Memorandum submitted by General Teaching Council for England (GTC)

Executive Summary


The GTC hopes that the Education and Skills Select Committee (ESSC) will, as a result of this inquiry, urge the Government to undertake a fundamental and urgent review of the testing and assessment regime in maintained schools.


England's pupils are among the most frequently tested in the world, but tests in themselves do not raise standards. Tests are used for too many purposes and this compromises their reliability and validity. The tests can depress pupils' motivation and increase anxiety. They do not adequately serve the interests of parents or pupils and they lead to a narrowed curriculum and encourage "teaching to the test". The system diminishes teachers' professional judgements because summative outcomes reached by the teacher carry less public weight than the outcomes from end of Key Stage (KS) tests, although the received wisdom that KS tests and public examinations are error-free methods of assessing pupil attainment is misleading


GTC's proposals


Ongoing classroom assessment combined with a timely use of a nationally devised bank of tests


Continued Government support for teachers' use of assessment for pupil learning to ensure it has maximum impact across schools.

The development of a nationally-devised bank of tests/tasks to be used during the key stage when the teacher judges that the pupil/pupils are ready

Teachers overseeing all forms of assessment including the bank of tests, and their professional judgments on pupils' performance being given increasing weight over time.

Increased Government investment in teachers' assessment skills


School Improvement and Accountability - focused away from the centre and towards the community, parents and pupils


The development of a richer dialogue between schools and parents based on enhanced information resulting from teachers' assessment of their pupils.

An entitlement for parents to be fully and regularly informed about progress and attainment

Using the School Profile to communicate a broader range of school accountability information to parents


Monitoring National Standards - a more cost effective and efficient system of collecting data


Introducing a system of cohort sampling involving a limited number of pupils in a limited number of schools to collect data for monitoring national standards


Assessment in the Future: Building the Case for Change


Memorandum by the General Teaching Council



1 The General Council for England (GTC) warmly welcomes the Education and Skills Select Committee's (ESSC) inquiry into testing and assessment. We hope that the report the Committee will publish as a result of this inquiry will persuade the Government to undertake an urgent and fundamental review of the testing and assessment regime in maintained schools. We also hope that this leads to the implementation of changes to rebalance the role of assessment in education and refocus the importance of teachers' professional judgement in how pupils are assessed in the future.


2 The proposals in this memorandum are based on the view that a single approach to pupil assessment is currently being used for too many purposes and that assessment in all its forms should be fit for purpose, place the least possible burden on pupils, teachers and schools and have the least possible adverse effect on the curriculum. The GTC's proposals have been widely discussed with teachers, head teachers, parents, governors, national agencies and representatives of local authorities through a series of over twenty events across England and a major national conference. Further GTC events on assessment will take place over the summer.


3 The GTC continues to be convinced that the existing assessment regime needs to be changed. Evidence from teachers at GTC consultative events in 2006 and 2007 shows that the current system finds schools giving too much emphasis to end of Key Stage (KS) test results and performance tables at the expense of the longer-term needs of the children and young people they endeavour to serve. A summary of the views expressed by teachers at four principal GTC events is attached at Appendix 1. It is a concern shared by many that the accountability regime inhibits the capacity of schools to deliver sustainable personalised learning and limits local influence on schooling.


4 The GTC is the independent professional body for teaching. Its main duties are to regulate the teaching profession and to advise the Secretary of State on a range of issues that concern teaching and learning. The Council acts in the public interest to help to raise standards in education.


The extent and impact of testing and assessment


5 England's pupils are some of the most frequently tested in the world. The average pupil in England will take at least 70 tests and examinations before leaving school. The system employs 54,000 examiners and moderators dealing with 25 million test scripts a year (Skidmore, P 2003). However, despite the very significant resources required to conduct them, tests do not in themselves raise standards, as the DfES Primary Strategy Excellence and Enjoyment 2003 acknowledged.


6 Pupils understand that the KS tests represent high stakes for themselves, their teachers and their school. Evidence from teachers indicates that high stakes testing has a narrowing effect upon the curriculum, by moving the focus of curriculum delivery away from being broad and balanced to a narrower one based on test content. Research studies indicate that high stakes testing can depress pupils' motivation and increase their anxiety (Harlen, Wynne and Crick and Ruth Deakin 10:2, p169-207).


