In the closing hours of the AAIA conference this year, as we set about trying to formulate a response to the Commons Select Committee inquiry into primary assessment, we heard a wide range of views about primary assessment; or rather, a wide range of views on the purpose, form and function of statutory assessment processes.
At first glance, it might seem that the lack of a common thread – a clear common cause – is problematic. But rather, I have suspected over the course of a lengthy drive home) that there is much we have in common. It’s just that this review isn’t asking those questions.
I suspect that the majority of AAIA members would agree that there is a huge amount more to assessment than the statutory processes.
I suspect that the majority of us agree that the statutory processes have an undue influence on the wider use of high quality assessment practice.
I suspect that the majority of us agree that – whatever we might think of them – the statutory arrangements are not likely to go away completely any time soon.
Perhaps most importantly, I suspect that a majority of us would agree that our aim should be to find ways to reduce the negative and pernicious effects statutory assessment can have on the broader work of schools and teachers.
There are probably few among us who would label tests as inherently bad. There are probably very few who would think that teachers shouldn’t be assessing at all.
The challenge is for us to find a way of supporting government to find ways of effectively collecting data that will allow them to carry out their work, in the least invasive and most constructive way possible.
Unfortunately, as the DfE itself must well recognise, there’s no easy solution here.
My personal preference is to remove teacher assessment from the statutory processes entirely. Not because I don’t trust teachers (although the evidence is clear that it can be very unreliable), but because I don’t want to be burdened with it as a classroom teacher myself. There is much already to be done in assessing children, and using that to inform teaching; any statutory process is always going to be an additional task, for very limited return for pupils. And worse, one that is likely to be corrupted by the high stakes nature of the use of the outcomes.
Perhaps the question we most need to address is how we can temper the problems caused by the high stakes nature of the system as it stands. That might not directly be about assessment practice, but if we get it right it could free up some real space for real achievement and improvement through assessment.