Grassroots event will encourage teachers to take charge of primary assessment

Hundreds to attend Sheffield conference that aims to give teachers the confidence to make assessment manageable

Teachers and headteachers have the power to make primary assessment work for them, delegates at a grassroots conference will hear tomorrow.

As many as 500 teachers and school leaders are expected to arrive at Sheffield Hallam University for the inaugural #LearningFirst event. It comes just a few weeks after the chaos surrounding the move to tougher Sats this year prompted unions to call for a total review of primary assessment.

There have also been growing concerns about the workload which comes with increased assessment and marking – and which is now seen as one of the main drivers of the teacher recruitment crisis.

But conference organiser Dame Alison Peacock, head of the Wroxham School, a primary in Potters Bar, Hertfordhire, said that she doesn’t want to wait for politicans to act before things change in schools.

“We need to work within the landscape we have,” she said. “To do something, rather than just railing against it and waiting for someone else to make changes. What can we do to make things better for ourselves?”

Dame Alison, who was a member of the government’s Commission on Assessment Without Levels, said the idea for the conference was her “relentlessly positive” reaction to people’s worries.

She said: “In February half-term there were lots of people worrying about the confusing information coming out about the forthcoming assessment and the higher standards. I thought it would be great if colleagues could come together and share what they were doing under assessment without levels.

“There is evidence that a lot of people are under pressure to do lots of quantifiable assessment for their leadership, in case Ofsted came through even though Ofsted was saying it didn’t need to see that.

“So I said ‘how about we talk to each other’?”, she said. “It all happened on social media, people wanted to share. The sponsorship by the TES sent a powerful message to the system, a sense of a “can do” culture. There is still this culture of seeking permission, people are worried they are not good enough – including me – the whole system is subject to imposter syndrome .”

Would like to organise a national conference to debate how we can build assessment expertise throughout the profession #SchoolLed

— Alison Peacock (@AlisonMPeacock) February 20, 2016

The government scrapped levels with the advent of the new curriculum in September 2014 and schools have been told to come up with their own way of assessing pupils between the statutory assessments which happen at the end of key stage 1 and key stage 2.

Critics of the levels system said that it leaded to children being labelled and that it was imprecise – pupils could have the same level, without knowing the same things.

Dame Alison has been one of the main advocates for a move away from levels and towards a more child-focused assessment system.

She said that people were talking about the idea of needing a “data drop” every six weeks – although the Commission’s report recommended there was no need to collect tracking data any more frequently than three times a year.

“I think the way forward is to build confidence and expertise within the profession,” said Dame Alison. “It has to be much less about overall school performance and much more about using assessment as a tool to support the quality of learning. If a headteacher is constantly worrying about data, they can collect data until they are blue in the face, but what are they doing it for? Is it a good use of time? We do need data so we can be confident that children are making progress and can support children who are not making progress, but all that colour coding doesn’t change reality.

“At the moment we defer to data without necessarily analysing it, without learning lessons from what it tells us. If we were more confident in using assessment to inform teaching it would reduce assessment’s overinflated importance. As Dylan Wiliam said it should be a servant, not a master.”

The conference is being sponsored by TES.

@AlisonMPeacock @BeyondLevels delegation of 4 heading for Sheffield on Saturday #LearningFirst Bring on the school-led system! #groundswell

— Bader Primary School (@BaderPrimary) May 17, 2016

@AlisonMPeacock @BeyondLevels SOOOOO excited about this Saturday’s conference – lots of listening and reflecting to do! #LearningFirst

— Mrs Nicholson (@MrsNicholsonMCP) May 17, 2016

Some #LearningFirst delegates have written poetry others songs, in their excitement … You know who you are.

— Alison Peacock (@AlisonMPeacock) May 15, 2016

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