7 The tests are not integrated into pupils' normal classroom work; they are set at arm's length from teachers' professional judgements. Summative outcomes reached by the teacher carry less public weight than outcomes from the end-of KS tests with the exception of the arrangements at the end of KS1. Throughout the system, assessment for accountability is given precedence over on-going formative assessment that supports learning.


8 Assessment for Learning (AfL) is the type of formative assessment that supports learning. One of the substantial benefits of AfL is that it encourages learners to take a role in their progress and development and to develop the capacity for self-assessment and peer assessment. AfL also supports teacher planning and teaching and the away in which curriculum and resources are organised to optimise learning. The system of national tests ignores these processes.


9 Parents' legitimate wishes to know about their children's learning and progress are not best served by the single measure that is the outcome of end-of KS testing. Nor do the outcomes best demonstrate schools' accountability to their parents and local community. Evidence indicates that when parents make judgements about the quality of a school they do not use the school's position on published league tables as their main criterion (GfK NOP Social Research 2005). Parents require broadened and enriched sources of information about their local schools.


The case for change


10 The assessment system relies upon the use of any given test for too many purposes and, as the GTC argues, this compromises the reliability and validity of the information obtained. The system creates tensions that have had a negative impact upon the nature and quality of the education that some of our children and young people receive. These tensions may impede the full realisation of new approaches to education, including more personalised learning.


11 The received wisdom that KS tests and external public examinations are error free methods of assessing pupil attainment is misleading. All methods of assessment are prone to error. As Professor Paul Black argues, it is unproven that assessing pupil attainment by the use of tests is less error prone than relying on teachers' assessment. Other evidence suggests that on a particular day, at KS3, 30% of pupils and at KS4, 40% of pupils have been given the wrong level. (Wiliam D. 2007)


12 The outcomes from the end-of KS testing are also used as a measure of standards over time. The technical limitations of the end of KS tests and the tensions within the national assessment system may mean that the use of these data in this way is flawed. Questions have been raised about a significant margin of error that could be involved in the testing process and therefore its reliability as the basis of long term policy formation.


13 Furthermore, there have also been issues raised by teachers and others about the extent to which the tests assess the actual attainment of pupils as opposed to their performance on a particular day. Other well documented concerns include the narrowness of the tests, the 'drilling' of pupils in preparation and the backwash effect on curriculum breadth and flexibility.


14 2020 Vision recognised that national assessment tests are not primarily diagnostic tools to ascertain pupils' learning needs. Nor do they recognise or adequately record the extent to which pupils have developed the desired skills and aptitudes. The review recommended that the Government commission a group to report on the national curriculum and its assessment "as a matter of priority". The Council strongly supports the group's recommendation for this review.


15 The Government should shift the balance of schools' accountability away from the centre and towards the community, parents and pupils, enabling improved dialogue with parents and less undue focus on national performance measures.


16 The DfES Making Good Progress document proposes twice yearly externally-marked "progress" tests and targets in addition to the current end-of KS attainment tests and threshold targets. This assessment approach would increase the number of tests a pupil must take and the pressures created by performance tables would remain.


17 A preferable system would be the GTC's proposals for a national bank of tests/tasks which teachers could use when pupils are ready, rather than tests that meet the needs of the system. The bank of tests/tasks would support teachers' summative assessment and could be used in conjunction with AfL. This would, in the longer term, promote a far closer relationship between formative and summative assessment than exists currently.


18 The current assessment system does not sit well with the local cross-institutional collaborative approach required to give all 14-19 year olds the right to study the new diplomas. Their introduction provides the opportunity to begin the process of moving away from an assessment system dominated by the purposes of quality control and accountability and assessment of learning towards a more balanced model with a greater element of diagnostic and formative assessment for learning.


19 The GTC believes that there is a tension between the Government's commitment to personalised learning in 14-19 education, and more localised and responsive structures to support it, and the current emphasis on national external examinations and national performance tables as currently configured. The 14-19 phase should be established as a continuum for learners to move away from the break at 16, which performance tables encourage.


20 The GTC supports more localised 14-19 performance information that reflects area-based collaborative provision and area-based inspection involving institutional self-evaluation where appropriate.


Summary of the GTC's assessment proposals


21 The GTC supports a comprehensive review of the purposes of assessment, the type of information it generates and who uses it and how. Assessment, testing and coursework are means to an end, not ends in themselves. A review needs to start with identifying the key purposes that we need the future assessment system to support and the most effective ways of achieving them.


