• Don't wait for 'green traffic lights' to depart on your assessment journey...

    "If you are [...] waiting for the 'right' thing to happen, you might wait for a long time. It's like waiting for all the traffic lights to be green for five miles before starting the trip." - Robert Kiyosaki

    Waiting for more clarity on assessment? You’re not alone! Our consultants are hearing from schools daily that they need something to help them with assessment.

    At the Education Show last week teachers crammed liked sardines into Colin Watson’s update on Assessment post-Levels. (Colin Watson is the Deputy Director of Assessment Policy and Development at the DfE). However, if they were looking for an epiphany, they were likely disappointed.

    There was little in the presentation that we didn’t already know - perhaps with the exception of a little further clarity on the ‘progress measure’ being more around added-value rather then set expectations of progress. There was also confirmation that we won’t know detail about the scaled score for SATs until the first set of tests have been marked.

    The truth is, there is nothing really to wait for. Levels were disbanded because they didn’t fit with the freedom of the new curriculum, and they are not being replaced for the same reason.

    Yet this freedom comes along with much higher expectations for school performance: 85% of pupils reaching a level equivalent to a 4b (in old money) in the core subjects. Against this backdrop, it is understandable that assessing without a really clear, accredited framework matched to the new curriculum, feels like merrily swinging on a trapeze without a safety net.

    Of itself, assessment should not be a scary thing. However, assessment of children has for too long been analogous to teacher accountability. Schools may be forgiven for worrying that if they get assessment ‘wrong’ they are heading towards disaster at their next inspection. So of course they are looking for some direction; some reassurance their approach is on the right lines.

    The DfE recently recognised this apprehensiveness by setting up the Commission on Assessment Beyond Levels. We were delighted to see Dame Alison Peacock appointed to this Commission as we have long been fans of her enlightened approach to teaching and assessment. An approach that has seen her school go from special measures to outstanding in just a few short years, and which has created an environment of happy, motivated pupils - and staff.

    The Commission is likely to come out with some fantastic examples of how to look at assessment differently. However, what it is not likely to come out with is any kind of scale that will act as a substitute for levels.

    So what should you be doing?

    According to Tim Oates:

    • The new curriculum focuses on fewer things in greater depth, so assessment should be focused on whether a child has really understood and mastered these key skills.

    • We need a different concept of children's ability - that each child is capable of anything (with hard work and good teaching) - not labelled according to the level they happen to be in.

    • Enabling children to ‘produce stuff’ that can be evaluated: statements, claims, hypotheses, writing, diagrams, pictures – anything that gives teachers an insight into the mental life of the children.

    • More assessment – not less – but of a different kind. Teachers need to become ‘assessment kleptomaniacs,' carrying out high-quality formative assessment that ‘richly probes’ the depth of children’s understanding.

    So far, so good but how do you capture, track and report on this?

    And this, of course, is the crux of the problem, with some schools struggling to understand how to transform their assessments into something reportable – and lacking, frankly, in the reassurance that their children are on track for success in the end of key-stage assessments.

    As a result, simple tracking systems have seen some degree of popularity in recent months, but these have their limitations. Ultimately, you need a system of recording your judgements in a way that relates them to the objectives of the curriculum, and to each child’s level of mastery, and then enables you to report on their progress through the curriculum in a way that is clear and digestible.

    Happily, we are working on a solution to help you with this, launching in September (full details coming very soon!). Our assessment solution will combine frequent tests for the core subjects to help you keep track, proprietary progress maps that give you a logical route through the core concepts, knowledge and skills of the new curriculum, plus a tracking and reporting tool that will help you read and react to your data and to formulate reports for parents, school leaders and Ofsted.

    Summative testing and tracking is not the be-all and end-all of assessment – and on that subject the DfE have been very clear. However, we know that in reality it would be remiss of us not to make sure that our children are on track to succeed, and this is where we can help you.

    In the meantime, if you haven't set out on your assessment journey yet, don't wait for all the 'traffic lights to be green' before you do. They're already flashing amber...

    To receive information about our assessment service, sign up here

  • Assessment in teachers' hands: a question of belief and confidence.

    Talking to colleagues and to teachers I get the impression that some teachers and schools are getting confused about what assessment really is.

    I have heard and read phrases such as ‘teachers are waiting to be told what to do’, or ‘the school will be using xxxx (a proprietary product) to assess’.

