A network of chartered assessors would give validity and public credibility to the system of assessment by teachers
Michael Gove has carried out a major review of the national curriculum and has asked Ofqual to look into various aspects of assessment and examinations, including the errors that occurred in the summer of 2011 and the conduct of examination board training of teachers, following allegations that exam security was being breached. He has made announcements about examinations, such as the abolition of modular examinations and controlled assessment (a version of coursework). However, he has failed to set in motion the major review of assessment and examinations from which the previous government also shrank, but which is sorely needed.
In a sensible world, this would have been carried out at the same time as the curriculum review, so that curriculum and assessment could go hand in hand. An assessment-led curriculum, as we have had in this country for many years, does not make for good education.
The latest complaints about the examination system come from the National Association for the Teaching of English (Guardian, 3 January 2012) and from the chairman of the Independent Schools Council, Barnaby Lenon, who has called for greater use of sophisticated multiple-choice questions and teacher assessment in A-levels and GCSEs and advocates the introduction of qualified chartered assessors, with every school having at least one chartered assessor to act as a guarantor of standards of teacher assessment. The same edition of the Guardian included calls from AC Grayling and Peter Hyman – people with very different viewpoints on many educational issues – for radical change in assessment and examinations, the cost of which has spiralled in recent years so that the exam budget is now the second largest item in secondary school budgets, after staffing.
Huge demands are placed on the examination system, especially on A-levels as the passport to university entrance for most 18-year-olds. Yet examining is not the exact science that people – and particularly the media – assume it to be. Grades AAB will usually win a place at a good university, but those A grades might just be Bs, and the grade B might be an A or a C, given the other factors that come into play in examination marking – the wording of questions, the mark scheme and the vagaries of markers. Even if those factors were evened out, a grade earned on papers taken in the hay-fever season gives only a snapshot of performance on a particular day.
We need to put more trust in the professional judgment of teachers to mark students’ work through the course and use those marks to award a grade, or at least a substantial part of it, say 50%. Alongside this, a system is needed to give validity, and thus all-important public credibility, to the grades awarded by teacher assessment.
With a network of chartered assessors across the country, accredited by the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors, which I chair, to carry out in-course assessment to external standards and to act as guarantors of the assessment judgements of other teachers in their schools or colleges, we would have a system that would have greater validity than existing grades and be fairer to students.
Instead of harking back to a golden era of assessment that never really existed, the government should set in place a thorough review of assessment and examinations and look at how teacher assessment could be used more effectively. The Chartered Institute stands ready to play its part in delivering an assessment system that would set the world-class standards to which politicians frequently ask educators to aspire.