Russell Hobby, general secretary of NAHT blogs about his thoughts and passions and the work of the National Association of Head Teachers.
The NAHT’s commission aims to take back ownership of assessment for the profession.
In February we published the report of the NAHT Commission on Assessment Without Levels. The immediate aim of the commission was to chart a path through the potential fragmentation of assessment following the government’s dec-ision to abandon the use of levels. -Levels were far from perfect, but they did provide a shared professional language and a consistent benchmark between schools. The idea of a future filled with thousands of approaches to assessment did not fill us with enthusiasm.
The commission had a longer term aim too: to take back ownership of assessment for the profession. In a sense, we decided to take the secretary of state at his word. Just because the government has decided to adhere to no system, does not mean we have to do the same. This is a chance to get assessment right: keeping the best bits of levels – the use of objective criteria rather than ranking and a shared approach between schools. It would also mean a chance to improve practice, abandoning the process of summing up a child as a single number, for example, and speaking more in terms of strengths and areas for development.
The report provides a set of hard-edged principles for assessment and a detailed design checklist. This could act as self-evaluation or as the seed for a revised assessment policy. It takes a particular view of the world of assessment, from which some may differ, but it builds on the best of what we already see schools doing.
We are not without recommendations for the wider system – not least that government should endorse the continued use of levels as an interim measure while schools grapple with the new curriculum; after all, they will continue to teach children under the old curriculum for some years to come. We also suggest that schools should not be expected to publicise a detailed assessment framework this September, but rather to publish their assessment principles now and keep working on the detailed framework. We call for better training in assessment too. And we look forward to a response on these suggestions. Michael Gove has given a measured welcome to our report, but don’t let that put you off it. One of our aims was to ensure the buy-in of those who hold schools to account, so schools could be confident in making more creative choices within the broad principles.
Bear in mind, though, that this is about internal assessment for learning. The use of assessment for accountability is the subject of an open consultation – although it may well have reported by the time you read this. The big issues are the role of a baseline at primary and the level of the floor standard. Putting my neck on the line, I do not think we will see an increase in the volume of formal testing. We have been involved in negotiations on this topic and our proactive work – suggesting solutions and alternatives – is giving us credibility in such discussions.
This is part of our wider strategy of taking back ownership of standards and filling the gaps where necessary to prevent fragmentation. It stretches the association out of its comfort zone but it also produces real benefits. Our school improvement project, Aspire, is another such example (see page eight). This has already helped one third of the schools on the project to get to ‘good’, in less than a year. That means that our members are protected, staff in the schools are developed and the schools themselves are not forced to seek academisation.
Our politicians are now turning their attention to 2015 and their policies for the next election. We are therefore now applying our proactive philosophy to produce concrete proposals for the next government, in a manifesto for and from the profession. Look out for a draft for consultation heading your way soon.