The Quality of Provision in UK schools

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In discussing reviews of English and Greek primary schools in regards to student assessment it is reported that "teacher's records tend to emphasise the quantity of students' work rather than its quality, and that whilst tasks are often framed in cognitive terms, the assessments are in affective terms, with emphasis on social and managerial functions" (Bennett 1992, Pollard 1994, & Mavromattis, 1996 cited in Black, 1998, p. 9). The Assessment for Learning (AfL) initiative is one reformation of the assessment in UK schools that is attempting to overcome this issue. However, it is understandable that, as pointed out in Black's study, "when national or local assessment policies are changed, teachers become confused." This confusion is mostly due to the fact that every teacher has their own teaching method and pedagogical framework, and restructuring their pedagogical approach for changes in assessment can be difficult as well as 'confusing.' Black further mentions that in the UK, changes have rendered a diversity of practices- some counter-productive to the newly stated aims and changes they derived from. Most likely this is due to the fact that teachers were unsure how to incorporate the new assessment guidelines into their adopted framework and also follow the National Curriculum expectations (McCallum, 1993 & Gipps, 1997, cited in Black, 1998, p. 9).

In a study investigating assessment processes (Crook, et al., 2004) it is argued that making assessment an 'organisational process' that is tightly scripted and formatted shifts the focus upon study products rather than study practices, and causes tension and unease for the student and in the relationship between students and their teachers. Essentially, Crook et al. found that the restructuring and mandatory format of assessment resulted in a focus upon performing well on the product of the study (the exam, the report, the project, etc.) rather than the actual learning, which leads to students learning for short-term reproduction of knowledge for assessments rather than learning for long-term acquisition of knowledge. A similar study (Ecclestone & Pryor, 2002) examines the idea that students develop a 'learning career' from the beginning of primary education that carries with them through their further schooling, however that a focus on formal assessment causes a concept of an 'assessment career,' which affects the students' enjoyment of and disposition for learning. According to much evidence (Becta, 2003 & OECD, 2001 cited in Leask, 2009, p.116), "when ICT is effectively deployed, pupil motivation and achievement are raised in a number of respects." Therefore, utilising word processing, databases, scanners, printers, videos, the internet, among other technologies are not only useful in assessment, they are also enjoyable and useful learning tools from the students point of view. Therefore, the use of ICT tools in assessment takes the focus away from the pressure of attaining high marks on the grading scale and puts the focus upon the learning, making it more enjoyable as well as accessible to the pupils.

One aspect of the Assessment for Learning (AfL) initiative is a focus upon self and peer-to-peer feedback and assessment. On the UK government's National Curriculum website the four key principles in assessment are explained, and one of them is that the learner is at the heart of assessment. The National Curriculum guidelines recognise that "pupils feel detached from the process of assessment," and offer that a key way to achieve student involvement in assessment is for teachers to have more involvement in recognising students' strengths, celebrating their achievements, and offering advice for progress. The National Curriculum does not, however, mention the importance of peer-assessment in achieving the exact same goal. Research shows that teachers have a central role in helping a student to develop a self-assessment of learning, "external feedback from other sources (such as tutors or peers) is also crucial" (Juwah, et al., 2004, p. 7). Feedback that comes from a learner's peers helps to challenge students and to reassess their knowledge and their beliefs. A students' peers may be able to explain lessons in a more accessible and better understood language than the teacher as well as offering students alternative perspectives and understandings, leading to a greater attainment of knowledge overall. Further to this, learners most often develop skills in self-assessment after they have developed skills in peer-to-peer assessment, meaning that students need to be taught the "skills of collaboration in assessment" in order to assess their own progress "objectively and become increasingly independent learners" (Redbridge, p.1).

