Why the Assessment Commission needs a teacher

I didn’t realise that this was going to be contentious.

I have stated already that I think that the new Assessment Commission is a good commission and I think the representatives included are good choices, but that it lacks the important input of a classroom teacher.

It seems that the reason for this isn’t always obvious to everyone, so let me set out my views clearly.

I have a lot of time for headteachers. I recognise that many of them have been excellent classroom teachers and that running a school well needs experience of a whole host of skills including good teaching and assessment. I recognise that the headteachers chosen for the panel have excellent records and doubtless are well thought-of by their teachers. I recognise that they will know well the challenges of classroom teaching from their own point of view and will be aware of much of what their own classroom teachers experience.

However, every headteacher I have ever worked for has also recognised that the roles are different. Indeed, more than one has stated that they no longer feel that they would be up to the job of a full-time classteacher. Of course, they’re probably wrong, but they recognise that their lack of recent experience of those demands of the role affect the matter. That’s not to say that they’ve become less skilled; it simply recognises that the demands on a headteacher’s time and skill are very different.

There are parallels to be drawn. I consider myself to be an excellent classroom teacher, but I recognise that a KS1 or Early Years specialist would bring very different knowledge and understanding about teaching & learning to a discussion than I would. Different people have different strengths, but also different viewpoints and experiences which are valuable.

Let me stress again, I have no complaint about the inclusion of any person so far on the commission panel. What I am concerned about is the lack of an actual classroom practitioner.

It’s worth noting that the other big focus of the department these past few months has been on workload. Assessment was identified as a significant factor in classroom teachers’ workload, and one of the conclusions of the DfE’s analysis was that in some cases decisions made by school leaders were causes of additional workload.

Again, I’m not suggesting that these particular headteachers are so out of touch as to have nothing to offer; merely I recognise – as, it seems, does the DfE – that the viewpoint of headteachers is sometimes different from that of classroom teachers. And I’d further argue, therefore, that the inclusion of at least one classroom practitioner would have been a valuable addition to the commission.

That isn’t intended to detract from the good work that the current members have done in the past, or to imply that they are incapable of empathising with and representing the views of teachers well. But the reality is that few of the members of the commission – if any – have recent experience of the actual tasks being discussed. Yes, they look at tracking data, and support teachers, but they aren’t responsible for the regular acting of setting tasks, marking work, making assessments, identifying next steps and targeting interventions. Those are the bread-and-butter of good assessment.

By failing to recognise the importance of the classroom teacher in the most important aspects of assessment, we undermine the most important message of this whole process: that assessment should be about what children can and can’t do, and not driven by the demands of data and tracking.

The inclusion of a practising classroom teacher would not just be a symbolic message (just as the non-inclusion shouldn’t be taken as one). It would be recognition that the work of a classroom teacher in making assessments of children should be at the very core of our aims in everything we do related to assessment.

There is no criticism from me about the people who are on the commission. I think they are good and will do a good job. But I think their work would be supported and strengthened by a practising teacher in their midst. After all, we were promised a teacher-led commission. Surely including a practising teacher isn’t too much to ask?

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