22 In the GTC's view, the design of a future assessment system should therefore be underpinned by three core purposes that focus on providing information about the learner, the school and the system. These are:


supporting teaching and learning;

providing public information and accountability;

monitoring national standards.




23 The GTC's proposals on assessment around the three purposes are based on the following key principles:


a commitment to using teacher professional judgement in the assessment system to better effect than the current arrangements permit;


enabling teachers to carry out assessment processes more effectively, so that the quality of pupil learning is further enhanced and standards of achievement are improved;


separating the purposes of assessment so that the use of assessment for accountability no longer takes precedence over assessment for developing learning;


creating an assessment model for the future that involves robust and transparent processes in order to withstand public scrutiny.


GTC proposals


Assessment to support learning


Teacher, GTC event, Manchester

Assessment for Learning (AfL)


24 The Government should continue to invest in AfL through the National Strategies working with the Assessment Reform Group (ARG) and ensure that AfL approaches are better embedded in the culture of schools. Local authorities and other local networks should support schools' and teachers' capacity to conduct assessment effectively, and aim to revitalise pupil and teacher learning in the process.

Bank of tests/tasks


Teacher, GTC event, Bristol


25 The Government should introduce a range of nationally devised tests/tasks which individual teachers could use with their pupils in the classroom when the teacher judges that the pupil(s) is/are ready. The tests/tasks would initially be used for summative purposes. Over time the range of tests/tasks would be expanded so that teachers would effectively choose from a bank of resources that would be used to confirm or challenge their own summative judgements. The tests would replace the current universal end of KS tests. The information generated during and at the end of the key stage would be used by the school, local authority, parents and pupils themselves to move learning forward.

Teacher assessment


26 A teacher assessment model should be implemented incrementally. In the immediate term, AfL would be used for formative purposes and the bank of tests/tasks would be used summatively. Longer term, teachers would be working towards a position where all forms of pupil assessment, whatever their purpose, involve an increasing degree of teacher professional judgement.

Teacher learning


27 The GTC's proposals should be supported by increased Government investment in teachers' assessment skills. These include better support for all teachers during initial training and continued professional learning, including professional/peer moderation activities, and more specialist assessment career paths for teachers to lead assessment processes across schools and localities.


Assessment for school improvement and accountability


Teacher, GTC event, Manchester


28 The increased investment in AfL, the use of an increasing range of assessment tests/tasks by teachers and the development of moderation processes in schools would provide the means for teachers to develop a relationship with parents based on a richer and better informed dialogue.


29 As part of the school's accountability to its stakeholders, parents and pupils should be entitled to be fully and regularly informed about progress and attainment, with information being wider than a report of levels and grades. Information must be provided in a timely way so that it can be used as the basis for any improvement strategy. Entitlement to better information would be a better basis for engagement in school evaluation and improvement processes.


30 As part of the New Relationship with Schools (NRwS), the GTC believes that the Government should endow schools with greater responsibility for communicating their accountability information to parents via the school profile on individual and collective pupil progress. This would include assessment information and draw on school self-evaluation and inspection findings. The GTC is committed to this school based model of accountability and believes that it has more valuable information to offer parents than the de-contextualised and incomplete comparisons between schools published in performance tables.

Assessment for monitoring national standards


Teacher, GTC event, London


31 The Government should introduce a system of cohort sampling as the most cost effective and efficient way to monitor national standards. A limited number of pupils should be tested in a limited number of schools. Different pupils could be given different tests in order to cover a broad range across the curriculum. No pupil would take more than one test. Tests would contain common questions that allowed all pupils in the sample to be placed on a common scale. In the longer term, such a system for national monitoring should replace the use of the present universal testing model. In the shorter term a cohort sampling system should be trialled.


GTC proposals: detailed discussion


Assessment to support learning


Teacher, GTC event, London

Assessment for Learning (AfL)


32 The Government is already investing in AfL through the national strategies. Helping to develop whole school approaches. AfL is critical because it offers the potential for radically changing the way that teachers and pupils interact. More than simply one of a number of strands of school strategy, it lies at the heart of any personalised learning vision for the classroom.


