It’s not often I quote the words of education ministers with anything other than disdain, but just occasionally they talk sense. Back in April, Liz Truss explained the ‘freedoms’ being given to schools to lead on assessment between key stages, and commented on the previous system of APP. She described it as an “enormous, cumbersome process” that led to teachers working excessive hours; a system that was “almost beyond satire, […] requiring hours of literal box-ticking“.
Not everybody agreed with the scrapping of levels, but the recent massive response to the Workload Challenge has shown that if there is one thing that teachers are in agreement about, it is the excessive workload in the profession. Now at least we had a chance to get rid of one of those onerous demands on our time.
Just this evening I came across two tracking systems that have been produced by private companies and appear to mimic and recreate the administrative burden of APP. What’s more, they seem to have managed to take the previously complex system, and add further levels of detail. Of course, they attempt to argue that this will improve assessment, but our experience tells us that this is not the case.
As Dylan Wiliam quite rightly said in the first principle in his excellent article in Teach Primary magazine:
A school’s assessment system could assess everything students are learning, but then teachers would spend more time assessing than teaching. The important point here is that any assessment system needs to be selective about what gets assessed and what does not…
The problem with the new models which attempt to emulate APP is that they fail in this. They’re trying to add a measure to everything and so suggest that they are more detailed and more useful than ever before. But the reality is that this level of detail is unhelpful: the demands of time outweigh the benefits.
Once again, too many school leaders are confusing assessment with tracking. The idea that if we tick more boxes, then our conclusions will be more precise is foolish. If three sub-levels across a two-year cycle was nonsense, then 3 sub-levels every year can only be worse. Just because the old – now discredited – system allocated point scores each year, doesn’t mean that we should continue to do so.
Assessment is not a simple task. By increasing the volume of judgements required, we reduce teachers’ ability to do it well: we opt for quantity over quality. We end up with flow-charts of how to make judgements, rather than professional dialogue of how to assess learning. We end up with rules for the number of ticks required. As Wiliam also says:
Simplistic rules of thumb like requiring a child to demonstrate something three times to prove they have ‘got it’ are unlikely to be helpful. Here, there is no substitute for professional judgement – provided, of course, ‘professional’ means not just exercising one’s judgement, but also discussing one’s decisions with others
If you’re a headteacher who has brought in a system (or more likely, bought into a system) which implies that progress can be measured as a discrete level (or stage, or step) every term, that asks teachers to assess every single objective of the National Curriculum (or worse, tens of sub-objectives too!), or that prides itself on being akin to APP, then shame on you. There’s no excuse for taking an opportunity where the department itself points out that teachers are being expected to do an unreasonable amount of work, and replacing it with a larger load.
If you’re a teacher in a school that has adopted one of these awful systems, then I can only commiserate. Might I suggest that you print off a copy of this blog, and slide it under your headteacher’s one night. I’d also highly recommend adding Dylan Wiliam’s article to it.
We need our school leaders to lead – not just repeat the mistakes of the past.
Teach Primary magazine
It’s only right that I confess that I write an article for each issue of Teach Primary and so couldn’t fairly be said to be completely impartial. That said, I do think it’s well worth subscribing, if only for gems like Wiliam’s article and others that come up each issue, along with resources, ideas and wisdom from actual teachers and leaders. http://www.teachprimary.com/