The benefits of asking teachers

1st October 2004 at 01:00
It may have been an accident, but the juxtaposition last week of Ian Nicol's letter and the news story, "Green light for assessment", carried a message of its own.

Mr Nicol concluded his argument on the deficiencies of the current curriculum by pointing to the teachers working in real classrooms who could deliver the right solutions if only they were asked.

The facing page then provided a striking example of just that: teachers who had found in formative assessment a solution they could endorse enthusiastically. Yet, they had been asked and by none other than the Scottish Executive via a project managed by Learning and Teaching Scotland.

It's a pity that the presentation of the East Lothian project and your related editorial may have given the impression that it was in some way novel. There is now a very large body of evidence pointing to the substantial and varied benefits that come when teachers take time and effort to make the learning that takes place in their classrooms more explicit for both themselves and their pupils - as The TES Scotland reported on the front page at the start of this year.

Your editorial last week suggested that the test would be whether ministers can reinforce their commitment to results by "giving teachers their head to show what they can do with learning-driven assessment". Through the Executive's Assessment is for Learning (AifL) programme, such resolve has been clear for some time.

What is not so certain is how teachers, headteachers, directors of education and even ministers will continue to engage with and support formative assessment when AifL funding ends.

The benefits of this kind of assessment are clear: raised attainment across the range; better, more involved learners of both genders; improved behaviour. The list goes on.

But Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam, authors of the research responsible for our present excitement about formative assessment, are also clear on something else: getting teachers to engage with the principles of formative assessment and embed the strategies in their own practice can happen only slowly.

Will they have the time and space they need to do that? Or will their attention be diverted into any of a dozen other initiatives that have attracted funding but for which the supporting evidence is less secure and the likely results less certain?

Eric Young iTelligent Classrooms Mayfield, Biggar

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