Some sensible ideas about assessment.

The NAHT have published a report about what should be done now about assessment which is eminently sensible. This NAHT Assessment Report is worth reading as it contains balanced advice based upon well grounded principles. There is also a helpful summary of the recent history of assessment and a brief review of what is happening in other countries.  There is also a press release and a review by Warwick Mansell which presents a helpful commentary on the report NAHT assessment press release .

It is good, and refreshing,  to see something sensible about assessment coming from headteachers after a decade of increasingly strident demands for, mostly meaningless, assessment data, to populate tracking spreadsheets, to prove how challenging they are.

However, despite the clear, informed, professionalism, there are some issues in the report that are of concern. For instance, the report does not make a distinction between assessment in core subjects (essentially En and Ma) and assessment in foundation subjects. Of course, the broad principles are no less significant and relevant, but it is strategically and politically naive not to recognise the difference.

The constant, high-stakes, demand for accountability in En and Ma, together with the far more detailed nationally defined curriculum will inevitably shape assessment practices. It is naive and intellectually lazy to simply assume that other subjects should all follow the same pattern. We know this is a problem from recent history and the weaknesses of ‘levelling’ where all subjects had to follow the pattern of the core subjects, but without their infrastructure of detailed assessment criteria, time and moderation. The danger of failing to acknowledge the difference between core and foundation subjects could lead to an assessment system in foundation subjects which is simply not fit for purpose. An empty, bolt-on, system of assessment and reporting will harm teaching and learning and undermine standards.

This is not to argue for less assessment in art, or that assessment is less important, but that assessment should be matched to the needs of teaching and learning in the subject, and this includes a realistic recognition of the strategic differences between subjects. If it is appropriate in English, it is not necessarily appropriate in art.

A second worrying feature of the report is the proposal that the NAHT should create a national assessment matrix. I fear that the recreation of national standards (levels), by whatever name, and by whatever body, will simply replicate the weaknesses of the previous system: relegating assessment to an exercise in labeling children with meaningless codes. The NAHT rightly acknowledges the problem, but then proposes to repeat the mistake.

I think that there is a case, especially for foundation subjects, to refocus assessment on progress towards, and achievement of, specific objectives defined by the school and related explicitly to the curriculum content they teach. I am unconvinced that another generic, vague, well meaning, grid will achieve anything, other than releaving teachers of the need to define their own learning objectives. for their own pupils. I fear that one unintended consequence of filling the vacuum, and recreating standards grids, is that we will loose an important opportunity to require teachers to define, for themselves, what their children should learn, and what their expectations should be. PS. supplementary papers about the issue are NFER Paper Assessment Without LevelsPrimary assessment and accountability under the new curriculum, consultation.

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About Dan

Senior Advisor, Art Inspector, Member of the Expert Advisory Group for Art, Consultant working with NSEAD, IOE, QCA, UCE, UOG. Currently lecturer at UCL working on a project in Kazakhstan to develop text books for a new art curriculum.
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