Teacher will know best

19th April 1996 at 01:00
Sue Bennett on how staff will be helped to judge pupils' progress at key stage 3. Subject to consultation, statutory teacher assessment in history and the other foundation subjects will be introduced at key stage 3 in 1997. Teachers will be required, at the end of the key stage, to make a judgement about pupils' progress in relation to the level descriptions. The new requirements emphasise the importance of teachers' professional judgement in assessing pupils' progress.

To help schools the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority is producing exemplification of standards in history, which will be sent to schools in June. Section One explains the key features of demand and progression in the level descriptions. Section Two shows how a range of evidence can be used to make this judgement. It contains several "profiles" of individual pupils, incorporating samples of a range of their work and pen portraits describing each pupil's performance in different contexts. The booklet for history contains ma- terial relating to six Year 9 pupils and covers performance from level 2 to level 7.

The materials not only illustrate the demand of the level descriptions, but also indicate how teachers have planned their teaching to help their pupils progress. These cover important aspects of history, including range and depth of historical knowledge and understanding chronology, interpretations of history, historical enquiry, and organisation and communication.

Since the key elements cover the same aspects of history as the level descriptions, the teachers gained sufficient information about their pupils to make a summative judgement about each pupil's performance in relation to the level descriptions in the attainment target. Initially, some of the teachers had doubts about how easy it would be to make such judgements. However, the use of collections of pupils' work helped them understand the demands of the level descriptions and enabled them to feel more confident about relating the performance of their pupils to the national standards set out in the attainment target.

The material shows how pupils, judged to be working at levels 2, 3 and 4 have been helped to progress through the use of closely structured work. The commentaries also reveal the extensive support provided by their teachers to enable pupils to show what they know, understand and can do. At higher levels pupils need opportunities to carry out their own research and reach independent judgements about the topics studied.

Many of the profiles, particularly those of pupils judged to be at level 5 or above, contain several examples of extended written work. This may excite comment from some teachers since in recent years there has been a tendency to concentrate on short-answer questions.

Extended work offers pupils the opportunity to marshal their arguments, reach and support conclusions, make links and connections and to think independently - all requirements of the higher levels in the attainment target. Such work is often the culmination of a series of activities lasting several weeks. It may also involve the use of charts, diagrams, headings and writing frames to help pupils structure their work.

Parts of the booklet have been shown to teachers in other European countries. They have commented favourably on the standards achieved by English pupils. This is a tribute to the quality of teaching and learning which takes place in many history classrooms today.

Sue Bennett is professional officer for history at the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority

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