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Ambitious, Excellent Schools provides a broad policy framework for transforming education in Scotland's schools, building on the themes already established in the National Priorities and A Partnership for a Better Scotland (2003). The framework aspires to ensure that every young person fulfils their potential at school, and gives a clear commitment to putting the learner at the centre of education. Assessment has a crucial part to play in achieving this outcome, because it can give learners, and those who teach and nurture them, the feedback they need to improve their learning.
AifL - Assessment is for Learning is about making a positive change to children's learning to improve their life chances. AifL began in early 2002 with an overall aim to "provide a streamlined and coherent system of assessment to ensure pupils, parents, teachers and other professionals have feedback they need about pupils' learning and development needs."
To develop the new system, the programme set out to:
- Develop good professional practice and confidence in assessment amongst teachers so that their judgements are dependable
- Put in place credible quality assurance of teachers' judgements locally and nationally, as part of understanding and sharing standards
- Monitor national attainment in a way that provides accurate information about overall standards and trends and that promotes good classroom practice.
Under the direction of a strategic Assessment Action Group ( AAG), 10 projects were initially established, each focusing on one of these three aspects of assessment. Teachers were given small grants to undertake classroom-based action research projects to develop their own understanding about assessment practice, skills in integrating assessment into classroom practice to support learners, and some skill in self- and peer-evaluation through dissemination events. The outcomes of these initial projects and feedback from formal evaluations and consultation were used to review AifL and to bring the various aspects of assessment investigated back together into a streamlined and coherent system, in which assessment for learning and assessment for monitoring and accountability are complementary, rather than in opposition.
For schools and teachers, three main strands of assessment activity now underpin the programme as it is introduced across Scotland: assessment FOR learning, assessment AS learning and assessment OF learning. Each strand has a number of 'key features' attached to it and these are detailed in support materials for the ' AifL school - a place where everyone is learning together'. National monitoring is carried out by means of a sample survey rather than blanket national testing, so that accountability no longer directly drives classroom activity.
AifL has sought to 'join up' research, policy and practice - gathering evidence from research and monitoring activity; using the evidence to develop informed policy; and working with and supporting practitioners and schools to build informed communities of practice. There were three significant influences on the design of AifL: reflections on implementation of previous Assessment 5-14 policy initiatives (1990); research about assessment for learning in Black & Wiliam's Inside the Black Box (1998); and work on transformational learning, in particular Senge and Scharmer's analysis of community action research approaches (2001).
Research in assessment suggests that learners learn best, and attainment improves, when learners:
- understand clearly what they are trying to learn, and what is expected of them;
- are given feedback about the quality of their work, and what they can do to make it better;
- are given advice about how to go about making improvements;
- are fully involved in deciding what needs to be done next, and who can give them help if they need it.
These ideas underpin the three strands of work which contribute to becoming an ' AifL school'.
In AifL learning is also about transforming communities of practice and ownership is key to promoting and sustaining change. Support has been available to schools and local authorities through a number of sources including SEED funding, LTS Development Officers, assessment focused consultancy support and Faculties of Education supporting teachers and schools involved in the programme to adopt 'action research' approaches, and access to recent research about the area they were investigating.
195 schools were involved in the initial phase of AifL. By December 2004, local authorities' reports on the number of schools involved in AifL through associated schools groups ( ASGs - secondary schools and their associated primary schools and early years establishments) had increased this number to 1,581 schools. Working in ASGs has emphasised the importance of professionals working together and building communities of practice.
The outcomes of projects are captured in case studies which are available in the Assessment Online Toolkit, a dynamic resource aimed primarily at Scottish classroom teachers and school managers, but which will also be of interest to local authorities, researchers, trainee teachers, parents and pupils.
The first Scottish Survey of Achievement ( SSA), a sample monitoring survey of English language and core skills, was carried out by the Scottish Executive in May 2005. At the same time, work is continuing to extend the on-line national bank of assessments, using the assessment materials from the SSA.
Scottish Ministers confirmed their commitment to introducing AifL into all Scottish schools by 2007 in their vision for Scottish education, Ambitious, Excellent Schools (2004). Further details about the new arrangements and about the roles of local authorities, schools and early years centre managers is outlined in Circular No. 02, June 2005.
An AifL school is 'a place where everyone is learning together', and where assessment is an integral part of learning and teaching. Information and resources are being provided through AifL to help schools and local authorities to develop their assessment policy and professional teaching practice in schools, including the Assessment Online Toolkit, the on-line bank of assessment tasks, and a self-evaluation toolkit, linked to HGIOS and performance indicators, which will be piloted in schools during session 2005-06.
AifL is changing the perception of what can be done in classrooms and about the impact of changing classroom practice on young people. Teachers involved in AifL have used funding to purchase time - time to innovate and reflect on their practice. Across Scotland, local authorities have been providing support for teachers to develop their professional practice in assessment FOR learning, assessment AS learning and assessment OF learning.
AifL is responsive to ongoing feedback and evaluation received from case-studies, local authority network meetings, consultation events for parents, for pupils and for staff, national consultation, and formal, independent evaluations. Issues identified through these sources have been used to inform the next steps for AifL, reflecting the philosophy behind AifL itself which gave considerable freedom to schools and teachers to develop practice within their own context at a pace and in a manner that suited local needs.
The AifL team will continue to work with authorities and school managers in the creation of a single, coherent assessment system to promote assessment for learning and to provide assessment information for monitoring/measurement. Support will continue to be provided through a variety of mechanisms including continued funding, AifL newsletters, national and regional events, the ' AifL school' resource pack, and collaborative support from LTS Development Officers and SEED officials.
Find out more at www.ltscotland.org.uk/assess
The national assessment system
Further information about the developments proposed for assessment, testing and reporting policy for 3-14 year olds, outlined in Ambitious, Excellent Schools and in the response to the consultation on assessment, Assessment, Testing and Reporting 3-14: Our Response can be found in Circular No. 02 June 2005: Assessment and reporting 3-14. These developments capture what is best in current practice in Scottish schools and build upon the work undertaken through the AifL - Assessment is for Learning programme since 2002.