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Not doomed to succeed this time

Every so often, a project comes along which seems - in the words of the cynical comment on pilot initiatives - "doomed to succeed". The one we report on formative assessment (page 3) should be among them. But this is not necessarily because resources have been poured in only to be withdrawn later: this project is grounded in classroom realities, and the latest findings from the Musselburgh schools point to "outstanding results".

It is certainly remarkable that formative assessment can help boys raise their game, even outperforming girls, and particularly so where a third of the pupils in a class are on free meals. The potential for closing the gap between high and low achievers is therefore evident. But the real attraction of formative assessment is that it allows teachers to teach, as well as to improve their teaching, by making relatively small changes - giving children more time to answer questions, for example.

Here is now a challenge for the Executive: if Ministers are serious in their fresh determination to be guided by results, not "inappropriate target-setting," as the Executive's Philip Rycroft has indicated, giving teachers their head to show what they can do with learning-driven assessment is a test of that resolve.

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