Disrupting assessment culture

Sam Warnes

Sam Warnes is a former teacher and founder of EDLounge, an online learning platform that gives students who struggle with mainstream education the opportunity to access learning.

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Image credit: Flickr // Mr_Stein. // Originally published on 28th February 2018. Image credit: Flickr // Mr_Stein. // Originally published on 28th February 2018.

For children with special educational needs (SEN), one of the toughest barriers to accessing the curriculum can simply be how intimidating the classroom can feel. With 70 per cent of those permanently excluded from school also being registered for with SEN, we need to do more to engage students to maintain their attendance and ensure that functional skills are developed among all students, no matter what their situation or environment.

In 2016, it was announced that pupils would no longer need to resit reading and Maths tests at Secondary school if they “Anxiety could be stopping them from achieving their fullest potential.”didn’t achieve the expected standard. Since then, a focus on catch-up work has continued, but our assessment culture doesn’t always reflect students’ true talents or ability in a subject. For example, some are more adept at oral presentation or coursework. As such, whether it’s assessment or catch up work, some have turned to cheating as the pressure on teachers mount.

Cheating means that when they get to Secondary, pupils’ abilities may not be accurate, and they won’t get the support they need or understand the methods suited to their learning. Without knowing their own unique abilities and revision techniques that work for them, it becomes detrimental to their exams later in life, with almost 80% of pupils in England who do not achieve a C grade in GCSE maths or English also failing to attain this mark during their resits.

So, maybe we need to take a look at the ways students access their revision and assessment. In doing so, we can understand how to support them in navigating the mainstream, or even steer away from it, giving them the opportunity to sit exams in environments designed for them.

Supporting students with revision

Creating an environment where children feel comfortable expressing concerns is imperative to ensure that they feel supported. To enable students to feel confident going into exams, we must help them in addressing feelings of anxiety or low self-esteem, which could be stopping them from achieving their fullest potential. General day-to-day distractions, reduced one-on-one time, larger class sizes and ever-increasing pressures on teachers can make even the prospect of taking an exam too difficult to fathom, becoming a distracting and negative thought when they try to revise.

The lack of motivation to revise and sit exams is best addressed by creating personalised pathways to learning and assessment. Edtech has developed at a tremendous rate and can now offer the opportunity for students to access learning online, both for revision and completing assessments away from a noisy exam hall.

Teachers can use online platforms to track student progress and adjust their provision accordingly, making a learning experience that truly adapts to individual ability and academic needs. This is vital when preparing students to sit exams measuring functional skills such as reading, writing and speaking, as these are the attributes needed if we are to prepare students for adult life and employment.

What next? What will this year look like?

This year, there are revised teacher assessment frameworks for Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2, with changes linking SATs more closely to the curriculum. Now more than ever, we need to ensure students fully grasp the content to succeed in their assessments.

However, it is just as much about supporting their natural curiosity. Tapping into their interests and the ways they learn best helps us to “Learning through play has been a recurring theme in education.”reach all students. Whether they struggle with school due to mental health issues, special educational needs or have a history of absenteeism, every child deserves to reach their fullest potential. As such, learning through play has been a recurring theme in education, with many seeing this as an opportunity to make revision a fun and engaging activity. What is next is bringing this tried and tested technique to all students, and we need to extend the classroom in order to create an inclusive environment for all.

Taking advantage of online learning environments allows students to revise and sit exams in their own time and at their own pace. This technology creates a safe space away from the sensory overload and pressures of a mainstream environment. For students who feel anxious in a chaotic classroom, this can make all the difference in their enthusiasm for a subject, ultimately building their confidence during revision and assessment, too.

As we approach SATs 2018, more educators are using these platforms throughout the year to monitor attendance and progress, using the data to highlight knowledge gaps in preparation for exams, but more importantly, encouraging engagement with the subject and fostering a love of learning.

We may live in an assessment culture, but we also live in a world where technology develops rapidly, providing us with knowledge and educational tools right at our fingertips. So, for this year’s SATs and for all assessments to come, it shouldn’t matter if a child can’t or struggles to attend school, we can bring the learning to them, delivering learning in a way that not only suits their needs, but they enjoy, too.

Students often already have the ability to achieve already, but simply haven’t been given the chance or correct support to fulfil their potential. We’re getting smarter at recognising the ways we can address this, and I think in the coming months and years, we’ll see more schools recognise the opportunity technology brings in making learning accessible to all students.

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