The debate surrounding this year’s GCSE and A Level exam results and the concerns about grade inflation have inspired several articles on the future of assessment in schools.

Peter Hyman, of Big Education and the co-founder of Rethinking Assessment, wrote in the Guardian that our current approach to assessment is outdated and needs to be refreshed.

To do this, Hyman proposes three things:

  1. To allow students to study interdisciplinary courses that draw upon STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) subjects. As Hyman points out, some independent schools are already developing courses like this on subjects such as climate change.
  2. Recognising the strengths of children in areas like creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication, which Hyman suggests could be better indicators of performance than degree classification.
  3. And diversifying the modes of assessment used – introducing methods such as vivas, portfolios of evidence and observations – and varying when students are assessed, rather than assessing them all at once as a cohort.

Deputy Director of the UCL Centre for Education Policy & Equalising Opportunities, Gill Wyness, has expressed concerns about how we assess students. Her worry about this year’s A Level results in particular is that universities will rely upon their own, alternative means of assessing students – such as focusing more on personal statements – and that this will deepen disadvantage.

Wyness and her UCL colleagues propose an alternative form of examination in which students “choose which questions to answer based on their strengths, as is common in university exams”.

Both Hyman and Wyness propose introducing into the compulsory sector forms of assessment which are commonplace in higher education and more rigorous than teacher assessment.

These alternatives, if properly introduced, might be effective in enabling social mobility by measuring students based on their talents and strengths and, in the case of Wyness’ proposal, allowing them to be assessed on topics with which they are most comfortable.

As Hyman indicates, the COVID-19 pandemic provides an opportunity for rethinking how pupils are assessed and how different forms of assessment might enhance their social mobility by better reflecting their achievements and development throughout their school careers.


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