The first day of the NUT's National Education Conference in Stoke Rochford this weekend focussed on the issue of assessment, the discussions coming against a background of the awaited ballot to boycott SATs for 2010.
Sue Horner, from the QCA, introduced a session on curriculum and assessment. Some of her contribution, suggesting what it might be possible to achieve if teachers were given more control of what they taught, was welcome, as was her statement that "assessment must not just be to feed the data machine". However, a number of teachers spoke with anger about how the demands to meet imposed targets meant that meaningful curriculum initiative was impossible for many schools. Others, including myself, warned that 'assessment for learning' and APP had to be operated in a way that considered the workload pressures on teachers and the size of our classes.
A provoking presentation from Tim Oates from Cambridge Assessment laid bare the fault lines running through the whole National Curriculum structure, not just SATs themselves. In short, the whole idea of allocating 'levels' to children was based on dubious grounds. Instead, he believed, as I do, that the simple numerical level should be thrown out. Instead, teacher assessments that show understanding of specific concepts need to be developed, which in turn can be used to help explain to pupils how to progress in a way that a simple number cannot do. As APP also relies on the same levels as SATs, it is also not an adequate replacement, even if it can be managed in a way that avoids excessive workload for teachers.
At the end of the day, I chaired one of the groups of secondary teachers to discuss the NUT's campaign against SATs. We agreed that the curriculum-narrowing, pupil-stressing, inaccurate SATs must be stopped - but so must the league tables that unfairly label schools and pupils be stopped too - whether they are created by SATs or teacher assessment. In the same way that secondary teachers are already trusted to carry out GCSE coursework, moderated threough external assessors, teachers should be trusted to assess their pupils without having SATs.
I also attended an excellent workshop on teaching about transatlantic slavery, with an emphasis that I welcomed on how slavery was fought by enslaved Africans themselves. Have a look for resources on www.understandingslavery.com