SEA Cymru | What Assessment do we need in Wales in 2021?

SEA Cymru applauds the decision of the Scottish Government, announced this October, to cancel next Summer’s Level 5 Examinations, the equivalent of English and Welsh GCSEs. We call on the Welsh Government to do the same.

It will be of no value to delay GCSE and ‘A’ exams by three weeks, school students have already lost enough teaching time to make this valueless. It will be even less useful to beef up mock exams as moderators of performance: to make them comparable in all schools and to base them on exam board questions. This will merely turn the rest of this and the next term into exam-cramming rather than an educational experience.

We do not support a blanket call for teacher assessment to take the place of examinations. This throws all the responsibility on teachers, however new and inexperienced. It also allows unsupported teachers to demonstrate class and race bias by overestimating some students and underestimating the performance of others.

We call instead for properly moderated teacher assessment. This must include coursework, oral assignments, and practicals as well as written tests. There is plenty of experience of this from the old GCSEs before Gove got his hands on them. Schools will still have experienced teachers who can share standards and grade boundaries with colleagues. In Wales, there are still people with the knowledge to lead this process, in the Welsh Joint and, in spite of losses, in Local Authority teams. There is scope for cluster moderation, using Zoom to compare standards across schools. Insightful moderation is the way to utilise teacher knowledge of individual pupils and, in virtue of having to discuss and justify their judgement, to reduce or eliminate bias.

Thus SEA Cymru believes that moderated teacher assessment of pupil’s work can and should replace this year’s disaster and be the shape of assessment after Covid.

We call for the same attitude to be taken to high status summative testing in Primary Schools. Currently National Literacy and Numeracy tests are set in Wales every year from Year 2 to Year 9. SEA Cymru welcomes the Welsh Government’s relaxation in these tests for the 2019/2020 academic year.

However, summative testing is against the changes in curriculum and assessment expressed in “Successful Futures”, the Donaldson Report of February 2015. Donaldson makes it clear that mass testing is a test of schools not pupils. If the Welsh Government want to keep tabs on standards in Wales, it can do so by sampling. There is no need to undermine the mental well-being of pupils, through excessive testing.

The emphasis must change to diagnostic (what help do pupils need?), formative (what are their next steps?) and evaluative assessment (how well does my teaching meet their needs?). Thus Wales’s National Tests should be cancelled. They cannot be civilised by online testing, however spaced out. The tests affect children’s well-being – because they are tests that lead to the questions that they cannot answer. This experience of failure has no benefit for the children, and no worthwhile information for their teachers, headteachers and parents.

Chris and Mike Newman
Chair and Secretary, SEA Cymru

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