Memorandum submitted by The Wellcome Trust
1. The Wellcome Trust is pleased to have
the opportunity to respond to the Education and Skills Committee
inquiry into Testing and Assessment.
2. The Wellcome Trust is the largest charity
in the UK. It funds innovative biomedical research, in the UK
and internationally, spending around £500 million each year
to support the brightest scientists with the best ideas. The Wellcome
Trust supports public debate about biomedical research and its
impact on health and wellbeing. As part of this public engagement
work, our education programme sets out to stimulate interest and
excitement in science amongst young people, increase the quality
of young people entering biomedical related careers and support
scientific literacy more broadly.
3. Our response to this consultation will
concentrate mainly on assessment in science education, which is
of most relevance to the work of the Wellcome Trust. We argue
that assessment systems in school science should ensure young
people are tested on scientific understanding and skills rather
than simply factual recall. In 2005, the Trust commissioned a
study to explore primary teachers' views and experiences of science
education across the UK. The resulting report, Primary Horizons:
Starting out in science, highlighted issues relating both
to formative assessment and statutory national tests. In terms
of statutory testing, the study found that primary teachers felt
that national tests had a negative effect on children's enjoyment
of science, because of the increasing tendency to "teach
to the test". An over-emphasis on curriculum content and
pressure to prepare for national tests were felt to reduce opportunities
for investigative work and lead to science frequently being taught
as a collection of facts.
4. Young people often respond very positively
to constructive feedback that tracks their progress and informs
their development. Teachers in the Primary Horizons study
agreed that both teachers and children find this sort of "formative
assessment" ("assessment for learning") more enjoyable
than "summative assessment", where the main purpose
is to give a quantitative grading. Pressure to perform well in
national tests in England and Northern Ireland appeared to have
a considerable negative influence on the use of formative assessment
in the later primary years.
5. The report recommended that further research
should be carried out into the effects of national tests on young
people's attitudes to science, and on opportunities for children
to develop investigative, questioning and thinking skills. The
Wellcome Trust is in the process of commissioning research into
the effects of compulsory national testing in science on teachers
and teaching at Key Stage 2. The study will include a comparison
between teachers in England and Wales, where compulsory national
testing has now been removed at Key Stage 2, providing the rare
opportunity to compare two different assessment systems operating
with the same curriculum. We have discussed the research with
the Clerk of the Committee and hope to be able to contribute interim
findings to the Committee's inquiry by the end of the year.
6. We would also like to highlight the role
of continuing professional development (CPD) in supporting assessment.
The Primary Horizons report found that those teachers who
had undertaken CPD in science were more confident in nearly all
aspects of science teaching, including the use of formative assessment.
Teachers who had participated in science-specific CPD were significantly
more likely to include investigations, mind mapping and individual
target setting as part of their assessment in science. Provision
is now in place to deliver high quality CPD for teachers of science
through the national Science Learning Centres network; it will
be important to realise the benefits of this network to support
and enhance assessment skills.