Assessment strategy being subverted, academic warns

15th May 2009 at 01:00
He claims AfL is used as `Trojan horse' to bring back tracking and grading

The government's Pounds 150 million Assessment for Learning (AfL) strategy is being used as a "Trojan horse" to bring more pupil-tracking and grading into schools, a leading academic has warned.

Developed by Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam in 1998, AfL uses assessment to give pupils feedback on how they can improve rather than assigning grades.

Speaking at a Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors conference last week, Gordon Stobart, of London University's Institute of Education highlighted a section of the strategy, which claims that "good" AfL is about "making accurate assessments linked to national curriculum levels".

Professor Stobart said: "I'd put a question mark there. Are we in the business of levelling every piece of work or are we trying to find out what the learning here is?

"It feels a bit like a Trojan horse at times - that we are using Assessment for Learning as a name, but what we are bringing in actually is much more to do with good, reliable teacher summative assessment, which I am all for. I just think it ought to be named as that rather than named as something else."

His comments follow criticism of the three-year AfL strategy at the Commons schools select committee in November.

Professor David Hargreaves, a former head of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, said: "Unfortunately, what the Government has put in place is a debased version of the Black and Wiliam model. All the radical stuff about how teachers teach was removed and it began to focus on targets."

Professor Stobart also took issue with the claim in the strategy, introduced last year, that "good Assessment for Learning makes a reliable assessment - ensuring that judgments are consistent and based on a range of evidence".

The academic said: "In classroom interactions, reliability isn't a huge issue. We need to be clear and we need to have it right ourselves.

"But I am going to give two different students very different responses in terms of feedback because they are in different places, and one will learn faster with one comment than another."

A spokesperson for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said the AfL strategy was "directly focused on formative assessment" and was a "key way of personalising teaching and learning".

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today