This week has ensured that assessment has come back onto the agenda; the early part with colleagues complaining at the delay to the Assessment Commission report, the latter part in disbelief at the limited outcomes from this first expert group. In many ways this is very well summarised by Michael Tidd, who is a self-confessed assessment geek, so I don’t need to repeat all that he has said, as I agree with his analysis and commentary.
As someone who plays a role in ITE, through both a university and School Direct routes, part of my role is to support student teachers in their understanding of assessment. So I take, as my start point, a group of people whose knowledge across a range of domains is possibly limited and insecure. Some parts of this also apply to teachers who move schools, or who are still early career.
There are statements within the commission document that suggest that children should be experiencing a broad and interesting curriculum, and as Dame Alison Peacock was a part of the commission, this is the philosophy of her Wroxham School. Having visited, I was very comfortable with the approach, especially/probably because it accorded with the way my own school operated between 1990 and 2006. Children were set challenges at different grades of difficulty, which they were able to self-select, with dialogue to fine tune to need. While I would acknowledge that in my school the challenge was in line with levelness criteria, in some ways, it was not entirely clear against what criteria the Wroxham children were challenged, although one teacher did allude to levels at one point. However, it doesn’t detract from the fact that a broad, balanced relevant curriculum was on offer, with collaboration, peer support and challenge, quality dialogue throughout the learning process, so that the teachers knew the children very closely; again something which I saw in my own school. This closeness does embed more subtle aspects of teaching and learning, where the relationships allow for in passing comments that carry meaning. Relationships are key.
There is a suggestion that questioning is the way forward. Having read elsewhere that this is the methodology favoured by Daisy Christodoulou, it is not surprising to see this highlighted. However, and it is a big however, in order to be able to ask appropriate questions, the teacher has to both know their subject well and also the audience of children in front of them, so that the questions can be asked in forms that enable the children to take part in the learning “dialogue”. The confidence of the teacher to extend the dialogue beyond the initial answer is often key to success, so that the ensuing discussions show the extent of the understanding, at least from those who participate.
There is a suggestion of a question bank for assessment. Ok, so this might be helpful, in some situations, but assessment is not just the tail end examination of residual understanding. It informs decisions at all stages, so has an impact on teacher initial thinking and preparation, before planning. It impacts on the teacher expectation, leading to their in-lesson reactions and judgements “I thought you could do this”, or “How did you do it so easily?” It then affects the commentary in marking. Teaching standards 6&5 can be read both as judgements and adaptations between lessons, but also within lesson decisions. It is far more complex than just tail-end questions.
There is an exhortation not to recreate “levels”, but, in reality, there is a need for each teacher and schools to be able to describe progress and children need to clearly understand their “next steps”. I have so say that this can feel like semantics. Secondaries are not using levels, but are acutely aware of GCSE “grades” and a number will have extrapolated from the grades through the five years to GCSE as their guide. In reality, in Primary, the whole grade descriptors gave a general view of development across the range of abilities. A level 5 child was demonstrably more proficient at Maths and English than a level 2 child. I can see absolutely the Secondary issue with levels, as all other subject aspirations were premised on the KS2 outcome in two subjects. There was also the issue of wording that became more nebulous with the higher grades (6+). The original TGAT report with the 1987 NC, suggested that at some future stage the grading systems for Primary and GCSE would merge. That did not happen, so transfer was fraught with disagreement over judgements.
What we are currently given, in Primary, is yearness statements, with outcome descriptors that are seen in annual reporting to parents, implying that a child is at, below or above the “expectation”. But now the term “Mastery” is frowned upon apparently, after being introduced into the vocabulary in earlier incarnations of advice. So we are then left with the equally frowned upon “can do” statements; a child can do the year programme or not.
Many Secondaries did not accept the data from Primary feeders, so retested and reassigned gradings within their own establishment. This still happens and I suggest will still do so, even with the new outcomes from testing at the end of the 15/16 academic year, as they are comfortable with their systems.
The outcome from the expert group, with the implication that much has been “passed upstairs” for further reflection and refinement, or the appointment of a further “expert group”, does nothing to support schools and busy classroom teachers, as they seek to satisfy the varied needs of the different audiences for the outcomes.
- For early career teachers, especially, the creation of a new national exemplar booklet, file, website, would assist in understanding the phases of development from the EYFS through the whole of their Primary education.
- A teacher needs to be able to articulate that “Y outcome” is better than “X outcome” because…, so that the next step for X is…, and the next step for Y is…
- This is the bread and butter of teacher thinking. I did caricature this in a recent blog; the 3G approach to assessment, get it, got it, good. Exemplars could be subject to discussion and moderation, with the process further enlightening the developing teacher.
- This is the basis of professional discussion and decision making, so should be a central part of practice. It can only work though, if there is a common language and vocabulary well understood by the participants.
PS From the reports on the Part Exchange/Policy Exchange group talk by ED Hirsch, it would appear that he favours a broad curriculum, as that contributes to a broad understanding, through extended vocabulary, supporting reading and writing. I am not sure that the politicians have accepted that analysis.