In December 2016 Pearson and LKMco launched a consultation entitled 'Testing the Water'. It seeks to better understand concerns among teachers, school leaders, parents, governors and young people about assessment, and identify ways of addressing these concerns. The consultation will run until the end of the summer 2017 and views are welcomed from school leaders - the consultation is open online here.
In total LKMco have also run 17 workshops, speaking to over 150 teachers and school leaders as part of this process. They have published a preliminary report based on the findings from these workshops as well as initial responses to their consultation. The following concerns and themes were identified by respondents and attendees: these may change as the consultation progresses.
Concerns around pupils well-being
- The fear of being labelled a failure and of the consequences of failure for young people can be very intense
- The likelihood of being labelled a 'failure' has increased for primary children under the new assessment system
- Teachers and parents sometimes pass stress 'down' to young people
- Young people may not perform at their best under pressure
- Children are assessed too early
- The pressure is unnecessary and extreme.
Concerns around staff well-being
- Tests and exams cause significant stress for teachers
- Teachers feel simultaneously motivated and pressured to deliver results.
Concerns around workload
- Assessment often adversely affects workload.
- Teachers spend considerable time marking books and practice tests
- Teachers feel compelled to provide written feedback over other forms of feedback (including verbal), so they have 'something to show' for the lesson
- Teachers spend a lot of time gathering and entering data
- The pressure to deliver results means teachers can feel compelled to run extra lessons and revision sessions.
Concerns around accountability
- The accountability system shapes what pupils learn
- The accountability system shapes how pupils learn (pedagogy becomes disproportionately focused on practising test and exam technique)
- Accountability negatively shapes the focus of in-school assessment. (Moving emphasis away from forms of assessment that inform teaching towards testing that is used to produce tracking data in order to monitor teachers' performance, or to replicate and therefore prepare pupils for summative exams)
- The accountability system serves multiple and perhaps conflicting functions. (Assessments are used to both judge pupils' successes in particular areas of learning, and to hold schools to account)
- The accountability system does not reflect whole-schools' achievements
- The accountability and reporting system can adversely impact special schools.
Concerns around perverse incentives
- School and national-level accountability create perverse incentives to game the system by individual teachers and schools
- The accountability system means the pressure is not spread evenly across different stakeholders (more pressure on teachers and school leaders, less on governors)
Concerns around teaching (and assessing) to the test
- Tests and exams can alter the underlying purpose of learning
- Teachers can spend too much time doing the wrong sorts of assessments. (assessment is too focused on securing data that helps school leaders to track and monitor pupils' progress, and doesn't actually support learning.)
Concerns around trust in teachers
- Teachers generally do not feel their professional judgement is valued.
Concerns around making accurate judgements
- It is difficult to make accurate and reliable assessments of pupils' achievements and progress
- Training in assessment for teachers is patchy nationally
- There is difficulty in drawing comparisons between pupils' achievements and progress in different schools, because of a lack of commensurability between their assessment systems
- The quality of assessment varies between schools
- Assessment does not align between different phases of education
- MATs are developing their own approaches to assessment, tracking and moderation. Some participants felt this was a welcome and necessary development - others expressed concern that this could further embed fragmentation in the system
- There are serious concerns about the reliability of local authority moderation processes
- There is a lack of alignment and understanding between the mainstream and special sectors.
Concerns around government reform
- Respondents feel assessment is 'imposed' on them
- Teachers, governors and parents question the rationale behind many of the government's reform to assessment
- Teachers and school leaders feel frustrated that the goalposts keep moving
- Teachers and parents feel more clarity and guidance about the direction of travel and standards in assessment is needed.