33 The Government should consider how best to continue developing AfL best practice and maintain its momentum. The GTC endorses the recommendation in the Gilbert Review report Teaching and Learning 2020 Vision that AfL should be a priority for teaching and learning and that resources should be put in place to ensure that it is better embedded in schools.


34 Local authorities and the many collaborative partnerships and federations of schools and other institutions working together should continue to have a key role in supporting schools to develop AfL and assessment communities across schools and their localities. This is particularly important because GTC dialogue with teachers indicates that even in those areas that have been involved in AfL action research there remains considerable diversity in school approaches to AfL.

Bank of tests/tasks


35 Over time and as teachers become familiar with and skilled in using a range of nationally devised tests/tasks, they should increasingly be used to confirm teachers' existing summative assessments of pupil progress and achievement.


36 In the early stages, schools should have the option of tests/tasks being externally marked. Teachers would become increasingly involved in the analysis of outcomes so that the tests/tasks would play a key role in teaching and learning. Teachers' involvement in marking and analysis should also be linked to professional development opportunities.


37 Teachers would be encouraged to use the evidence on which they based their judgement about the timing of the test as part of professional/peer moderation activities in preparation for working towards a more integrated model of teacher assessment. Teachers would collect evidence from test/task outcomes during and at the end of each KS so that the information can be used formatively to adapt teaching as well as the basis for summative decision-making. The evidence derived from the test/tasks would be subject to assessment moderation processes.


38 The range of materials would increase in the longer term into a bank of varied assessment materials on which the teacher could draw. The teaching profession, particularly those with assessment expertise, should be involved in the development of test/task materials, including on-line materials. The information generated would be used by the school, local authority, parents and pupils themselves to move learning forward.

Teacher assessment


39 The GTC supports the findings of the systematic review (Harlen, 2004) that assessment by teachers has the potential to provide summative information about students' achievements because teachers can build up a picture of individual students' attainment across a range of activities and goals. However, teacher evidence to the GTC over time suggests that many teachers do not feel they are currently in a position, or work within a structure, that would allow them to undertake all forms of pupil assessment. It is for this reason that the GTC recommends an incremental approach to implementation using AfL and a bank of tests/tasks.


40 The GTC remains convinced that in the longer term all forms of pupil assessment should involve an increasing degree of teacher professional judgement. This would create a richer educational experience for all pupils, with assessment integrated better into other elements of teaching and learning, especially for those pupils at risk of under achievement whose interests are not being served by the current use of statutory tests and external public examinations.

Teacher learning


41 There needs to be further investment in teachers' assessment skills along with and inside the AfL framework. Assessment needs to be a stronger element of the professional standards framework, including qualified teacher status (QTS) and induction standards. Managing assessment across a subject area, a department or faculty and as part of a whole school approach should also be a critical component of professional standards for leadership.


42 It is also vital that specialist assessment roles are created in every school. The Chartered Examiner route developed by the National Assessment Agency (NAA) to revitalise the teaching profession's involvement in public examiner roles must be extended to roles in National Curriculum assessment at all KS and in leading AfL in individual schools. The Government needs to invest in training and support for teachers to undertake these roles.


43 The priority for embedding AfL in schools as recommended by the Gilbert Review must be underpinned by making it a priority focus of teacher learning, as the Review Group also indicated.


Assessment for school improvement and accountability


44 Research (Black et al, 2003) into AfL comment only feedback to pupils found "the provision of comments to students helps parents to focus on and support the student's learning rather than focus on uninformed efforts to interpret a mark or grade and/or simply urge their child to work harder." The GTC believes that AfL approaches have the potential for providing pupils and parents with a source of information on progress that involves them as partners.


45 The GTC's proposals to replace KS testing with a bank of tests/tasks also add new opportunities better to involve individual pupils and their parents in a continuing and well-informed dialogue with teachers about learning and progress. These proposals would support better and more timely information that focuses as much on ongoing progress as the review of summative outcomes.


46 The importance of more timely information for parents based on progress was theme emerging from some recent focus groups of parents commissioned from BRMB Social Research by the GTC. The parents in the study were concerned that information given to them should represent a 'call to action' if necessary rather than a retrospective summary based on assessment levels on which parents were unable to act. (BRMB, 2007) A report of the findings of this study is at Appendix 2.


