Bluffer’s Guide to Assessment

This article originally appeared in Teach Primary, a wonderful and intelligent publication to which you can subscribe here.


Okay, so assessment in primary is a mess, but let’s get something straight: when we complained that the government should stop interfering and let teachers get on with assessing children however we liked, we didn’t actually expect them to let us do it. So we’ve learnt two things. First, it turns out that the only thing worse than having a bad system is having no system at all, and second: the only thing worse than being told what to do is not being told what to do.

But since we moaned for so long about creating our own systems, we need to muddle something together, and preferably before the end of the academic year. To help guide you through the chaos, I present the bluffer’s guide to assessment:

Re-invent levels (but change the name)

So maybe levels were ‘unhelpfully vague’, ‘statistically flawed’ and ‘encouraged children to progress before ready’, but better the devil you know, am I right? When creating new assessment grids, you should just copy and paste the old level descriptors from APP but, and here’s the clever part, change the name at the top. Something like ‘progress indicators’ or ‘mastery thresholds’ will do. Preferably, you should pay a shady educational company thousands of pounds to do this for you, but instructing your work-wearied Deputy Head to bodge it together over a weekend is also acceptable.

Use the word ‘mastery’. A lot. (Don’t worry about what it means.)

Apparently, we should all now be doing mastery. Don’t worry, nobody really understands what it means, so you can just declare authoritatively that you are definitely doing mastery and shrug if anybody questions you. You can evidence mastery by adding a box to your planning pro forma that says ‘mastery’ and sticking in whatever you’ve decided your more-able students will be doing. If a student gets all of their work correct then smile and say things like “Well done Michelle. You’re doing mastery now.” Using apostrophes correctly is a good example of mastery, I think, but there are others too.

Generate as much data as possible.

Teachers have grown accustomed to spending large portions of their evenings and weekends pointlessly entering data into spreadsheets that nobody looks at. It would be both confusing and dangerously liberating for you to remove this requirement so, whatever you do, make sure that your new policy necessitates a bewilderingly over-burdensome data-entry process. If teachers question the system, respond with a sigh and the timeless cop-out of “I know, but Ofsted require it.” If teachers counter with the new Ofsted guidance, tighten your lips and proclaim that “they don’t really mean that’.

Continue to be terrified by Ofsted.

But, like, really really now.

If a parent asks about assessment, remember the three Cs.

Given the national coverage of the changes to assessment, some parents have unfortunately cottoned on to the fact that nobody knows what the hell we’re doing. They may approach you and say irritating things like “I don’t understand this new assessment system,” or “My child used to be on track but now you’re saying they’re behind,” or “What on earth is any of this supposed to mean. And why do you look so panicked? Hey, where are you going?”

Although such complaints are well-grounded, coherent and reasonable, it’s very important that we maintain the illusion that we know what we’re doing. They must never learn the truth. The government’s guidance of how to respond to a terrorist attack (run, hide, call for help) happily doubles as solid advice for dealing with parents with questions about assessment.

For the trickier customers, remember the three Cs: counter, confuse, confabulate. Start by explaining with conviction that everything is fine and that your new system is robust and reliable. Then throw every piece of educational jargon at your disposal at them, using at least a dozen acronyms, for example: “The APS for EAL and SEN was never comparable to our FMS, and IEPs further complicated matters”. Nod sagely as you do this. Finally, end by thanking them for their interest and allowing you to clear everything up. Promise to email them some documents, but never do.


And finally, keep your head down and wait for the whole thing to blow over.

Following this guide should protect you from ever being called out for not knowing what you’re doing but, more importantly, it will mean that the DfE never call our bluff and actually let us do anything for ourselves again. At which point we can safely go back to moaning about not being listened to.



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