    However, I can’t help but feel that teachers are doing themselves a disservice here. Teachers already know how to assess children’s learning - and no product can assess learning like a teacher can. (That's why the assessment support we are developing for autumn 2015 won't try to tell you how to assess, but rather facilitate you to do so within the framework of the new curriculum).

    I believe the confusion is caused by the term ‘assessment’ being used interchangeably or as a short-hand to mean:

    • Knowing what children know and can do, so that they and their teachers can plan next steps and move the learning on. This might involve using information from observations, conversations, work submitted (in a variety of forms) and tests; also known as formative assessment.

    • Testing - knowing what a child knows in a given moment - but only in relation to the questions asked in the test; also known as summative assessment.

    • Recording – making a note of test results and interpretations from teacher knowledge of children's learning.

    • Tracking - recording results and interpretations over time for individual children and groups of children.

    • Progress - the difference between what a child is deemed to know/be able to do between two given moments in time.

    • Reporting – using the information gathered about a children’s learning, achievement and progress and gathering it into an appropriate format to deliver information and judgements to children, parents, governors, inspectors, local authorities and others.

    • Accountability – being held to account, for the achievements at a given moment in time and for the progress that children have made over a given period of time, against set criteria, standards  or expectations.

    As far as I can tell the only thing schools are waiting to be told is what the expected progress between baseline and End of Key stage might be. However, this will not be available until national average progress measure can be calculated and that will not be until tests have been taken and compared across the country. 

    Meanwhile the arrangements for SATS and reporting teacher assessments are available on the DfE website.

    For everything else it is for the school to decide how they assess and report knowledge, ability (can do), attitude, happiness, and all the other essential aspects of their school life, to children, to parents, to governors and anyone else who needs to know.

    The measure of progress in the curriculum should be against the national curriculum attainment targets. The government has arranged these to be appropriate (in their view) to the stage at which children should be for their age at the end of KS1, end of lower KS2 and Upper KS2. End of Key Stage tests (SATs) will continue to provide summative information, against the old national curriculum in 2015 and the new curriculum from 2016.

    The government has also stated that the new national curriculum for England has been designed in such a way as to allow teachers the freedom to plan a curriculum that is meaningful for their children and their school’s circumstances.

    The government claims there is room in the new curriculum for a relevant local or community element, for subjects to be studied in more depth and for learning to be deepened and broadened through practice and application of learning in different ways.

    The number of schools really engaging with this at present seems relatively small. Of course, the new curriculum is still very much in its infancy, and change takes time. However, I can’t help feeling that perhaps teachers don’t quite believe in their newfound freedom yet. After all, they have had a decade and more of a very prescriptive approach to curriculum, teaching methodology, assessment and measures of progress.

    Consequently, I think one of the biggest challenges for schools and teachers is to believe that their approach to assessment is in their hands and to feel confident in their own judgements. Much of this will come with time and with teachers talking to teachers about children's work and progress.

    It is a big challenge! And I for one feel that the government has not acknowledged this aspect enough.

    I think messages about assessment have got confused with the messages about accountability and the government needs to be a lot clearer with these communications and about its intentions – a conclusion it seems to have reached by itself, given the launch recently of the Commission on Assessment without Levels.

    I would like to see the Commission ultimately providing the resources and funding to support teachers in developing the required expertise and, most importantly, professional confidence, by talking to each other, comparing work and through professional development.


  • Teaching - the highs and lows. I became a teacher because I enjoy working with children, I want to make a difference, I get a lot out of it, I am good at it, it's my true vocation, it's challenging and offers variety.

    The good, the bad and the ugly of a career as a Primary teacher

    We recently did some research with our Primary Teacher Panel to help us understand how we can support you better.

    We've done other research into what you need from us in terms of resources, but for this particular study we wanted to understand what it feels like to be a teacher in the 2010s. We asked:

    • Why did you go into teaching?
    • What makes you feel appreciated?
    • What is hard about your job?
    • Why do you stay in teaching?

    The individual responses (around 200) were really fascinating and gave us an interesting and sometimes sobering snapshot of the realities of being a Primary teacher today.

    The infographic below showcases the most common responses we received. While there's probably nothing too surprising here for you we wanted to share it anyway because it shows some very clear themes emerging across everyone who answered.


    Do you agree? Is there anything you would add, or expand on?

    To see more from Pearson Primary, follow us on twitter, or like us on facebook.

