Assessment for Learning: the Prologue
by m lewis redford
Assessment for Learning is not simply another government accretion brought-in-to-check-that-we-are-working-properly-and-measure-us-accountable-to-a-‘professionalism’-which-is-defined-despite-educational-values-and-teacher’s-morality … (breathe, breathe). It has come from the government, it is true, and it has been administered, so far, as yet another measure with which to beat the ever-disinterested donkey that is the modern teacher – blinkered, pulling a large cart, uphill, when it doesn’t think it should go uphill and would rather take the long way round and enjoy life a little. Nevertheless – quite by accident – AfL could be exercised as both a rationale and a practice which is at the very heart of teaching, something which might be hijacked by teachers to claim back the autonomy, the self-respect, the self-confidence, the prestige, the necessity, the indispensability that is the reality of a teacher nurturing her pupils in the million ways that he does.*
* The most damaging aspect of the ever-rolling-out Reform of Education was the seizure and exploitation of what constitutes teacher professionalism by Managerialism. It became increasingly apparent that those defining, measuring and administering accountability of teaching were not … teachers.
There is nothing new under the sun. And likewise in the classroom – no matter how much you try to mechanise the service by making it run to business models in the pursuit of economic prudence – you cannot escape the fact that teaching requires communication, communication requires flexibility and autonomy, flexibility and autonomy requires a workforce of people who have the vocation to GIVE and the vocation to Give needs a clear structure through which it can be exercised clearly, fairly and nurturing-ly. Teaching with ‘aims and objectives’ – even with just a title – has always been the means by which teachers train, and exercise, their skills and qualification. It is only recently, since the National Curriculum really bit down, that these means have been used to measure the teacher’s performance rather than to nurture h/er craft; to control rather than to enable.
Assessment for Learning is yet the latest way to tighten down the ‘business’ of teaching – to ‘tune’ the engine to reach maximum efficiency – but it has stumbled, in doing so, upon the very dynamic which makes the educative interplay between pupil and teacher possible. Assessment for Learning is nothing new – it is the means of getting ‘to’ the ‘aim’, of getting from the ‘aim’ to the ‘objective’; it is the controlled burning of fuel which turns the engine, it is the valve which circulates blood around the body to work. It is NOT a means to measure if the teacher is working hard- and responsibly-enough, it is the mechanism of teaching through which a teacher can wrest back the management of their own teaching and regain the honour which becomes anyone who chooses to grow knowledge in another.