of KS1. Purportedly, via the professional judgement of classroom teachers but supported by an external moderation process and a suite of standardised tests.

I’m sure at some point in time this involved discussions of a professional nature. But it has been all too common for schools to reduce pupil assessment to performance against a checklist for presentation at moderation; also for the structuring of curriculums to conform to arbitrary, sometimes shifting, expectations.  

The removal of these standardised assessments presents us with a chance to do the right thing. We can put pupils at the heart of our decision making.

A combination of ideology and how schools view the purpose of assessment will determine how they will act.

The misuse of assessment data is another article entirely. But suffice it to say that some of the most heinous crimes against statistics have been carried out on the data generated by six-year-olds.  

You can prove anything with statistics. But what matters is knowing what your pupils know and what they don’t, and then deciding what do about it. When thinking about how your school might replace the departing KS1 maths assessments, consider the possibility that it might be best to just… do nothing. 

Now imagine you did just that. Nothing. You collected no summative data and just focused on teaching pupils the right content. What would happen? In some respects, not a lot. In others, a golden age might beckon.  

KS1 maths curriculum

By putting old habits aside, we would, in effect, give ourselves seven years to focus on providing pupils with a rich and meaningful mathematical diet, consisting of the right content at the right time.

We have known for a long time that learners master maths through the creation of robust connections, meaningful interaction with concepts on the verge of their understanding, and the provision of sufficient time to reach the point where they can think mathematically with those same concepts.  

Yet, how often have we had to shoehorn fractions, time and multiplication tables (to name just a few) into our teaching sequences in the name of generating sufficient evidence for KS1 moderation?

With the freedom to be responsive to our pupils, we can restructure our curriculums in such a way that capricious endpoints no longer hold sway.

Of course, in many instances, we are still bound by the national curriculum. And it would be reckless to suggest we cut these concepts altogether (though I wouldn’t blame you if you did). But we can still prioritise that which we deem most important to our pupils’ success in maths over the longer-term. If that means pushing some content into the summer term, then so be it.  

Next steps

In many instances we will act at the behest of our leaders. Not all of them will be comfortable with doing nothing. In such instances we need open, honest conversations about the purpose of assessment. And they should be informed by the thoughts of great minds such as Daisy Christodoulou and Dylan Wiliam. This might lead us to solutions that prevent us from repeating the mistakes of yesteryear.

We have the chance to start afresh and place our pupils’ mathematical journey at the heart of everything we do.

W shouldn’t rush to find replacement sub-standardised assessments. If we do, I fear we’ll find ourselves in the same place we did in 2014; surrounded by a thousand different versions of the old model, but without any semblance of validity or reliability.  

Now is the time to ask yourself, ‘What will I do? Why will I do it? How can I remove the burden on teachers and pupils?’ If we think before we act, I trust we’ll be in a better place.  

Kieran Mackle is a primary teacher, author, maths specialist, and host of the Thinking Deeply About Primary Education podcast. Follow Kieran on Twitter @Kieran_M_Ed

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