  • The busy teacher/parent’s guide to the perfect World Book Day costume

    As World Book Day approaches (5 March for anyone who doesn’t have it etched into their brain yet), our thoughts have turned to the very important issue of The Costume.

    If you want to avoid a class full of Harry Potters and Elsas (not that there’s anything wrong with that per se, but variety is the spice of life) – or indeed an eleventh hour panic about your own costume – the key is preparation. You need to help get your children (and crucially their parents) inspired early and leave plenty of time for charity shop trawling and cardboard painting!

    With this in mind, here are a few costume ideas with literary credibility…

    Lewis Carroll

    Elena Schweitzer. Shutterstock

    Alice in Wonderland is brilliant fodder for fancy-dress, whether it’s the eponymous Alice, the Mad Hatter, Tweedle-Dum and/or Tweedle-Dee, or the Red Queen. While you might not have a sky-blue dress and white pinny in the back of the wardrobe – this could be a good investment for many a Book Day to come. Alternatively you could get creative with a white T, marker pens and felt for a Tweedle-Dum/Tweedle-Dee look. Especially good for twins!…

    Charles Dickens

    debr22pics. Shutterstock

    Tattered trousers, a granddad shirt, braces or a waistcoat, a few smudges on your face, and a flat cap – and you can legitimately claim to be any scruffy Dickensian orphan – from Oliver to Pip to David Copperfield. And for those of you out there with a carefully zipped up wedding dress still in its dust bag, how about layering on a few cotton-wool cobwebs to rock that Miss Haversham look. Or not…

    Roald Dahl

    alexsvirid. Shutterstock

    We may not be able to transform ourselves into Quentin Blake-style illustrations (more’s the pity) but we can accessorise. I fully intend to send my son to school this year with a large cardboard peach. Guess what his name is…

    Alternatively, if you aren’t lucky enough to be called James, you could try a mouse mask to channel Luke from The Witches – or if you’re a grown-up, gloves, wigs, thick makeup and constant remarks about children being smelly would also make for a passable costume from the same book.

    A.A. Milne

    Jules Selmes. Pearson Education Ltd

    Animals are fairly easy to pull off, and Winnie the Pooh has more literary credibility than the majority of stuffed toys. Dress in orange and black, create a tail out of stripy tights, check out the local party shop for a pair of ears and voila – one Tigger ready to go. And if you want to add in a little Buzz Lightyear, who’s to say you can’t.

    Roger Hargreaves

    Mr Bump. Courtesy of Ladybird Books

    The Mr. Men and Little Misses are the Kings and Queens of children’s literature. They’re cute, witty and there’s always a moral to the tale – ergo very educational!

    And with such distinctive characteristics, they’ve each got something to imitate: some blue facepaint and some bandages and voila, one Mr Bump. Admittedly other characters may require a bit more arts and crafts, but a big cardboard box and some poster paint, and you’re just a colourful mess away from the perfect personalised costume.

    Frank L. Baum


    Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz… need we say more? There’s so much scope here – some silver spraypaint, corrugated cardboard and a funnel gets you a tinman, a blue and white checked school dress with some plaits and some red shoes etc etc, but we’re rooting for the wicked witch of the West because of the potential for green-face paint. Always a winner.

    And some runners-up…

    • Anything Austeny or Bronte-esque – if you can find or make a dress!
    • The Dictionary/Thesaurus – fashion a cape out of pages from the dictionary, if you can bear to destroy one. A photocopier might help out with this!
    • Gothic Horror – Frankenstein, Dracula (with due care and consideration given to the audience!).
    • There’s this new thing called The Hunger Games apparently.
    • Charlie and Lola
    • Nursery rhymes
    • Narnia

    And if all else fails…

    Well, Harry Potter is popular for a reason… and Disney costumes are generally easy to come by. It’s not cheating if they made a book out of the cartoon, is it?!

  • CentreForum report backs judging pupils' progress

    Regular readers of this blog will know that we have long argued that the fairest and most effective way to judge schools is by the progress their pupils make.

    We’re delighted, then, to have launched a new report, together with the CentreForum think tank, on this issue: Progress matters in Primary too: Holding schools to account consistently.

