Did Nick Gibb tell teachers to teach to the test?

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13 April 2016 by Anne Heavey
Last Monday ATL welcomed School’s Minister Nick Gibb to our annual conference. He agreed to take part in a question and answer session with Gerard Kelly.

This was a very interesting and enjoyable session, and Nick Gibb should be commended for being a good sport. I fully recommend watching the entire interview if you have time.

One of the answers that Nick Gibb gave has been playing on my mind since, I’ve transcribed it below, I think he is telling teachers to teach to the test.

Here's what Gerard Kelly said to Nick Gibb (36 minutes 00 seconds):

"I understand why the Government is so keen on curriculum and assessment reform. I’m worried, and I’m sure people in the room are worried, that actually you might be in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Let me just read something that I saw in the TES last week from a teacher, a year 6 teacher:

A child in our school who achieved a level 6 in Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling last year, virtually full marks, sat the sample test and only achieved 22/50, which would indicate that she’ll probably not currently meet “Expected Standards”.

Tests that reduce an able pupil to a failure. We’ve got a real problem. It’s not only wrong, it seems daft and vindictive."

And here is Nick Gibb's reply  (36 minutes 44 seconds):

"Well you don’t know, Gerard, where the line will be drawn for “Expected Standard”. This is a mathematical issue and its delivered, you look at the results as a whole when they come in and, so you look at that, and you combine that with the Teachers’ Panel to determine where the cut off comes.

So, and, the other thing to bear in mind about these tests this year is that they have to incorporate the whole ability range so what were level 6 tests are now have to be incorporated in these tests. So there will be questions at the top end of all these assessments that are challenging and are beyond the ability of most children, because they are designed to be able to measure progress and we’ve been determined to make the accountability regime for schools much fairer.

So rather than looking at simple attainment we are now measuring progress. And if you want to measure progress fairly you have to, there has to be scope for the most able children to get those extra top marks.  Otherwise is you’ve got children coming in who are very able and perform highly on those baseline assessments the school won’t benefit if they can’t demonstrate progress for that child. So that’s why those tests have some hard questions that really are extremely challenging.

Now I’ve been worried about the challenge, and I push back and I ask experts and I ask advisors “are these questions too challenging?” And the answer I get is that if they are taught they will, they are not challenging for children. That’s what I’m told. And when you think about the challenges that schools are facing, the primary schools, the prize is phenomenal. We could have a system in a few years’ time where every child leaves primary school fluent in reading, where every child leaves primary school fluent in arithmetic and knowing their tables, and, for the first time in many generations, you’ll have children who are knowledgeable about the structure of language and grammar and punctuation.

Now that is a wonderful achievement, that our school system will be delivering in the next few years. It means that they’ll find foreign language teaching and learning easier at secondary school and at primary school. It means that they will start the secondary maths curriculum better prepared than ever before.

I’ll give you one example of what has been achieved over the last five years, and that’s with reading. I know Mary’s going to roll her eyes ‘cos I’m going to say the 'p' word. And, but, as a consequence of the phonic changes, you know, when we brought the Phonics Check in 2012, 58% passed that check. Last year 77% passed it.

Now that’s equal to 120 thousand 6 year olds this year reading more effectively than if we hadn’t introduced these reforms. 120 thousand children out of 600 thousand, that is a wonderful achievement that I didn’t deliver, the school system delivered it.

Teachers in those primary schools delivered that. And I think it’s a wonderful achievement. And it will absolutely transform the lives of those 120 thousand children."

What do you think? Was he telling teachers to teach to the test? Tweet us your thoughts @ATLUnion or leave a comment below. 

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