AQA has seen the future of assessment – and it’s not inside the exam hall…

Wednesday 8 Jul 2015

Education charity AQA will today publish a blueprint for the future of assessment – a vision of how things could look over the next decade and beyond, and a system that recognises the limitations of exams.

The blueprint is part of a book of essays, The Future of Assessment: 2025 and Beyond, by a panel of senior education experts. It sets out their ideas for improving how assessment works and how they'd like the system to look by 2025. Topics include improving teachers' own assessment skills, broadening accountability, assessing vocational and practical work better, and making smarter use of technology to assess skills.

Launching today at a reception at the Houses of Parliament, the theme running throughout is the need to look beyond traditional exams. Three key areas emerged that those across the system thought offered the greatest potential for change:

  • a more effective balance between assessment and school accountability – reducing the distorting effects of school accountability on learning and assessment
  • better assessment of vocational and practical learning – in order to make these qualifications more credible
  • using technology to improve teaching and assessment  – driving better teaching and improving assessment of 21st century skills.

The publication is the culmination of a major two-year project facilitated by AQA. It represents two years of debate, discussion and thinking across the education sector about how assessment – particularly, formal assessments taken by 15-19 year olds in England – can and should evolve over the next decade.

Andrew Hall, AQA's Chief Executive, said: "The assessment system that's served us well for 30 years needs to evolve if it is to keep pace with how the world is changing and the skills and knowledge our young people will need to progress in life in the future. Even we – as an exam board – can see quite clearly the limitations of relying on exams alone.

"When we launched this project two years ago we were providing a platform for a conversation – if we started from scratch now, what would we want our assessment system to look like? But we were quite clear that AQA wasn't steering the conversation – that was for our expert contributors to do. And while they each have their own areas of interest and expertise, we all share one very important goal in common – to get better at assessing the things that matter and using that assessment to inform better teaching and more intelligent accountability."

Brian Lightman, General Secretary of ASCL, who wrote an essay called 'Assessment in a Self-improving System' for the blueprint book, said: "For too long the way children are assessed has been dominated by the demands placed on schools by performance tables and a culture of high stakes accountability. This has been at the expense of the important role assessment and feedback should play as part of the learning process, rather than just being a set of external exams at the end of a course.

"We need a culture change in our approach to assessment as part of our drive to create a world-class education system. AQA's assessment project and the work of the expert panel have played a key role in providing a forum for a profession-led discussion about the purposes and practice of assessment, and highlighted the importance of ensuring that all teachers are equipped with the skills and understanding of the theory and practice of assessment."

Tom Sherrington, Head Teacher of Highbury Grove School in Islington and contributor of the essay 'A National Baccalaureate for England', added: "It has been fascinating working with AQA and members of the panel from diverse educational settings to consider the future of assessment. At a time when our system places enormous weight on students' GCSE results in a small number of academic subjects, it has been refreshing to look ahead to some alternative models and wider possibilities.

"There is a fairly strong consensus that examination grades don't tell enough of the story of a young person's achievements and that written exams are limited in the extent to which they sample the curriculum or test students' knowledge and understanding.

"The 'blueprint' is intended to inform debates around policy and practice in this crucial area so that, in future, our examination system does a better job of capturing the full extent of what constitutes achievement and learning.  This is important for every university and employer and, crucially, for every young person in the country."