One in six teachers spend at least two hours a weekend marking books, and many more hours during the week. Yet research published this week by Professor John Jerrim shows that marking is the aspect of teacher workload that is most closely linked with poor wellbeing. Meanwhile, one in five say that assessment would be their top choice if they could wave a magic wand and drastically improve their proficiency in one area of their job.
So what can be done? Making Waves, a groundbreaking new study by the Centre for Education and Youth in partnership with Pearson, the global learning company, asked this question to schools across the country, and has revealed a range of innovative practices with the potential to improve student outcomes whilst also consigning the tradition of endless book-marking to history.
These innovative strategies come at a crucial time for the sector, as the impact of COVID-19 has left teachers with even less time to spend on burdensome marking. With 16% of state secondary teachers no longer allowed to mark physical exercise books, and 24% saying all homework is now online, new approaches to assessment are more important than ever. Students who have missed school for weeks at a time need effective systems that allow teachers to identify lost learning quickly and provide clear feedback and guidance on next steps.
Conducted over the course of two years, the new Making Waves report argues that we should free teachers from the constraints of assessment policies. In one approach from the report, the Midland Academies Trust stopped teachers in its schools spending hours entering data on how students were performing academically. Instead, teachers now have short conversations about individual students with their line manager. Not only does this actually save time, it also allows teachers to capture and communicate a holistic understanding of students’ achievement and needs that can inform future teaching.
A middle leader at the Midlands Academies Trust told researchers that rather than making marking and assessment into a box ticking exercise, “it’s uplifting, because you’re talking about your students and their progress, so it’s less about the data and more about the student. It has the student at the heart of it.”
Other schools like Bengeworth CE Academy, a primary in Worcestershire, are making social and emotional learning their priority for assessment. This focus is more important than ever, as 69% of young people who returned to school in September reported suffering from poor mental health. The school has been developing new ways to monitor students’ socioemotional learning and devise strategies that ensure students get the help they need promptly.
Launching the new Making Waves report, Mary Myatt, author, education adviser and Chair of the Board of the Centre for Education and Youth, said: “We hope that the ‘wave makers’ in this report empower educators to draw on their professionalism and experience in order to experiment with new forms of assessment.”
Lead author and Chief Executive of the Centre for Education and Youth, Loic Menzies, said: “A vanguard of teachers and schools is building a better future for assessment. This is crucial because at the moment, too few teachers feel confident about their assessment expertise. This can stand in the way of them exercising their professional autonomy and maximizing student learning.”
Rod Bristow, President of Pearson UK, said: “Assessment is a critical element of good teaching but its impact and use needs to be much better understood. This report is a rich source of innovative ideas as to how assessment can improve learning. I commend it to all teachers.”
Professor John Jerrim of UCL's Institute of Education, said: "Marking is clearly a huge issue for teachers. It has got to a point where something tangible needs to be done. Changing the way teachers approach assessment is critical to this, with the Making Waves report providing the kind of innovative ideas we need."
The report includes four top tips for schools and teachers who want to implement new approaches to assessment:
- Prepare for innovation: Those looking to make waves in assessment should grow their repertoire of potential solutions by learning more about assessment, building up their technical knowledge and forming new partnerships and collaborations.
- Be explicit about what purpose assessment is serving in this instance: Assessment innovators, particularly at a classroom or department level, focus sharply on a specific challenge that they are seeking to address. They can then tailor their response to this, rather than seeking one approach which they hope will tackle all their pain points in one go.
- Consider the best level to innovate at: Subject-specific assessment expertise should be recognised as a critical element of professional development and competence for middle leaders. Schools could then explicitly recognise that research-informed, assessment innovation is one of middle leaders’ responsibilities.
- Decide how tight or loose to be with your approach: Innovators should maximise opportunities to gather and act on feedback fast, rather than waiting until and end-point evaluation. The appropriate level of flexibility versus fidelity will depend on the approach that is being used and the degree to which the approach is established.
About the report
In 2017, CfEY and Pearson published ‘Testing the Waters’, a report showing that teachers had been left overwhelmed by the workload associated with assessment, and lacking the assessment expertise they needed. The report concluded with recommendations designed to shape a better future for assessment. Pearson pledged to take action on these recommendations.
Making Waves is the follow-up to this initial report. Focusing on the key issues of teacher workload and expertise raised in ‘Testing the Waters’. The project began with a crowdsourcing exercise to understand how practitioners were responding to these challenges. From an initial shortlist of 40 innovative approaches, 10 were selected for closer study. Fieldwork was conducted over the course of a year and has been distilled into the new ‘Making Waves’ report which demonstrates that teachers can take action to take control and build a better future for assessment, through responsible innovation.
The Making Waves report looks at:
- The drivers of innovation in local settings
- The process of developing and delivering innovations
- The impact of innovations
- The replicability and transferability of specific innovations
It concludes that teachers need to be supported to:
- Build up their technical knowledge of assessment
- Develop clarity regarding the purpose of different assessments
- Implement change at the appropriate level (classroom, department, whole school, school network, state)
- Balance flexibility and fidelity as part of the innovation process.
For further information or to request interviews with report authors, please contact Loic Menzies: firstname.lastname@example.org / 07793 370459.
For Pearson media queries related to this release, please contact Duncan Roberts: email@example.com
About the Centre for Education and Youth (CfEY)
The Centre for Education and Youth is a ‘think and action-tank’. We believe society should ensure all children and young people receive the support they need to make a fulfilling transition to adulthood. We provide the evidence and support policy makers and practitioners need to support young people. We use our timely and rigorous research to get under the skin of issues affecting young people in order to shape the public debate, advise the sector and campaign on topical issues. We have a particular interest in issues affecting marginalised young people.
www.cfey.org | @TheCFEY | firstname.lastname@example.org
We are the world’s learning company with more than 24,000 employees operating in 70 countries. We combine world-class educational content and assessment, powered by services and technology, to enable more effective teaching and personalised learning at scale. We believe that wherever learning flourishes so do people.
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