ON THE LEVEL # 3 – Those who cannot assess, cannot teach!

When the government announced that that National Curriculum levels would cease to be used in school assessments, the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) set up a commission to establish some new national principles for assessment.  It has just published its conclusions, opening with the remark in the title of this post!


The full report can be found here.  It offers a reminder that assessment is constantly used by every good teacher to evaluate the progress of pupils, and that the feedback from these assessments enables not only teachers but also pupils, parents and school leaders to plan future learning.  The report also points out that in modern education, assessment is inextricably linked with accountability: feedback from assessments should enable parents, governors, local authorities and government to check that schools are delivering a high standard of education.

In this and the following ON THE LEVEL articles, we will provide some simple summaries of the report.  We start with its main recommendations …

Schools cannot simply carry on using the old National Curriculum levels for assessment purposes, because the new National Curriculum is not in alignment with them.  Instead they must develop, implement and embed a robust new framework for assessment.   However, schools should be allowed to use suitably modified National Curriculum levels as an interim measure whilst this new framework is being developed.

Any new system of assessment should be based on a clear set of principles.  These principles should have been agreed upon by all staff no later than September 2014.  They should be supported by school governors, and should make sense to parents, other stakeholders and the wider school community.  A detailed assessment framework should be in place by 2016, and the timescale for developing this should be outlined in the school development plan.

It is essential that pupils are assessed against objective criteria rather than ranked against each other.  Therefore the NAHT should develop and promote a set of model assessment criteria based on the new National Curriculum.  This will also enable pupil progress to be communicated effectively in terms of descriptive profiles rather than being reduced to numerical summaries (although schools may wish to use numerical data for internal purposes).

Schools should work together to ensure a broadly consistent approach to assessment, and should be prepared to submit their assessments to external moderators with no vested interest in the outcome.  This will help to ensure objectivity and to deliver consistency across schools.  To support this, schools should identify and train a member of staff to lead on assessment and to work on moderation activities with other local schools and nationally accredited experts.

All those responsible for children’s learning should regularly undertake rigorous training in formative, diagnostic and summative assessment in order to reinforce their understanding of how assessment supports teaching and learning for all pupils, including those with special educational needs.

Ofsted should check that schools put into place rigorous assessment systems, and should examine how effectively schools are using pupil assessment information and data to improve learning.

In the next ON THE LEVEL article, we will look at the NAHT’s proposed principles for assessment.


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