47 A MORI poll of parents commissioned by the GTC (2005) showed how much value parents placed on their communication with schools and their children's teachers. 97% of the sample appreciated verbal feedback with a further 71% finding written feedback in the form of a regular report very useful. These views were confirmed by the findings of a parent focus group carried out by NOP (2005) for the GTC. Here "there was a strong desire for more written information to complement the academic results received" and more frequent verbal information as it "was considered to be more tailored to the individual pupil and offered the opportunity for discussion with parents".


48 The BRMB study revealed not only that parents wanted increased information on progress and a greater range of information mechanisms. The findings reflected 'that parents generally did not understand or were confused about how their child was assessed at school, particularly during the primary school years'. Besides the confusion about what the assessment levels really meant, parents 'had little recall of when teacher-led assessment would take place, the range of methods that were likely to be used , nor the role of the assessment methods being used'. The GTC believes that an enhanced dialogue between schools and parents must start with more information and explanation about the components of the assessment system.


49 The GTC broadly supports the NRwS framework developments that include:


the greater weight given to school self-evaluation and schools managing their own data;

the new School Improvement Partner (SIP) role working to support self- evaluation and improvement processes in all schools;

a more differentiated model of shorter, sharper Ofsted inspections resulting in shorter and more accessible reports;

the introduction of the School Profile.


50 Research (Rudduck 2004) suggests that schools effectively involving pupils in shaping the way that teaching and learning is organised could have benefits for school improvement. Evidence collected by the GTC also reflects increasing efforts by schools to integrate parental consultation into school self-evaluation.


51 As part of the NRwS, the GTC believes that the Government should endow schools with greater responsibility for communicating their accountability information to parents via the school profile on individual and collective pupil progress, including assessment information and drawing on school self-evaluation and inspection findings. The GTC is committed to this school based model of accountability and believes that it has more valuable information to offer parents than the de-contextualised and incomplete comparisons between schools as published in performance tables.


52 Professional learning for teachers is the key to preparing schools to take on more responsibility for collecting, using and interpreting performance data as part of their accountability to their stakeholders. The Government should enable schools to focus on professional learning that is based on combining quantitative and qualitative pupil level data and using it, in partnership with pupils and parents, to plan the personalised learning of children and young people. 2020 Vision indicates that the analysis and use of data - with a specific focus on AfL - is an important skill for the school workforce. Teacher learning therefore must meet the challenge of ensuring data is used properly and coherently in schools.


Assessment for monitoring national standards





Teacher, GTC event, London


53 The use of end of KS test outcomes to monitor standards over time may be flawed because there are a number of technical issues about the tests.


54 There are problems of scaling with, for example, a pupil assessed at the bottom of Level 4 being nearer in terms of marks to the top of Level 3 than the top of Level 4. There is weak criterion referencing involved in the system of testing. There is also a problem with the public demand that tests maintain consistent standards over time. In order to achieve this it would require everything related to the tests to remain exactly the same. In fact the tests are curriculum linked and the context on which they are based has been subject to constant change and even if that had not been the case, students have become better at taking the tests themselves (Oates 2004, 2005).


55 The GTC, therefore, proposes a system of cohort sampling involving a limited number of pupils in a limited number of schools and utilising a matrix test structure. This would mean that numerous tests could be used across the sample, thus widening the breadth of the curriculum that is being tested. Common questions would appear in any two or more tests by which pupils in the sample who take different tests could be put onto a common scale. No pupil would be required to take more than one test. The tests would be administered by teachers though external support could be called upon in relation to conducting practical tests. A detailed explanation of how monitoring by cohort sampling works is at Appendix 3.


56 This system would be relatively inexpensive as test items can be used repeatedly over time and questions can be replaced without the need to develop whole new tests.


57 The current testing burden placed on schools and students would be greatly reduced because the cohort would be made up of a light sampling of schools and a light sampling of students within those schools. The distortions of the curriculum and pressures on pupils, parents and teachers of high stakes testing would be removed.


58 The GTC proposes an initial pilot of the cohort sampling system by QCA, perhaps at a particular KS. In the long term we propose that the current universal testing model for national monitoring be replaced by cohort sampling.




Teachers, GTC event, Bristol


59 The GTC anticipates that the ESSC will receive very few submissions to this inquiry from the education community arguing that the assessment system should remain and continue in its current form. We are convinced that arguments will centre not on whether the assessment system should be changed, but how. We hope that the Select Committee will urge the Government to undertake a measured and wide-ranging consultation involving parents, pupils, teachers and all those with an interest in education and assessment. We owe it to our pupils to replace the system we have with one that genuinely serves the interests of pupils, parents, schools and the public. Over-hasty change runs the risk of replacing it with a new but equally dysfunctional system.