When it comes to the term 'assessment' in a school setting, the first thought that arises in one's mind is that of the teacher at a desk marking papers with grades and stickers. However, more modern approaches are incorporating more self-assessment aspects as well as peer-assessment, making assessment a process that is not simply judged by the adult educator, but a process of true learning, where the learner is able to assess their own progress and performance. Reforming assessment with an approach that involves both learner and teacher assessment changes not only the role of the student, but also the role of the teacher. Whilst the student gains more control over their own learning and assessment, the role of the teachers becomes more of a guidance role. In brief, students and teachers must together decide upon and understand learning goals that are to be pursued as well as identifying the criteria themselves, their peers and their teacher will utilise in assessment (Gardner, 2006, p.28). Further to this, they must understand how and what they are learning, reflect upon their strengths and weaknesses, accept constructive feedback from peers/teachers and improve upon their work, learn how to self-reflect and compare their work to their own past work rather than in comparison with their peers, as well as identifying their future plans for learning and encouraging their peers (p.28). All of the aforementioned changes in the student role of learning involve massive restructuring and transformation of learning and teaching, which can be a daunting process. However daunting, though, involving the student in their own learning is most definitely a way to overcome the 'assessment career' (Ecclestone & Pryor, 2002) and the tension of the student in regards to a product focused learning system versus learning focused (Crook, et al., 2004).

In order for a school to utilise ICT effectively the school must "possess a culture that incorporates a strong belief that using ICT can help pupils to learn, increase the efficiency of the day-to-day activities...and generally improve the quality of the school's performance" (Kennewell, et al., 2000, p.32). Another factor of successfully using any curriculum is that assessment is also restructured in order to make the curriculum most effective, and the key issue explored in the review is whether or not Assessment for Learning (AfL) is effective in Key Stage 4 ICT learning in UK schools. The same with any other subject, ICT assessment must be consistent with the school's policies as well as having an agreed format of assessment throughout the school. The main goal in assessing students' ICT is by measuring their capability and not merely skills acquisition, and this is achieved through the AfL structure that supports all aspects of ICT learning and teaching. By engaging in conversations with one's peers and their teacher, students' needs and strengths and weaknesses will be known, and this feedback will be inherently linked to learning targets and a clear connection between day-to-day assessment and lesson planning. Overall, AfL allows the teacher to plan their lessons based upon students' needs rather than structuring lessons without taking the learner into consideration, which more often than not leaves many students behind before they have attained the knowledge from the previous lesson.

The expectation is that upon reaching the end of KS4, all students have developed "efficient and effective ICT-based solutions to a range of problems, both for themselves and for others to use." And furthermore, that students have become discerning in their choices for information sources/ICT tools with the ability to act upon any feedback they receive in critically evaluation as well as development of ICT solutions. Lastly, it is essential that by KS4 students are using ICT in a safe, responsible, and secure manner (DCSF). As technology continues to develop, the need to educate students who will specialise in designing and enabling the new developments is increasing. One text (Leask & Pachler, 2006) ascertains that there is a direct correlation between various subject attainments as well as demonstrating a positive effect on students' motivation and attitudes (p.162-169). With the availability of ICT resources in the modern classroom, it is obvious why a restructuring of schools and the National Curriculum was and is necessary in order to capitalise upon such a useful tool that is changing not only education in schools, but also the way information is perceived in every aspect of modern life.

Bridget Somekh (2007) discusses how there are many facilities offered by ICT, such as the development of digital portfolios or electronic journal assessments that would support the new strategies (p.44). In regards to peer-assessment, Somekh acknowledges that a new understanding of learning as a collaboration between partners and a result of activities in which "ICT tools act as extensions of learners and co-construct learners' agency" (p.45). An example Somekh offers in regards to utilising ICT in assessment is that if electronic communications such as the internet are a large part of the learners' practices, it does not make sense to assess the student's learning without allowing them access to those tools. At Key Stage 4, students are able to gain certificates in major ICT applications through the National Inter-Action Computing Award Scheme (NICAS), including desktop publishing, spreadsheets, databases, and word processing, and since September of 2000 all Key Stage 4 students are automatically entered for the ICT Key Skills award (Imison & Taylor, 2001, p.136). Overall, whilst it has been made apparent through multiple research projects and studies that Assessment for Learning (AfL) initiatives increase student enjoyment, take pressure off of the students, encourage students to become more self-reflective, and also encourages peer assessment and working together, the amount of pressure placed upon schools to improve (and prove) results achieved by their students through test and examinations with quantitative results precludes its usefulness (William, et. al, 2004).