Amongst teachers, assessment is often seen as the tail that wags the dog. As we experience an ever-increasing focus on producing results and on finding sure fire ways of ‘getting students through’ their statutory assessments – at any and every level – teachers are under relentless pressure to teach to the test. The curriculum, particularly at KS2 and KS4, has an ever narrower focus on the demands of the high-stake, mandatory exams which loom like a monolithic cloud in the distance; the teaching of a diverse, engaging and inspiring variety of ideas can often be lost, like a distant dream.
Don’t get me wrong – assessment has a very real purpose. It is critically important in tracking progress and in identifying strengths and weaknesses in students’ understanding of the topics and ideas they’ve been taught. At its best, it should be consistent, coherent, integrated seamlessly into the curriculum and be a valuable activity in its own right. Assessment at KS3 needs to be consistent with the assessment structures which precede it at KS2, but also lead students and teachers towards assessment at GCSE level in KS4. It needs to be coherent in linking to the skills and knowledge which have been taught, and in sitting within a framework that comprehensively covers all the relevant skills. It needs to be integrated intuitively into the teaching schema so that it is more than just a bolt on obligation at the end of each chapter and is seen to develop meaningfully from recent teaching and learning. Finally, it needs to be seen as a valuable and valid activity in its own right so that both students and teachers see the benefits.
English Framework for Assessment at KS3
The Oxford Smart Curriculum service for English Framework for Assessment at KS3 takes on board each of these principles and applies them to a consistent and coherent schedule of assessment which ties into the assessment objectives set out by the DfE and is consistent with the demands of GCSE English too. There are three main skills strands: Reading, Writing and Speaking, which ensures that oracy is at the heart of the curriculum. Oral skills are more important than ever in a world where face to face communication is under threat from social media and remote working and students need to develop and maintain their confidence in a wide range of verbal and non-verbal skills. Each of these three skill strands is subdivided into four areas, to allow for more precision in assessing the different areas of students’ progress. The final defining characteristic of the framework is a descriptor of performance, within each of the four areas, at eight different levels. This enables both learners and teachers to track their progress in English from the start of Year 7 through to the end of Year 9 and beyond into KS4.
There is a variety of different assessments in the Oxford Smart Quest series, ranging from the formative Mini Checkpoint tests online which are a brief snapshot of students’ knowledge to the summative tests which encourage a Reading, Writing or Speaking response to a previously unseen text. The beauty of these assessments is the holistic way in which they have been created as an extension of the work in the Student Book. The tasks are familiar; new terminology has been explained; the skills have been modelled and practised. The assessments are an opportunity for students to demonstrate their skills and understanding in a reassuring series of questions and tasks which allows for an assessment of their individual achievements in an independent setting.
The recursive nature of the assessment structures means that students are continuously offered opportunities to develop and demonstrate their new skills over the course of their three years in KS3. Where a student’s progress may be stronger in one skill in one Chapter, there will always be the chance to demonstrate improvements in the other skills in later Chapters. The detailed descriptors in the framework document ensure that teachers in many different schools are able to reliably assess the achievements of their students. The texts selected as the focus for the assessments are carefully matched to the ability of students to provide material which is both challenging and accessible for each age group. The same care and attention to diversity and inclusion means that these assessments are as rich and engaging as the material in the Student Books.
So whilst we can all agree that every dog needs a tail, the Oxford Smart Curriculum Service for English Framework for assessment provides a well-proportioned, tailor-made and carefully integrated scheme which draws on the best practice from formal exam specifications and previous KS3 assessment models.
About the author
Helen Backhouse is a teacher, trainer and examiner and has been involved in the teaching and assessment of English for more than 25 years. She is a senior examiner of GCSE English Language, writing exam papers and mark schemes, setting standards and training examiners. She has authored a number of textbooks for OUP, supporting students’ progress in both English Language and Literature at KS3 and KS4.