60 The GTC believes that its proposals for change would be supported by the teaching profession, parents and others because they offer a route towards countering the measurement culture that has gained currency since the 1988 Education Reform Act. They also reaffirm the pre-eminence of using assessment to support teaching and learning, lift the burdens from pupils, teachers and schools that distort the curriculum while providing information to those to whom schools and teacher are accountable that is meaningful, timely and reliable.


June 2007




DfES, January 2007. Making Good Progress consultation document.


Skidmore, P., 2003 Beyond Measure. DEMOS.


GfK NOP Social Research, 2005. Research among parents: a qualitative study. Conducted on behalf of the GTC. Unpublished.


Harlen, Wynne and Deakin Crick, R., Testing and Motivation for Learning Assessment in Education Principles, Policy and Practice, 10:2, 169-207.


Harlen, W., and Deakin Crick, R., A Systematic Review of the Impact of Summative Assessment and Tests on Students' Motivation for Learning. (EPPI-Centre Review); In Research Evidence in Education Library Issue 1 London: EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London.


Black, P., Presentation to Institute of Educational Assessors National Conference. London 4 May 2007


Black, P.; Harrison, C.; Lee, C.; Marshall, B. & Wiliam, D 2003. Assessment for Learning: putting it into practice. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.


Oates, 2004 and 2005. Presentations to GTC seminars - 18 May 2004 and 11 October 2005.


Rudduck, J., January 2004. Presentation to GTC Accountability Stakeholder Forum.


Teaching and Learning in 2020 Review Group, December 2006. 2020 Vision


Wiliam, D., March 2007. Presentation to GTC Assessment Conference. London.

APPENDIX 1: GTC consultation on assessment and testing




Over the academic year 2006-2007 the GTC held a series of consultative seminars in order to present its proposals for changes to the assessment system to teachers, head teachers, parents and others and to receive feedback. Events were held in Leeds, Bristol, Manchester and London as well as a national conference in March 2007. This appendix is a summary of the views expressed.


Assessment to Support Learning


GTC's bank of tests/tasks


Teachers welcomed the bank of tests because they felt they would free up time for teachers to enjoy teaching and pupils to enjoy learning. They wanted to know in detail how and when they would be administered, and by whom. The new tests could eliminate "teaching to the test". They could be a spur to improving the quality of teacher assessment, particularly if teachers had input into their design. The tests at primary phase would need to be matched to specific learning objectives and primary strategy materials. Teachers felt that the tests should be able to define what pupils can and cannot do rather than assigning a level. The DfES and other bodies must take time to trial new initiatives and systems before they expect teachers and schools to put them into practice. Teachers were clear that any new system that resulted in more assessment and less teaching was suspect and they sought reassurance that this was not the case with the bank of tests.


GTC bank of tests/tasks - teachers' questions


Will teachers have enough time to deal with the extra workload?

Who will be responsible for writing the tests?

How will special needs be dealt with? If a special education needs (SEN) pupil is extremely slow to arrive at a position where they are ready to be tested they may emerge from Key Stage (KS) 4 with very few benchmarks, if any.

Will the tests measure knowledge or skills?

Will there be tests for the gifted and talented?

Would the tests measure in levels or in standard scores?

How different will the tests/tasks be to the current national tests? "We don't want SATs look-alikes".

Is yearly testing effective? If more testing was more frequent it would not be realistic to test every pupil in every subject. Would a bank of tests not just allow some teachers to test even more?

Can this system work in secondary education as effectively as it might in primary?


Assessment for learning


Teachers had concerns over how well Assessment for Learning (AfL) is embedded in schools and how rigorously it is being used. Knowledge of AfL can be very mixed. It was felt that teachers' professional judgement was key to successfully implementing AfL because teachers would need a thorough and detailed knowledge of their pupils. A culture shift was necessary to dispel the sense of distrust of assessments at change of phase and explain how AfL fits into test culture. If schools adopted AfL they would need to demonstrate to pupils and parents that standards are being assured and that the process is transparent.


Teachers also felt there was insufficient knowledge and recognition of pupils' learning speeds and styles. Many questioned the wisdom of a knowledge-based, rather than learning-based, curriculum.


