Assessment advice watered down

Diane Hofkins

New advice from Government advisers on teacher assessment has been watered down under pressure from the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, which was concerned about increased workload.

The document, arriving in schools this week, suggests ways for schools to ensure that their judgments about children's attainment in English, maths and science in primary and lower secondary schools are consistent. It is accompanied by examples of children's work from all three key stages to show what sort of standards are intended by each of the national curriculum levels. (Schools must assess children against national curriculum levels in the three core subjects.) However, concerns remain among heads, advisers and some teachers that not enough is being done to ensure consistency across the country, and that the status of teacher assessment, as opposed to paper-and-pencil tests, will be undermined.

After consultation with the unions, the guidance was slimmed down, although it is understood the NASUWT, which opposes teacher assessment requirements, did not want it published at all. Their anxieties in particular meant that concrete examples of what could be in a school assessment policy, how to set up school portfolios of children's work at different levels, and methods for working with other schools to ensure consistency in a geographical area, have been moved into appendices at the end.

They were joined by the National Union of Teachers and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers in pressing for assurances that the advice would be strictly voluntary, a point which is now heavily emphasised in the document.

"We must emphasise that this document is intended to provide a basis for discussion," says an introductory letter from Sir Ron Dearing, chairman of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, and Chief Inspector Chris Woodhead. "Schools are not required to adopt any of the procedures in this document, nor will it be used by OFSTED as part of the criteria for inspection." Union pressure also led to the removal of OFSTED's logo from the cover.

NASUWT general secretary Nigel de Gruchy welcomed the slimmer document, but was still worried about the workload implications. The union will ballot on local action if teachers refused to carry out excessive assessment. While other unions called for funds to be spent on properly moderated teacher assessment, rather than on external marking of tests which have led to dubious results, Mr de Gruchy argued that teacher assessment could not achieve objectivity.

The SCAA document reiterates that teacher assessment will have equal status with the tests. However, unions are growing sceptical. "It is chanted like a mantra, but where is the substance?" asks Sheila Dainton of the ATL.

Arthur de Caux of the National Association of Head Teachers says: "If the teacher assessment is not going to be clearly and obviously accorded equality of status in practice then teachers very rightly will feel all the work they're doing towards it is not being given due credit and they will resent it. "

The Association of Assessment Inspectors and Advisers supported the document, which was based on good practice, while regretting that detail had been removed.

However, its past president, David Hanson, an assessment consultant in Wiltshire, said the real case for consistency in teacher assessment had to do with professional integrity, and teachers' desire for ensuring standards, rather than for external accountability.

Ian Colwill, lead officer for key stage 3 at SCAA, said 95 per cent of schools had asked for the guidance. He said that during the Dearing Review, schools had said they wanted assessment which was simple and not bureaucratic, and there was resistance to external moderators. While "agreement trialling" with other schools is shown as one way forward in the document, it could be very time-consuming. The exemplification documents for the three core subjects offered an external idea of standards.

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