The insistence on formative assessment of pupils' attain-ment and learning in all subjects is one of the most demanding features of the national curriculum. Teachers have traditionally recognised it as an integral part of pupils' learning; they have never been required to carry it out so comprehensively and systematically, and in a way that will contribute significantly to the summative assessment of pupils' attainment.
One of the main challenges is to devise materials and activities that will ensure the required information is available accu-rately and economically. This largely depends on the teacher having a detailed curriculum for each subject; something the Orders do not provide. Conse-quently, teachers have to translate these broad guidelines into detailed relevant classroom activities that can be used for teaching and assessment purposes. This is particularly difficult to manage in the case of English with its massive range of reference.
The Scholastic Portfolio Literacy Assessment materials are therefore likely to be helpful. The two books, one for each of the first two key stages, and relating to the Scottish 5-14 English Guidelines and the Northern Ireland Curriculum for English, are valuable for a number of reasons.
They provide in detail for every element of the Order in Oracy, Reading and Writing and, while placing a large emphasis on the "celebratory" aspect of assessment, they are consistently strong on diagnosis and evaluation.
The activities are generally well thought out, inventive, practical and realistic in terms of teachers' needs and circum-stances. They are supported by authorita-tive and lucid teachers' notes, especially in the case of unfamiliar aspects of the English curriculum, such as developing children's under-standing of genre and form.
The material strikes a successful balance between the importance of "creative" approaches to the teaching of English and the need for progressively ordered structures. It does not shrink from doing so in the controversial area of reading, where it is particularly helpful, especially in the early stages.
Inevitably, in a subject as complex as English, some areas are dealt with less confidently. Teachers need to bear in mind that these materials, though likely to be invaluable in helping to construct a curriculum or scheme of work, are essentially for assessment, not teaching.
When dealing with elements such as response to literature, the use of figurative language or using books for information, for example, teachers will want to provide more widely and richly than these materials suggest is possible. However, schools may find this a supportive resource, especially for hard-pressed staff.