Teachers and teaching assistants need support and opportunities to raise their skills in using AfL and the GTC's bank of tests. A useful tool for teachers and others would be the networks of teachers within local authorities to further assessment and help develop teacher confidence. This would ensure that what is done in each school is comparable and consistent.


Formative assessment is the bedrock because it is the tool for taking pupil learning forward. The process should be about achievable tasks which show where pupils' difficulties are for their future benefit. Over-assessment will alienate certain pupils. We should not forget the case for creativity and children's enjoyment of learning. We should be aiming to make each pupil aware and responsible for their learning, for instance through self-assessment.


Personalised learning


Teachers were curious about how personalised learning, with its emphasis on progression and assessment at the pupil's own pace could be translated to the secondary model. Assessment for pupils with SEN or disabilities should be a particular focus. Teachers expressed a wish for less emphasis on national testing and more faith in personalised learning and formative assessment.


The current testing regime


Teachers questioned the value of Primary KS tests which, they said, distort teaching and are not effective in helping pupils to learn. Teachers also thought the marking scheme for national KS tests is too prescriptive and narrowly based on key words, with no scope for pupil creativity. They considered the system impersonal and that it inhibits curriculum enrichment. The outcomes of the tests, particularly at KS3 carry so much weight that teachers are increasingly teaching to the test, making them feel like trainers, not teachers.


The end of KS2 and KS3 tests do not, the teachers said, provide realistic information about children. These tests are demoralising for children who do not have strengths in the core areas but may have skills and talents in non-tested curricular areas. For special schools, tests are a mere paper exercise and do not show multi-sensory, multiple intelligence learning.


Teachers supported the new style KS1 SAT/assessment system because of the greater emphasis on teacher assessment and would support its extension to other year groups.


Teacher professional judgement and resources for continuing professional development


It was felt that teacher confidence had been eroded over time and that the GTC's proposals would help to restore it. Trust in professionalism should extend to teaching assistants and other school staff as well as teachers. Teachers also pointed out that many teachers had only ever known national tests for teacher assessment, so training in new ways of working was crucial.


Teachers identified the need for moderation training, and the time to do it, as necessary for an effective rebalancing of assessment; along with more input on AfL in initial teacher training as newly qualified teachers' (NQTs) understanding can be limited.


Assessment for accountability


School level accountability


The majority of teachers who attended the GTC events thought that league tables were flawed and that they distorted teaching. The levels within the key stages did not work. Without performance tables, teachers thought it would be possible to network more effectively between schools, eliminate divisive competition between schools and develop better collaboration between primary and secondary schools.


While teachers recognised that performance tables can have a role in focusing on school improvement and in parents' choice of school, it was also felt that a wider variety of information should be available. Ofsted inspections, local knowledge, cultural considerations and proximity are also factors influencing parents. Some teachers favoured the use of portfolios of evidence of pupils' achievements to confirm teacher judgements. The development of IT-based "Learning Platforms" would give parents the ability to access pupil reports and assessment records. The School Profile was seen as an effective accountability mechanism that should be more widely promoted.


Teachers felt that the system is currently very accountable but meaningful information is not communicated well to parents. A more personalised approach was needed. It was noted that the independent sector is skilled in communicating with parents and engaging them in dialogue and could offer lessons to be learnt by the maintained sectors.


Teacher assessment and feedback


Teachers felt that they are sufficiently accountable in terms of the quality of information; it is the quality and nature of the information that needs to be addressed. Teachers are adept at assessment because they know their pupils well, but are judged on external test results. It was suggested that schools could be paired nationally to moderate each other and exploit the on-line facilities available.


Ofsted and accountability


Teachers thought a culture is growing in which all children are expected to be above average. This pressure is unrealistic and not helpful to pupils and teaching.


It was felt that an appropriate accountability model would be strengthened and supported school self-evaluation, validated by Ofsted. There was a general desire that Ofsted be more supportive and consistent but frustration that performance tables - offered little of practical diagnostic use to schools.


Assessment for monitoring


Teachers were curious about how cohort sampling would work - how pupils would be selected, how frequently they would be sampled and on what criteria. It was observed that universities self-moderate and regulate the awarding of degrees and it could be that they offer elements which could be incorporated into the cohort model used.


