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Try, try again

He'd be the first to agree with me: my husband should have been assessed years ago. He was tested thoroughly by the 11-plus a year early, and judged the right sort for a grammar school. There, it was downhill all the way.

I've seen the reports: dismissive one-liners beside doleful exam results.

From 10 to 15, he was considered a lost cause. No one thought to find out his potential or where it had gone. There was no assessment. There was intervention: tramlining left the imprint of a book across the back of his neck; twanging a red mark from an elastic band on his ear. But no assessment.

Some teachers in these pages say that assessment is what good teachers have always done. No doubt. Even if all teachers were good ones, how many have had the means and opportunity to assess individual children to help them learn? It needs to be part of the country's educational fabric.

Now that assessment for learning is acknowledged to be a good thing, the staffing and the techniques to make it feasible are coming into schools, as we see in these pages. Sometimes it's computer software; sometimes it's a detailed comment at the end of a piece of work instead of a grade; and sometimes it's just a matter of taking some time with a child.

Exams - be they 11-plus or GCSE - test us for commonly desirable standards.

The best assessment considers us as individuals and helps us achieve. To have one without the other handicaps children.

My husband? Well, he passed one O-level first time, making it to Oxford 14 years and a lot of evening classes later. No doubt the tramlining put the moral fibre into him, but assessment would have been quicker.

Jill Parkin This magazine's contents are the responsibility of The TES, not nferNelson

Editor Jill Parkin Production Neil Levis Design Dane Wilson Pictures Frances ToppCover photograph Lorne Campbell

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