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A target too far without the new tests

I had just completed another lunch cover when I really questioned the role of headteachers.

At Queensferry Primary, we are short of one kitchen assistant and one dining room assistant at the moment, so I won't begin to describe my duties on that day. My relief is that two appointments have been made, but the Disclosure Scotland procedures mean that it will still be some weeks before the help arrives.

Back at my office, I turned to the day's mail to find a request for targets for 2005. Thinking that there must have been a typing error, I e-mailed headquarters to ask for the amended date. No mistake; that was indeed the information which was being sought. I thought that we might have some form of value-added measure before another round of target setting.

What news then of the new "Assessment is for Learning" programme which is due, among other things, to replace national tests at the end of this session? I have some vague memory of a Learning and Teaching Scotland newsletter with a row of smiling faces looking out at me. Each person was responsible for a project within the "Assessment is for Learning" initiative. What have they been up to and how can I possibly predict the level of success we might have with assessments I have not even seen yet?

Is it very wrong to suggest that these assessments might be easier than what went before and in one easy move we could all overtake every target? A spot of wishful thinking there perhaps.

What then of the 10 projects? I could search on a website, but what happened to the seminars which were used to launch an initiative in previous years?

In the absence of a person to talk to, I had to look at www.ltscotland.comassessprojects. There I found news of the timescale for the programme.

There will be three phases, each of nine to 10 months. The first was from April to December last year, the second from September 2002 to June 2003 and the third will run from April to December this year, with the new arrangements being phased into schools in the 2003-2004 session.

This programme is a major development in assessment which cannot slide into place without significant staff training. The projects cover:Project 1: support for professional practice in formative assessmentProject 2: personal learning plansProject 3: support for management of personal learning plansProject 4: gathering and interpreting assessment evidenceProject 5: local moderationProject 6: new national assessmentsProject 7: assessment of achievement programmeProject 8: information and communications technology support for assessmentProject 9: reporting to parents and other teachers, andProject 10: meeting the needs of pupils with special educational needs.

The description of each project gives a glimpse of the work which lies ahead. Project 6 indicates that an online bank of assessment materials, based on the Assessment of Achievement Programme tests and tasks will replace the current national tests in reading, writing and mathematics.

These will be used in the 2003-2004 session. Design work on the item bank and web interface, which will be used to deliver the assessments, is going on at this time. I hope it won't tell me that my PC can't open it.

Project 9 proposes a common format for reporting to parents, so there is no need to continue working with our particularly complicated one then.

I wonder if flexibility means that we could continue with this year's national tests for some time yet, until there was time to study these very major changes and move forward when we are well prepared. Just a thought.

Meantime, I'll study the projects as well as I can, in between wiping tables and carrying trays for the little ones.

Sheilah Jackson is headteacher of Queensferry Primary in Edinburgh. If you have any comments, e-mail

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