Published on: 19 May 2017

As Steve Davies described it, the Welsh Government’s priorities are like a chair: all four legs – assessment included – need to be strong. And we all know there’s not much use for a wobbly chair
Danielle Morgan, Head of Communications, GL Assessment

Education is like sherbet lemons – hard on the outside but the good stuff’s inside

Earlier this week, I went to the Education Summit Wales in Cardiff. Born and bred in Wales, it was great to go back to my home town. But even more worthwhile was attending the event organised by the Education Foundation. It was a forum for sharing what had worked in education in Wales and to be ambitious about the future – and it did it in spades.

There are many things I love about Wales, not least the honesty and the passion of the people. Speaker Nina Jackson talked about education as a sherbet lemon – hard on the outside, but if you work through it, you get to the good stuff. And you don’t get that kind of analogy everywhere.

The speakers were frank, honest – and they shared their struggles and successes. And this led to discussions about whole school reform. In particular, we talked about how to embed digital skills, the value of involving children in their own learning, and ways to get the ‘folded arms brigade’ on side (start simple, see things in practice and spread confidence).

The direction of school reform is, as you know, a timely topic for discussion. Steve Davies, the Director of Education at the Welsh Government, outlined their four key priorities: professional standards, leadership, strong inclusive schools, and a robust assessment framework.

On the subject of assessment, Alyson Mills from Liswerry School described how her school went from a ‘data desert, not knowing where we were or where we were going’ to a place where data has become part of the school’s fabric.

In a separate session, a panel of assessment experts highlighted the value of pupil-centred assessment. They discussed how pupils and parents can be engaged in the process by communicating the goals of assessment and seeing how it can inform learning. It was refreshing to hear the how attitudes towards assessment in Wales are shifting.

Panellist Finola Wilson, Director of Impact Wales, put it well when she said that often, ‘as soon as the word assessment is mentioned, the atmosphere changes, shoulders tighten and brows furrow’. That’s because the shadow of accountability still looms large. But this shouldn’t be the case under the Donaldson reforms. ‘The good news is that the recommendations from Successful Futures, fully accepted by the Welsh Government, make it clear that assessment for learning should not be directly linked to school accountability’.

Assessment is, of course, part of the picture – but it is a core part of it. As Steve Davies described it, the Welsh Government’s priorities are like a chair: all four legs – assessment included – need to be strong. And we all know there’s not much use for a wobbly chair.

By Danielle Morgan, Head of Communications, GL Assessment

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