Professor Mary Richardson

08 May 2022
My key interest in the work of this commission relates to the breakdown of trust in the efficacy of our education system, specifically in relation to testing (rather than the broader term of assessment which I use to describe the full range of ways we might know about learning.  Assessment is a term that is commonly misused and misunderstood and this is part of the ‘problem’ we have at present. 
I see it in two ways: 

  1. how testing in primary schools is understood by its stakeholders is confused and often misrepresented, e.g. telling a child that their Phonics check is not a test is simply not true given how the results are used. 
  2. the sheer complexity of the range of testing that continues to be added to our system is perplexing given how globally, many countries are trying to reduce testing and consider other ways to better encapsulate learning.
What these two themes invoke is much more complex than I can explain in one page: anxiety and mental health generally is hitting an unprecedented levels and this is not simply due to assessment, rather it’s an effect of COVID and general global instabilities that seep into our lives day to day. The constant levels of high alert are damaging in schools – students feel uneasy, afraid and within the framework of what is supposed to be a safe space, are then presented with a the fallacy that if they fail to do “well” then this sets the tone for the rest of their schooling into secondary and then into life itself.
In terms of practice, we seem to be stuck in a Victorian model of testing and checking and testing that provides lots of data, but I’d question the value of what that data is then used for.  Given the KS2 test results can be reasonably reliable predictors for GCSE is one thing, but I question why we need to do this?  It simply perpetuates the tone of “what child A is good at” (or not).
Within the broader assessment communities – e.g. test developers, exam boards and the like, there is a lot of call for and interest in change. For many, there is a willingness to engage and think beyond how assessment functions from technical and validity perspectives and to engage with some of the more fundamental, and in my opinion, ethical problems we currently face.