No magic solution

10th October 2003 at 01:00
Giving teachers a greater role is not a simple cure for the ills of the primary testing system, say Mary Bousted and Sheila Dainton

Ministers are said to be keen on giving teachers a bigger role in statutory assessment. Ken Boston, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, also likes the idea. But should it be welcomed by teachers?

First we need to understand that they are talking about end of key stage tests, rather than the day-to-day judgements teachers make in the course of their work. A ministerial move to increase teacher involvement could end up reinforcing the national testing regime rather than signalling the end of it, as many teachers would like.

Policy-makers wishing to convince the profession to make such a change will need to jump a number of hurdles: after more than a decade of change, staff will not welcome another volte-face. If statutory teacher assessment is to be given a higher profile, they will need time to work together, to experiment, to reflect. The new system will need time and training if it is to work well.

Ministers should not insist on publishing the results of schools involved in trials. In order to try out a new way of doing things, such as in this year's key stage 1 pilot, participants must be allowed to make mistakes.

They cannot be held publicly accountable at the same time. This must also apply to any experiment engaging Year 6 teachers in marking their own pupils' SATs.

What about resourcing, particularly for staff development? We need to look carefully at what is already known about teacher assessment practice, and what research findings can show us about the potential challenges. Do we have evidence about the reliability and validity of teachers' summative judgements? Is it true, for example, that teachers tend to be more generous than external markers when grading their own pupils' work? If it is, there are implications for in-service and initial teacher education.

Greater involvement in end-of-key-stage assessment will also mean more time spent on testing, marking, moderating and providing feedback for learners.

Where will this time come from? Finally, who will be responsible for quality assurance?

Ministers are right if they want to talk with teachers about how they might become more involved in summative assessment. They are wrong if they think the flaws in the system will be resolved by handing everything back to schools.

As with all things in education, there is no magic solution.

Mary Bousted is general secretary and Sheila Dainton is education policy adviser of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.

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