School Improvement

What makes great assessment

By Laura Lodge on 19 May 2017


Last week, the Chartered College of Teaching and Evidence-Based Education hosted a discussion, ‘What Makes Great Assessment?’

The panel was chaired by Stuart Kime and included contributions from: Daisy Christodoulou, Head of Assessment at Ark Schools; Professor Robert Coe, Director of the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring, Durham University; Sarah Lee, Head teacher, Tarporley High School; Tim Oates, Group Director of Assessment Research and Development, Cambridge Assessment; Dame Alison Peacock, Chief Executive, Chartered College of Teaching; and David Weston, Chief Executive, Teacher Development Trust.

During the discussion, the panel tackled three key questions:

  • What makes great assessment?
  • What are the current and foreseeable assessment challenges and uncertainties facing educators?
  • What action can the profession take to address these challenges?


The report shares each contributor’s views on great assessment. The varying opinions of the panel members include common threads such as accuracy, manageability and effectiveness.

Rather than engaging with assessment as a way to move forwards, Dame Alison believes that many teachers view it as merely a judge of our teaching. Instead, she argues that we must not see assessment as the end point, but “as the beginning of future achievement.” Building on this, Dame Alison advocates children’s self-assessment of tasks to enable them to “surprise us with their achievements.” This way, children can compete with others and continually improve, as long as the curriculum is open-ended enough to support higher attaining children to challenge themselves.

Tim Oates focuses on great assessment as being synonymous with accuracy. However he notes the need for assessment to be fit for purpose by being “immune to maladministration, manageable, affordable, with timely and useful results.” Stuart Kime, Daisy Christodoulou and Sarah Lee also point out this need and build upon it to ask what the purpose of assessment is. By ensuring we choose different assessments for different purposes, we will allow great assessment to flourish.

Lee goes on to promote the importance of assessment in teachers’ professional development:

“The development of a shared understanding of the evidence for what makes great assessment needs to be central to teachers’ continuous professional learning. Above all, we need to have school assessment systems that support great teaching, so school leaders need to create and protect space within their CPD programmes, where teachers and leaders can develop and regularly revisit assessment policy and practice.”

Professor Coe makes it clear that assessment should always tell you something new. This may sound obvious, but how many times have so-called ‘assessments’ told us things we already knew? Finally, David Weston writes that he regards great assessment and great curriculum as one and the same, and how it is essential to ensure the development of a clear learning map that shows how knowledge and skill is built up. Only then, will you be able to conduct great assessment as you will be assessing where children are on the map.


The panel shared numerous challenges for educators surrounding assessment, all of which will be familiar:

  • Getting to grips with new specifications, frameworks and grades, in both the primary and secondary sectors
  • The relationship between assessments and workload. DfE workload diaries show that the amount of time primary teachers spent on assessment doubled to 10 hours per week in the three years from 2010 to 2013
  • Unanswered questions in assessment research, such as how important ‘assessment literacy’ is for teachers
  • The devaluing of teacher observations and planned learning in favour of external assessments
  • Assessment being marked more as an instrument of accountability than a classroom tool to diagnose and stimulate learning. As a direct result, the pressure of ‘high stakes’ testing is making incentives to ‘cheat’ overwhelming.


The panel made a number of recommendations to address these challenges, including:

  • Improved assessment training and CPD, starting from Initial Teacher Training
  • The need for schools and teachers to collaborate to conduct research, create a shared understanding and trial new ways of working, such as comparative judgement. One Education are looking to set up a free comparative judgement pilot group from September 2017 which will be led by experienced LA moderators. If you would like to join our pilot, please Contact us online or call Laura Lodge on 0844 967 1111 for more information
  • Creating effective appraisal and performance management systems which support the use of assessment
  • Ensuring that the link between curriculum and assessment is prioritised
  • Raising national awareness and drive reform from the grassroots level
  • Building trust between educators and assessment agencies so that assessment is seen as the servant to education, not the master.

Stuart Kime, panel chair, remarked,

“The seeds of change have already been planted, but they need watering. Teachers and school leaders must not wait for invitations to innovate, but should seize the opportunities presented by this interesting moment in our education system’s history to educate themselves and each other in the principles of great assessment, and to re-imagine assessment into the toolkit it could – and should – be.“ If you would like to find out more, a video of the event is available from the Chartered College’s YouTube channel, with a booklet to accompany it also downloadable from Evidence-Based Education. One Education can also support your school to make its own decisions about assessment. Our new course, Achieving the Best Outcomes in English: Years 3 and 4, focuses on the importance of the accurate and effective assessment of literacy to support progress. Contact us online or call Laura Lodge on 0844 967 1111 for more information.

The themes discussed by the panel and the conclusions drawn will inevitably add to the existing evidence that the current assessment system is unfit for purpose. Hopefully, this will lead to change. Ensure your views are added to the debate by contributing to the consultation on 'Primary Assessment in England'.



Laura Lodge is a literacy specialist who has experience working across the primary phase.

Please get in touch or visit this page for more information.

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