A culture change is needed in the way that children and young people are assessed in schools, General Secretary Brian Lightman says in an essay published as part of AQA’s Future of Assessment: Expand
A culture change is needed in the way that children and young people are assessed in schools, General Secretary Brian Lightman says in an essay published as part of AQA’s Future of Assessment: 2025 and Beyond Report (see http://tinyurl.com/pzbqmwb).
Brian says that the “highstakes” attached to school performance data has led to an intense and narrow focus on ensuring that students achieve specific grades in exams.
He says that an over-reliance on external testing “drives the curriculum into the stultifying straitjacket of what can be assessed in a written test”. Instead, there should be a new approach to developing a curriculum that is more creative, dynamic and relevant.
In addition, he says that teachers should use testing more as part of the learning process, to help children make progress during their studies, rather than being exclusively driven by externally set exams.
Writing about performance tables, Brian said, “Many of the indicators used brought with them perverse incentives and unintended consequences. Rather than being the servants of the curriculum, assessments in too many cases became the master.
“The stakes attached to examination results and the coveted C grade were simply too high for schools to ignore them leading to the destructive discourse of ‘gaming’ which blamed the teaching profession for responding to the incentives imposed by successive governments.”
Recently, he says, there has been a greater recognition of this problem with moves towards a new way of judging schools’ performance based on the progress that students make rather than just on exam grades.
“But the new secondary national curriculum is still dominated by the content of external examinations with real risks that it will remain impoverished by an unhealthy emphasis on the test,” he writes.
Brian’s essay, ‘Assessment in a Self-improving System’, is among a series of essays by a panel of senior education experts in a book published by education charity AQA. The book includes a blueprint for the future of assessment.
Brian said, “For too long the way children are assessed has been dominated by the demands placed on schools by performance tables and a culture of high-stakes accountability. This has been at the expense of the important role assessment and feedback should play as part of the learning process, rather than just being a set of external exams at the end of a course.
“We need a culture change in our approach to assessment as part of our drive to create a world-class education system.” ASCL proposes that a new core curriculum should be developed by an independent commission, consisting of school leaders, teachers, governors, parents, employers and politicians, and reviewed once, and only once, every five years. Beyond that, schools would build their own curriculum bringing creativity, dynamism and relevance into curriculum development.
In addition, see the ASCL policy paper on curriculum and assessment online at www.ascl.org.uk/policyCandA