It’s time for teachers to seize hold of assessment

11th March 2016 at 00:00

What would happen if the profession remembered that learning should be our first priority instead of assessment? On the last Friday of the spring half-term holiday, I sent the following tweet: “Keen to work with other school leaders to take forward recommendations from the DfE Assessment Commission. We need to support each other.”

What happened over the following 48 hours was amazing. Teachers, school leaders, educationalists and academics joined a frenzy of online conversation. There was huge appetite for a school-led solution that would build confidence, expertise and clarity about classroom assessment.

Assessment and all the stressful paraphernalia of Sats revision, target-setting, tracking, gridding and box-ticking increasingly dominate education. The recent anxiety over assessment of writing at key stage 1 and key stage 2 has begun to impact dramatically on teaching. Stories of classroom practice that limits children’s experience of writing to one of constant redrafting, following exhaustive written feedback from teachers is clearly undesirable (see page 38-39).

The Centre for Literacy in Primary Education began reading and writing scales last month, which enable teachers to identify pupils’ developmental stages. But instead of using them to allocate an attainment grade or number, the emphasis is on identifying next teaching. It is this kind of shift away from numbering children to using progression to enable the best teaching that provides a compelling alternative role for assessment.

Professional learning is at the heart of empowering teachers. The Commission on Assessment Without Levels recommended shared training of Ofsted inspectors and school leaders. With more autonomy in the system, we can harness the appetite for action on assessment, enabling schools to collaborate and spend less time measuring.

We have organised a free conference, Learning First, at Sheffield Hallam University on 21 May. It will be streamed online. We hope teachers from across the country will join the event, either virtually or in person, and that we can debate the best ways to share our thinking and resources online, as well as organising face-to-face events and accredited professional learning. TES will be the media partner.

We know that government requires statutory assessment but we have the chance to work together to ensure that the experience our children have is one where high-quality learning is prioritised. If we can learn from each other how to offer learning experiences that enable measured success but are driven by understanding progression, we’ll be in a better place.

I hope that #LearningFirst is a chance for all of us to seize hold of assessment. Pedagogy, curriculum and assessment skills underpin excellent teaching. Let’s put teaching front and centre, and use assessment as a tool to inform our pedagogy, but never to dominate it.

Dame Alison Peacock is executive headteacher of the Wroxham School in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, and a government adviser @alisonmpeacock

Interested in working together to improve assessment? Contact The CLPE reading and writing scales are free at

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