The number of compulsory assessment hoops that have to be jumped to convince parents and politicians that the basics are being taught effectively would discourage most schools from finding new ways and new subjects to formally assess. Not so at Brentside Primary School in Ealing, west London. Last term, the staff there introduced a new system that allows them to monitor the progress of every pupil in every aspect of school life - not just in academic subjects, but also more pastoral concerns.
The school calls it WEBA (work, effort, behaviour and attendance). "This is about the development of the whole child," says Melody Moran, headteacher of Brentside, where more than a third of pupils speak English as an additional language and around half qualify for free school meals.
"If we are assessing how the child is progressing in every subject that we teach, we can see both special abilities and special educational needs. We can then help them progress through lesson differentiation, or by guiding pupils towards after-hour activities."
The school decided to expand its assessment programme following an inspection in November 2002 during Melody's first term as head, which suggested attainment across the school was patchy. The whole staff were set the task of thinking why this should be so and how to rectify it. The outcome was the decision to apply the format used by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in core subject tests in Years 2, 4 and 6, across the whole school, in all subjects. This gives each child a WEBA level of achievement, with one being excellent and four showing a need for concern.
"We could not use the national curriculum levels, because they are not sophisticated enough, as they cover broad sweep outcomes," says Melody.
"We give an overall grade on each term's topics, the teachers hand these over to an administrative assistant who inputs all the data on to Assessment Manager, which then generates a report for each child."
The numerical values make it simpler to assess and report back to parents as to where a child may need help. "Children have an innate intelligence and interest in the world, so we expect to see consistent grades. If there is a dip in one subject, we can look at the issues that might be hard to spot otherwise. Why are they not motivated, is it the teaching, or something else? It is quite a powerful tool," she says.
"It also fits in well with the Excellence and Enjoyment agenda. Learning should be fun and if we can recognise and report on the effort and talent seen in a school performance it can boost a child's confidence across the board."