Alternatives: Assessment

There are lots of alternatives to summing up young people’s achievements through high stakes tests and exams. For example, lots of countries don’t have exams at 16, preferring a broader qualification at 18. Here are some other ways of judging students.

The Tomlinson Report

Back in 2004 the then Labour government asked the respected education expert Mike Tomlinson to come up with a new way of assessing children between the ages of 14 and 19. His big idea was a much broader qualification at 18/19, which would include an extended project and various modules which you could take when you were ready, rather than at a certain age. You would end up with a transcript of the various elements you had taken, along with core modules in for example maths and English. Maths would equip you for working life rather than being full of advanced content, though you could take more difficult modules if you wanted. There was scope to do community projects and work with employers, which would form part of your transcript. The idea was that higher education and employers would have a much fuller account of your achievements than traditional, narrowly academic qualifications. Sadly, Tony Blair rejected these ideas in favour of the alleged ‘gold standard’ of GCSEs and A-levels. The rest is history. You can read about the Tomlinson report here:

The Mastery Transcript

Similar to Sir Mike Tomlinson’s ideas, this is an American concept that’s been building in the last few years in private schools and is now spreading into public schools (what we call state schools). It is a digital record of a whole range of ‘credits’, each of them covering key areas of a student’s knowledge, skills and disposition. Both Harvard and Yale universities have endorsed the approach. Each transcript can be easily read by both universities and employers, and is a deeply personalised, student-driven summary of their capabilities. It is an on-going, constantly updated record which also enables teachers to coach students on where they need to improve. Students gain credits when they are ready – so it’s about stage, not age. The credits are substantiated by evidence from every stage of student’s educational journey, both inside and outside the classroom. The transcript tells a story about the student: who they are, what they have learned, how they have grown, what they love, and who they want to be.

The International Baccalaureate

The international baccalaureate operates at all school levels. The 16 to 18 diploma is taught in schools in over 140 countries, in approved schools. Students complete assessments in six subjects from a subject group, alongside three core requirements. Students are evaluated using both internal and external assessments, and courses finish with an externally assessed series of examinations, usually consisting of two or three timed written tests. Internal assessment varies by subject: there may be oral presentations, practical work, or written work. In most cases, these are initially graded by the classroom teacher, whose grades are then verified or modified, as necessary, by an appointed external moderator. THE IBDP is seen as harder than A-levels. One feature is its interdisciplinary thinking.

Bedales Assessed Courses

As mentioned in our Teaching and Learning section, Bedales independent school has developed five bespoke courses, designed by it own teachers, to sit alongside IGCSEs in core subjects. These are assessed by the staff, externally moderated and are accepted by universities. The school believes the courses extend their pupils beyond the confines of GCSE and free them from the examinations treadmill. Instead, they work with material designed to promote Bedales’ central educational aim, “to develop inquisitive thinkers with a love of learning who cherish independent thought”.

More examples to follow!