Hundreds of teachers and school leaders arrived in Sheffield today to find out how to make assessment in our schools work for children and work for them. The conference was organised by Dame Alison Peacock, headteacher of the Wroxham School in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, and sponsored by the TES. Here are some of the things we learnt:
- Listen to children. This was a theme running through many speakers’ talks. The principle of starting assessment with the child was repeated to the extent that an alternative hashtag for the event could have been #ListeningFirst
- You have the power. Dame Alison Peacock repeated her plea for heads and teachers not to wait for politicians. “We can do much better for ourselves as a profession and much better for our children,” she said. “It is not about waiting for someone to give us permission.”
- But ask for help. Assessment is a technical area, it is something teachers may not feel confident about. That is one reason the #LearningFirst conference has attracted 500 teachers – all keen to find out how to do this and share their experiences.
- Don’t worry about Ofsted too much. There was a round of applause for Sean Harford, Ofsted's national educaton director, when he said he was at the conference “to listen”. He told teachers that assessment systems should start with their own priniciples – what do you need to know? If your principles are right, he said, then you should be all right.
- But schools still need to be held accountable. Summative assessment of children is necessary, teacher appraisal is necessary; speakers said. But they questioned whether half termly reports on pupils' test results would really help with either of those objectives?
- Levels may have gone, but the mindset they created still remains. Call them steps, points or even, as “dog levels” as one speaker had heard, labelling children as numbers or chihuahuas doesn’t change the fact it’s a label.
- And talking of mindset – growth mindset is not just for children – if teachers are going to get better at assessment, leaders need to create the space for teachers to feel that making mistakes is fine and an inevitable part of learning.
- But sparkly pens are just for children. Whatever colour you use for marking, it won't be as meaningful for children as taking the time to talk to them.