Russell Hobby, general secretary of NAHT blogs about his thoughts and passions and the work of the National Association of Head Teachers.
Curriculum and assessment are vital – but don’t forget creativity and colour, says Russell Hobby.
Welcome to 2014. A year when many of the government’s previously announced reforms come into effect – all at the same time. We have spoken elsewhere of the overload in the autumn term and tried to persuade the government to phase in or prioritise some of the demands. Curriculum and assessment will be – or should be – of overwhelming importance. The curriculum demands and requirements are now available and should be within reach of most schools; the key issue will be remembering that the school curriculum is bigger than the national curriculum, and not to forget the creativity and colour in the midst of compliance.
Assessment is a different matter entirely, characterised by confusion and fragmentation. In the government’s eyes, schools are essentially on their own when it comes to assessment. Try as I might, I cannot conceive of any educational purpose served by 20,000 different systems of assessment. Nor can we be confident that inspectors could grapple fairly with that diversity of data when evaluating schools. We hardly need an even greater element of uncertainty and chance in inspection.
We expect that the majority of schools will continue to use levels in the short term. This makes sense, but it cannot last. For a long-term direction, the NAHT has established its Commission on Assessment. It took evidence last term and we have had observers from the DfE, Ofqual and Ofsted to ensure this is not an isolated activity, as well as practitioners from primary, secondary and special schools.
The commission aims to agree a set of design principles to underpin a coherent system of assessment and to secure their acceptance by those who hold schools accountable. With a sense of direction, it would be possible for schools to move forward from levels, keeping the good bits but abandoning the less helpful elements; and creating systems that align with those used in other schools. Levels were not perfect, but they were shared and understood. It is that shared clarity which must be preserved, not necessarily the reduction of a child’s achievement to a single number.
In my view, some of what characterised levels ought to remain. Assessment should be curriculum-driven (although it should also look at social and emotional development); it ought to contain concrete, qualitative statements of what is expected of children and these ought to be arranged in some sort of progression to chart a path of development (rather than rank-ordering pupils). Whether this is all boiled down into a single number is a separate question; although in many ways rich, narrative descriptions would be far more useful. I can imagine a bit of both.
The NAHT hopes to step into the gap, as we do in other areas where we see fragmentation causing damage. This is part of the way that a union of leaders demonstrates leadership. Just because the government abandons something doesn’t mean we have to as well. And assessment is not the only area where we’re picking up the pieces; hopefully you will have seen that we have taken on the cancelled ‘Seizing Success’ conference (now called ‘Inspiring Leadership’, although we toyed with ‘Grasping Greatness’ for a while). Same place, same time: I encourage you to demonstrate the profession’s independence and self-reliance by registering for a place.