So how are we going to assess it?

Published 5th March 2014

Written by: Andy Mitchell

Andy Mitchell highlights the concern being expressed by schools regarding assessment following the removal of levels.

However you look at them, solar panels retro fitted to house pitched roofs don’t look good do they?  Along with television aerials and satellite dishes, they do nothing to enhance the lines and contours decided upon by the building’s original architect and very often they detract significantly from its appearance.  I’m guessing that those who inhabit listed buildings are prevented from installing them along with plastic double glazing but for anyone else, restrictions don’t seem to apply. Just stick up there as many as you can and forget what your neighbours think.  You see a lot from trains.  As I write, watching the view change from rural to urban then back to urban again I’m amazed by just how many roofs have been changed.  Fundamentally of course they are a good thing and I approve whole heartedly of their existence and would not begin to argue with those who have installed them.  But I do wonder if this sticking plaster approach is being applied in as considered a fashion as might be possible. Clear evidence of insufficient attention to design I would suggest.

I think there is a lesson for us here when considering teaching, learning and in particular, assessment. As part of the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove’s recent education reforms we have seen the systematic destruction of  established systems and processes and in part, the introduction of replacements - many of which, those of us who are far more experienced in the world of education than Mr Gove, completely abhor.   Having said that, I do agree with the line DfE has taken under his leadership with respect to assessment. It says on their website:

‘As part of our reforms to the national curriculum, the current system of ‘levels’ and level descriptions used to report children’s attainment and progress will be removed.  It will not be replaced. Schools will be able to introduce their own approaches to formative assessment, to support pupil attainment and progression.’

Therefore schools will be able to focus their teacher assessment and reporting, not on a set of opaque level descriptions but on the essential knowledge that all pupils should learn. It means that teachers have the freedom to develop a curriculum with challenging and relevant content, against which it is not possible to impose a centrally prescribed assessment system. That’s good news. How schools teach their curriculum which is relevant to their pupils and how they track the progress they make against it, is for them to decide.

The problem is though, in the void that has opened up, many schools simply don’t know what to do with respect to assessment.

What other comments or advice can we glean from DfE’s pages:

  • Teachers need to consider more broadly what the pupil can actually do rather than focus on a pupil’s current level. The new PoS set out what pupils should be taught by the end of each key stage
  • The assessment framework should be built into the school curriculum, so that schools can check what pupils have learned and whether they are on track to meet expectations at the end of the key stage
  • Ofsted will expect to see evidence of pupils’ progress, with inspections informed by the school’s chosen pupil tracking data
  • Groups of schools may choose to use a common approach for example across a local area, academy chain or federation
  • Schools are expected to meet a set of core principles.  Assessment should:
    • set out steps so that pupils reach or exceed the end of key stage expectations in the new national curriculum;
    • enable teachers to measure whether pupils are on track to meet end of key stage expectations;
    • enable teachers to pinpoint the aspects of the curriculum in which pupils are falling behind, and recognise exceptional performance;
    • support teacher’s planning for all pupils; and
    • enable them to report regularly to parents and, where pupils move to other schools, providing clear information about each pupils strengths, weaknesses and progress towards the end of key stage expectations.

All worthy stuff but the above advice is not proving enough and we know that probably the single biggest concern being expressed by schools to DfE regarding the new curriculum is: ‘yes, but how do we assess it?’  It is not clear yet, but it is likely that following on from the NAHT Commission’s recent publication ‘Assessment without levels’  and allocations being awarded from the DfE’s Assessment Innovation Fund, there will be more help forthcoming in time.

The trouble is, what is happening is the retro fitting of a system. It’s like the solar panel scenario.  For all their failings, previous national curriculums considered how the content was to be assessed concurrently with content.  Subsequently, national programmes such as Assessment for Learning were developed to support this. All this has been cast away but there is no indication at all that DfE will be implementing any replacement. What needed to happen was the earlier consideration of assessment rather than it being presented as an after thought.

So where does this leave us. Well in some cases, schools will undoubtedly develop their own assessment models which are well considered, well applied and fit for purpose.  They will look and feel right and importantly work.  We know that this is happening in some schools.  Others will wait in the hope that something will be provided centrally for them to use. Others still will go to commercial organisations that are already advertising themselves as a one stop shop providing an expensive all singing all dancing curriculum model, including assessment tools and offer to solve their problems.  To an extent it will. But their investment very likely won’t be worth it.  It won’t look right and probably won’t work well.   At least with solar panels they contribute to the National Grid -  and they tell me you get your money back over about 10 years.

Rather than make a proposal, it would be good to hear other’s views on how we should address the issue of assessment of the new curriculum. What is your school doing?

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