My head is full. After weeks (if not months and years) of chasing the department, they’ve decided to release everything at once, just to flummox me. Determined not to be beaten, I shall return to blog on the new interim (and don’t get me started on that right now) assessment frameworks for KS1 and KS2, and doubtless at some point to further berate the department for further delays, but for how I have just picked out one or two highlights from the Assessment Commission report as I see it.
Firstly, let me say again that I have a good deal of time for the members of the commission. They also had a tough role in a limited time, and were hampered by the DfE’s decision to delay publication. However, I have to confess that overall I am slightly disappointed. Had this report been around two years ago, asking the important questions that it does, then it would have been really useful. But we’re a long way down this road now. Schools who waited and waited for guidance have been forced into making decisions about approaches and software, that are not easily abandoned to heed this new advice.
Unfortunately, at this stage, pretty much the last thing schools needed was more questions. And while the questions raised are of vey high quality, they don’t fill the gaping void left by the lack of previous guidance.
Nevertheless, there are some useful gems in here that ought to be spread far and wide, and as quickly as possible, including some of the following:
There is no intrinsic value in recording formative assessment; what matters is that it is acted on (p6)
Couldn’t agree more on that.
Schools should develop their approach to assessment before considering external assessment systems in order that products can be evaluated according to how they fit with the school’s aims, assessment policy and curriculum. (p7)
An argument I’ve long made, but which for many schools has simply not been possible. There is not so much spare capacity in our schools that lots of people have got spare time to be developing new approaches to assessment. And providers have been happy to plug that gap. I’ve spent hours working on assessment, it’s still not a finished system, and barely a single percent of that time, I would suspect, has taken place in school time. Not every school has an education geek with an understanding spouse!
There is some equally important advice for producers of the products that have filled that void:
Sometimes progress is simply about consolidation (p12)
Similarly, providers of external systems should take note of the following advice, which seems to reflect the significant issue with many systems (I’m looking at you, STAT Sheffield!):
It is very important that these systems do not reinvent levels, or inappropriately jump to summary descriptions of pupils’ attainments. Nor should they overburden teachers with recording duties or data management. (p32)
I only wish the report had been clearer in explaining that points of progress are a surefire way back to the march through levels.
Next, on tracking, the key role of school leaders in managing teachers’ workload is made plain:
The Commission hopes that teachers will [assess], without the burden of unnecessary recording and tracking. For this approach to be adopted effectively, it is essential that it is supported by school leaders (p14)
Leaders also need to take note of further advice on the use of assessment:
School leaders should be careful to ensure that the primary purpose of assessment is not distorted by using it for multiple purposes (such as where an assessment is used to monitor pupil performance, but is also used as evidence for staff performance management) (p24)
The report also makes some statements and claims that surprised me somewhat. The claim that schools should avoid using NC-style tests struck me as rather naïve:
For this reason, the Commission urges schools to guard against designing or purchasing assessment systems modelled on statutory arrangements for teacher assessment, regardless of how these may change over time. (p15)
Given the pressure schools are under to track pupils’ progress towards end-of-key-stage targets, it seems almost inevitable to me that schools will want some form of representative assessment that follows the national style to support these judgements. I fully support the notion that these should not be the mainstay of assessment procedures, but it strikes me that to try to avoid them altogether would actually be foolish.
As an aside, I also take issue with the following statement:
Many schools seem to have adopted the word ‘mastery’ to denote a high level of performance against curriculum expectations (p17)
The fault here lay squarely with the DfE and STA who produced draft performance descriptors that used the word mastery in exactly this way. It was inevitable that schools would follow suit. But let’s not get started on the performance descriptors… that’s for another post!
Just one last thing to mention: the government’s response to the 6 recommendations made in the report?
- On setting up an assessment standing committee: they’re considering something (but no sign of committing to that).
- On training one members of every Teaching School Alliance: they’re considering something (but no sign of committing to that)
- On a national test bank: they’re exploring it (which sounds slightly more likely to happen than the first two)
- On training leaders and inspectors: they’re considering it.
- On a data review group: they’re supporting it (but still no obvious sign of it actually appearing)
- On assessment for SEN: they’ve actually set up an expert group here. So 1/6 ain’t bad.
Quite why it took the whole summer to make decisions that consist largely of deciding to consider things, I have no idea!