Editorial - Heed warning or confidence will be lost in profession

26th March 2010 at 00:00
Teacher assessment training lies at the core of maintaining a robust, enviable system

The abolition of Sats in Wales five years ago is rightly celebrated as one of the major achievements of Welsh education since devolution. The deeply unpopular exams - widely accepted as encouraging teaching to the test and narrowing the curriculum - were consigned to history after a hard-fought campaign by teachers to reclaim control of their classrooms.

It was an impressive victory, and resulted in what teachers most often demand: more trust in the profession. Tests were out, replaced by teacher assessment. But the passage of time should not allow for any hint of complacency when it comes to monitoring standards.

Estyn this week has warned that teacher assessment is too often failing to provide an accurate picture of how pupils are doing at age 11 (page 1). According to the inspectorate, there are significant variations in the quality of assessment, leading to judgments that are unreliable and inaccurate.

On the one hand, this news should not come as a shock. Estyn has for some time highlighted assessment standards as a cause for concern. In its 200708 annual report, it said there was a lack of reliable assessment data, especially in primary schools. That it has chosen to highlight the problems in relation to the end of key stage 2 is a warning that cannot be ignored.

We are living in an age of unprecedented access to information on public services. Parents will demand to know how their children are getting on and expect to have confidence in what they are told. The majority of teachers will have no problem with this. They know the days of "teacher knows best" and no questions asked are gone. So to make the system work, they should be making demands of their own: that they are given the proper training in assessment that too many lack.

As Estyn points out, schools are not making the most of the time available to them to improve assessment. The introduction of "rarely cover" risks making access to training even harder, which could cause serious problems: if teachers do not have confidence in their own judgments, the whole system risks being undermined.

The other shift that must happen is a move to a form of external moderation of teacher assessment, as already happens with assessments at key stage 3. Teachers should welcome the anomaly being addressed, even if some feel it treads on their professional toes.

In England, teaching union the NUT and heads' union the NAHT are continuing their campaign for a boycott of this year's Sats. Teachers are being balloted for industrial action which, if it goes ahead, will create a serious headache for whichever party wins the general election.

These are the kinds of battles teachers in Wales no longer have to fight. But to keep the system that is so envied across the border, they have to accept changes to keep it as robust as possible.

David Marley,Cymru News Editor E david.marley@tes.co.uk.

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