Some teachers were concerned about the time and cost involved in cohort sampling. They wanted to know how school effectiveness would be judged in the absence of school standards data. They were also concerned about sampling pupils with special needs. Others welcomed the proposal on the basis that it could provide comparative data to moderate each pupil against a range of curricular areas, skills and understanding of aspects of development not currently able to be assessed such as pupil attitudes, aspects of Every Child Matters and citizenship.




General Views on the GTC's Proposals


"These proposals would lead to a more creative curriculum."


"Wonderful idea - this will make teaching more enjoyable."


"How can we persuade the Government?"

APPENDIX 2: Engaging with Parents: Pupil Assessment




National Monitoring by Cohort Sampling: How it works


An approach to national monitoring that uses cohort sampling has numerous advantages compared to the testing of whole cohorts of students. The techniques of cohort sampling are well established and are used in studies of international comparisons of student performance such as in the PISA and TIMSS projects. Cohort sampling has also been used in this country from the mid seventies through the eighties by the Assessment of Performance Unit (APU) within DfES. An explanation of the approach used by the APU will serve to illustrate the workings of national monitoring by cohort sampling.


The APU was set up within DfES in 1975. Its brief was to promote the development of assessing and monitoring the achievement of children at school and to identify the incidence of underachievement.


The actual monitoring was contracted out. The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) was contracted to carry out the monitoring of mathematics, language and foreign languages, a consortium from Leeds University and King's College London was contracted to monitor science, whilst Goldsmiths College was contracted to monitor technology. Surveys of samples of students aged 11 years old were started in 1978 and continued until 1988. Surveys of students aged 13 were started in 1980 and continued until 1985 and surveys of students aged 15 were started in 1978 and continued until 1988. Table 1 gives the subject details and the specific dates of the APU surveys.


Table 1: APU Surveys by subject, date and age of students



Age 11

Age 13

Age 15




1978-82, 1987



1978-82, 1987




1979-83, 1988



1979-83, 1988










Foreign Languages







Design & Technology







The approach of the APU was to have a light sampling of schools and a light sampling of pupils within schools. Thus, in the case of the mathematics surveys in England a sample of 10,000 students (about 1.5% of population) was used. Each student was given a written test (students did not all have the same written test) and sub-samples of 2-3,000 were also given other assessments such as attitude questionnaires or practical mathematics tests. A linking and scaling structure was built into the written tests so that students could all be placed on a common scale. The structure is a cartwheel design in which common items appeared in any two tests. Table 2 illustrates this structure.


Table 2: Linking structure of written tests

Group of Test items

Test 1

Test 2

Test 3

Test 4

Test 5

Test 6












































With reference to Table 2, although each student takes just one of the tests, the common items that appear across any two tests means that the performance of students across the whole six tests can be put onto a common scale.


It is by this design that a wider coverage of the curriculum can be assessed than is possible from any single test and this can be achieved without putting undue burden on individual schools and students. Furthermore, this approach enables students' performance to be monitored in those areas of the curriculum that it is impracticable to test a whole cohort such as practical mathematics. This can be achieved by setting assessment in these areas for small sub-samples of students.


The advantages

The approach of cohort sampling combined with a linking and scaling structure for the tests offers numerous advantages for national monitoring.


1. As the approach is a light sampling of schools and a light sampling of students within schools this reduces the testing burden on schools and students compared to the present regime.

2. Within this approach, schools and students have anonymity; the testing is low stakes and thus should have minimal adverse impact upon the curriculum.

3. It is possible to have a wide curriculum coverage that is tested.

4. It is possible to have a range of assessment formats, for example some assessment of practical aspect of the curriculum can be addressed.

5. Test items can be used repeatedly over time.

6. Items can be replaced without the need to develop whole new tests.

7. It is relatively inexpensive.

8. The outcomes give a good indication of trends in performance.

9. It is a tried and tested method that has been used in this country and is still being used in surveys of performance for international comparisons.


The disadvantages

There are some limitations to this approach.

1. It does not give ratings for individual schools.

2. With light sampling of pupils, it is difficult to give feedback to individual schools.

3. The linking and scaling is based on Item Response Theory (IRT), the statistics of which can be difficult to interpret. A simple scale would need to be developed that is adhered to and understood by all. An example of how this might be achieved can be seen in the international assessment projects such as TIMSS, PISA and PIRLS.