Stating more than the obvious – making the case for investing in teacher assessment for learning

Reflecting on the OECD Report 2017: The Welsh Education Reform Journey – A Rapid Policy Assessment, Robin Hughes calls for a national strategy to build teacher assessment skills

Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director for Education and Skills unveiled their latest report focusing on Wales in Cardiff on Tuesday 28th February.

The Welsh Education Reform Journey: A rapid policy assessment was commissioned by Education Secretary Kirsty Williams AM to check that education reform policy is on track.

As predicted, the latest report is largely positive about the reform programme and progress thus far – predictable because the programme is in large part a response to an earlier critical report by the OECD in 2014.

In 2014, OECD said that poor PISA 2009 results had prompted a slew of reforms that had little coherence.  In 2017, OECD says:

“Since 2014, the OECD has witnessed progress in several policy areas and a shift in the Welsh approach to school improvement away from a piecemeal and short-term policy orientation towards one that is guided by a long-term vision and characterised by a process of co-construction with key stakeholders.”

But the report makes it clear that more is needed for success.

“A good education strategy cannot lead to success without effective implementation.”

According to OECD, the challenge now is to maintain focus, align reforms further and use evidence to ensure effective implementation.

Throughout, it needs to be made more explicit who is responsible for what.

“The government should clarify how different reforms and policies relate to each other as well as the roles and responsibilities of teachers, school leaders, local authorities and regional consortia.”

(By inference this would include being clearer about what should be expected of Welsh Government and stakeholders such as Estyn and the EWC.)

There needs to be clear success criteria and milestones on the way to achieving them.  Achieving targets should be celebrated as a way of securing commitment to the education reform journey.

OECD calls for further policy attention in four areas.  Here they are, with brief comment:

Developing a high quality teaching profession: to continue with the existing reforms; however, the OECD notes specifically that there is a need for “focusing on teachers’ formative assessment and differentiated teaching skills”.

The challenge is significant.  These are areas of weakness also identified by inspectorate Estyn.  Daisy Christodoulou in “Making Good Progress? The future of Assessment for Learning” presents a devastating critique of widespread poor practice in assessment, and some of the structural causes for it.  Assessment, and the confusion surrounding it, featured in a letter of concern about implementing current curriculum reform by Senedd CYPE to the Secretary earlier this year.

Making leadership development a prime driver of the Welsh education strategy: OECD asks for more pace in developing new leadership standards and in alignment with new teacher standards.  It proposes that more high skill school business managers be developed, to unburden school leaders so that they can focus more on being leaders of learning.

It is unlikely that many schools will have the money to employ high calibre, high skill business managers; schools working together to employ such a professional certainly would.  This is another nudge for schools to pool resources and share services.

Supporting the realisation of the national commitment to equity: OECD makes three specific recommendations – to consider a national needs-based school-funding formula that ensures the effective allocation of funds to schools; expand the mandate of regional consortia to include responsibility for supporting students with additional learning needs; invest more in support staff who are involved in teaching and learning.

Welsh Government is about to get devolved teacher pay and conditions having declined it three times and has found it all too difficult to make progress in reforming supply teaching despite the many reports from the Audit Commission, Estyn and others asking for it.  It might be said that setting off on a search for a national funding formula would be a step too far for Welsh Government right now.  But stakeholders would benefit from having this focus on education spending – who is holding what budget, for what purpose, and is the impact proportionate.  When budgets are tight and public service reform is hot, it is an advantageous time to push for change (if the case can be made).

An ALN Bill is working its way through the Senedd.  At the same time, the National Model for regional working that underpins the relationship between Welsh Government, regional consortia and local authorities is up for review.  It is a good time for reviewing duties, care and expectations for vulnerable learners.

Moving forward with the development of the new assessment and evaluation framework: OECD asks for continued investment in the formative assessment and data-handling skills of teachers and school leaders.  Greater synergy between the national school categorisation system and the new Estyn inspection framework is recommended.

Here, OECD repeats itself.  It serves to emphasise that good and rounded teacher assessment is necessary to identifying barriers to learning.  This is the cornerstone of differentiated learning.

Lucy Crehan in Cleverlands reflects on her experience of teaching in Finland, Japan, Singapore, Shanghai and Canada.  Strong performing systems are good at making it standard practice to identify barriers to learning for each pupil, and then putting  appropriate support and teaching in place for all pupils – regardless of the barriers they face – to achieve high expectation.

Learning is differentiated but expectation is not.

The case for a national strategy to build teacher assessment skills in Wales is compelling.

OECD has reported.  It has made observations that go beyond the obvious.  Secretary Kirsty Williams AM will deliver a refreshed Education Improvement Plan, Qualified for Life 2.0 this Spring.



Robin Hughes is an education consultant with specialisms in stakeholder management, reputation management, strategic development and qualitative research

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