P1040353Three of us (Christine, Tracey and I) went as school leaders to a conference at Tower Bridge a couple of days ago on assessment. We have been wrestling over the year to define, write and teach a new assessment system that reflects what we desire most in our children’s learning, whilst treating the National Curriculum honourably. This has been a struggle for the Assessment Group writing it and I am very grateful, in the way that Johnny-come-latelies often are when they stumble upon work that has been so carefully worked at.

I am in London again today for the first day of the 6th Whole Education Conference at King’s Place. Tim Brighouse, the keynote speaker, will try and address the “perfect storm” facing schools of “the impact of funding, curriculum and assessment changes and teacher recruitment challenges”. How successful he will be remains to be seen.

There was a temptation on Tuesday to throw out all we have done and replace it with an off the peg, already built system. This would simply not be true to our “amateur” standard as a school, driven by love of learning rather than solely by the outcomes. The temptation did not last long. After hearing Tim Oates’ excellent presentation (slides from the conference here) there was a strong message, quite rightly, that the view we have of children and how they learn will necessarily influence the way we teach them and assess their learning. We have a fact-and-knowledge based (“construct-based”) curriculum and therefore a model of “either they know it or they don’t and we’ll just make sure they do” is a valid approach if our view of learning is a Confucian one (all children can learn providing they are taught clearly in a way they understand and they work with enough effort). Tim’s Confucian model works well in this environment. It is the way I was taught as a child and it led to great success. As a result I have a lot of sympathy for it, though it requires a much higher degree of knowledge and understanding from teachers than we generally have in English public education at the moment. However, there was substantial conflict with this view from other speakers. Because we are so committed to a skills-based and attitude-focused curriculum – a strength of the western model, by the way, and not to be discarded – there was an interesting debate growing between those (like Tim Oates) who would not allow for what we sometimes call “the partial meeting of targets”, arguing that either you have it or you don’t, and others (Sue Hackman was a good example) who needed devised greater gradation in their thinking in order to demonstrate progress in the skills of knowledge acquisition or amounts of understanding. Bridging these two approaches was the work of Andrew Read and UKERI. This seemed the most well developed assessment model that I saw during the day, and people on both ends of the spectrum respected it.

No further comment yet. We need to go and digest it all. There were of course one or two fairly dire presentations – can’t be helped, I suppose, but the food was good and the company excellent – and we learned masses and came away in the dark of a London evening with our heads full and buzzing.

Now off to the next thing….

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About Huw Humphreys

I am a headteacher in the city of Milton Keynes, where I have been since April 2011, looking to make education effective for the whole child and keeping a distant relationship with the powers that be and their narrowing approach to education... but most of all I am looking to find out what it means to be both a follower of Jesus Christ and a passionate educator in the midst of an unsettled community. I am also a part time musician, part time linguist and lover of history and literature...committed both to freedom to learn and depth of learning for all our children. The views on this blog are all my own, and not in any way those of the school I lead!

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