    Following on from an earlier report on secondary school accountability, the report argues that pupil progress, rather than attainment, should be the principal floor target for primary schools, for the following reasons:

    • A progress measure encourages schools to focus on all pupils, because the performance of all pupils counts equally towards school performance by that measure. An attainment-based measure has the potential to encourage schools to focus more narrowly on pupils near the threshold, because it is here that schools stand to make the most gains in their measured performance. Consequently, pupils far below the expected standard risk being left behind, while those far above may not be adequately stretched.
    • A progress measure considers pupil performance in light of their individual starting points. In this way it is able to better identify the impact of the school from circumstances outside of its control, i.e. the prior attainment of its intake. An attainment measure puts schools with lower prior-attainment intakes at an inherent and unfair disadvantage, because such intakes are less predisposed to meeting the attainment standards.

    The report also addresses the thorny issue of baseline assessment, arguing that an effective baseline assessment, administered to pupils in their first half-term of Reception, is fundamental to creating a progress measure. It acknowledges that there are valid concerns around the introduction of a baseline assessment, but believes that these can be overcome.

    The report ends with two recommendations:

    1. Pupil progress is the fairest and most effective accountability measure, and should therefore be adopted by government as its principal headline accountability measure for primary schools.
    1. To support pupil progress becoming the principal headline accountability measure for primary schools, the government should provide clear, defensible evidence that the baseline assessment which underpins it is valid, fair and reliable.

    We hope that this report will prove useful in this highly-charged debate. Do let us know what you think.

  • 10 jobs Primary teachers do as well as teach

    As you know, we believe teachers are superheroes. There are so many skills that go into being a Primary school teacher that we can't even count them, but here are 10 we thought you might recognise!

    Please feel free to tell us about other skills you'd like to see mentioned.

  • We're on the verge of big changes in assessment


    Preparing for a Renaissance in Assessment, written by Pearson’s Chief Education Advisor Sir Michael Barber and assessment expert Dr Peter Hill, says that new technologies will transform assessment and testing in education.

    In a Q&A session about the essay, Barber says, “We are about to see big changes in the possibilities of assessment as a result of technology. Current assessment systems around the world are deeply wedded to traditional testing and exams and, some might argue, are holding us back from potential reforms. We should seize the opportunity and not cling to the past.”

    According to the authors:

    • Adaptive testing (for example, tests that evolve in real time on screen) will help generate more accurate tests and reduce the amount of time schools spend on testing
    • Smarter, automated marking of exams will help improve accuracy and reduce the time teachers spend marking “rote” answers
    • Technology will help combine student performance across multiple papers and subjects.
    • Assessment will provide on-going feedback, which, will help personalise teaching and improve learning.
    • New digital technologies will minimise opportunities for cheating in exams or “gaming the system”.
    • The essay argues that current assessment methods are no longer working, so that even the top performing education systems in the world have hit a performance ceiling.

    The authors set out a ‘Framework for Action’ that details the steps that should be taken for “policymakers, schools, school-system leaders and other key players to prepare for the assessment renaissance” (1):

    1. Think long-term - we don’t know when the renaissance will arrive but we need to be prepared by investing in the capacity to bring it about

    2. Build partnerships - we need to build partnerships between teachers and governments, and everyone working in education and technology

    3. Create the infrastructure - having high quality technological infrastructure at all levels in the system, including at individual schools level, is critical

    4. Develop teacher capacity - invest in developing teachers’ familiarity with both technology and sophisticated assessment

    5. Allow variation in implementation - encourage schools and teachers to innovate with a framework for implementation and learn from the most successful examples

    6. Adopt a delivery approach - make it a priority, plan ahead, ensure routine check-ins with all key players and make clear who is responsible

    7. Communicate consistently - from government and leading educators working together and from school leaders to parents

    8. Apply the change knowledge - our starting point needs to be our knowledge base of what it takes to achieve successful, system-wide change including building a shared vision and learning from pioneers.

    Barber and Hill conclude the essay by saying that the significance of the coming renaissance in assessment should not be underestimated and “that it will help secure high standards for all, remove current achievement ceilings and support a focus on… skills vital for living and learning in the twenty-first century.” (2)

    (1) Barber & Hill, Preparing for a Renaissance in Assessment, 64.

    (2) Barber & Hill, Preparing for a Renaissance in Assessment, 70.

    This article is a summary of:

    Barber, M. & Hill, P. (2014). Preparing for a Renaissance in Assessment. London: Pearson.

    Preparing for a Renaissance in Assessment is available to download below. Summary written by Vikki Weston.

    See an interactive page-turn version of the essay here