Significant steps

14th June 1996 at 01:00
Tracking Significant Achievement series IN THE EARLY YEARS

By Vicky Hutchin IN PRIMARY ENGLISH By Marian Sainsbury IN PRIMARY MATHEMATICS By Shirley Clarke and Sue Atkinson In Primary Science By Esme Glanert Hodder Stoughton Pounds 9.99 each

Colin Conner on a series that shows how to record those "can do" moments.

This set of books claims to offer a manageable new approach to teacher assessment which puts the child at the centre of the assessment process, while ensuring that all statutory requirements are met. An impressive claim.

This area of teacher assessment has certainly lacked advice and guidance. If the claims of the writers are justifiable, many teachers should welcome the advice offered. So, how far are the claims met?

The aim of the series is to focus attention on "significant achievement", underpinned by three important principles: the assessment process must include the child; it must enhance learning and teaching, and it should be manageable. These are three sentiments I would imagine all primary teachers would agree with.

"Significant achievement" is seen as "any leap or development in progress; anything which a teacher feels is important enough to write down". Such an event might not happen too often, it may be the first time a child has shown an ability to do something, or it may be that a child has shown evidence of a skill, concept or understanding that has become fully established, and should be noted because of its significance to that child.

As a result of trialling this process in schools, the authors identify five main categories of achievement: physical skills (eg, the use of scissors, holding a pencil appropriately); social skills (eg, the ability to take turns or work with others); attitude development (eg, increased confidence in problem solving, independent writing); conceptual development (eg, understanding the need to consider the audience in writing, or that some changes are irreversible); process skills (eg, the ability to read with expression, offer explanations, or the ability to generalise).

These categories are used to record significant achievement. They also provide a means of distinguishing between what should be recorded and what should not. What is also interesting is that the focus is on the whole child, not just achievements related to the national curriculum.

Two main types of achievement are identified: products (writing drawing models) and events with no accompanying work but where something significant might have been said or done. The summary of such a significant achievement would then be placed in a child's record of achievement indicating what was significant and why, and discussed with the child. The series offers advice on developing a summative tracking system based on the five categories of achievement and gives examples of tables for individual children, such as the one shown below, which appears in each of the books.

Tracking significant achievement requires teachers to be clear about their learning intentions, to observe children carefully, to look for achievement, to involve the child in the process by talking about their progress and helping them reflect on it. In making any assessment, teachers need to be clear about what is significant and why and make that clear to the learner. Teachers need to discuss examples of achievement and to develop agreement about the standards against which they judge their children's progress.

Following a common introduction, each book focuses attention on its designated area (early years, English, mathematics and science) in terms of what significant achievement might mean in that context. Each then deals with development and progression and concludes with answers to questions about the system. Interesting examples showing the significant achievement of real children illustrate the categories, and the final chapter in each book offers advice on establishing the system in school.

The books offer some general principles: in particular, the importance of building on what is already happening in your school; starting small and focusing on a few children initially; and making time for a regular review of the processes involved.

The process described in this series is well organised and systematic. It represents elements of effective assessment practice which can be seen in schools throughout the country. What it offers, however, is a coherent means of drawing such elements together in one manageable framework.

Colin Conner is a tutor at the University of Cambridge Institute of Education

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