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National Curriculum

Developing assessment in skills

Why assess skills?

The new curriculum focus on the whole learner means that schools are beginning to look at assessment from a fresh perspective. The programmes of study provide many opportunities for young people to develop skills and attributes that can help them enter work and adult life as confident and capable individuals who make a positive contribution.

Approaches to assessment need to reflect this new emphasis by developing a picture of the learner that values the broad range of attitudes and skills found in the aims of the curriculum, as well as valuing pupils’ personal, learning and thinking skills (PLTS). Effective assessment of skills should draw on evidence across and beyond the school environment. Making these kinds of links can be particularly motivating for pupils as it helps them to connect the skills and aptitudes they show outside school with those needed to succeed in the classroom.

What does good assessment of PLTS look like?

For pupils to develop the skills to become independent enquirers, creative thinkers, reflective learners, team workers, self-managers and effective participators, there needs to be a clear sense of what progress looks like in these areas, what evidence of achievement would look like and what systems could be used to gather it.

When planning approaches to assessing PLTS, the following principles provide a good starting point. Effective assessment of PLTS:

  • makes PLTS an integral part of a school culture that recognises and values the development of the whole child as a successful learner, confident individual and responsible citizen, as well as rewarding academic achievement

  • recognises pupils' growing independence and ability to transfer their skills to different contexts

  • embeds the assessment of PLTS in ongoing teaching and learning rather than isolating a skill for study or practice separate from the rest of the curriculum

  • draws on a wide variety of evidence from within and beyond the school

  • allows schools to adapt assessment of progress in PLTS to their particular needs and priorities by developing their own descriptors drawing on the PLTS framework.

QCA has been working with primary and secondary schools to explore how these principles can be used effectively to assess progress in PLTS. The schools, either using existing skills progression models or writing their own, developed ways of recording progress and achievement in PLTS, which ranged from paper-based 'passports for learning' to online learner profiles. The experiences of these schools suggest a number of common themes:

Placing the learner at the heart of the assessment process

Pupils’ involvement, through peer and self-assessment or by having responsibility for gathering and recording evidence for validation, was extremely motivating and had a positive impact on self-esteem. One teacher observed that ‘placing the pupil at the centre of PLTS assessment has provided powerful learning opportunities for them’. One of the important factors in securing the high level of pupil engagement was the pupils’ understanding of the skills and how they are developed.

Broadening the range of evidence

Drawing on experiences and activities outside school was a rich source of evidence and helped pupils to connect the skills and aptitudes they show outside school with those needed to succeed in the classroom. In the words of one teacher: ‘When learners realised that things they do outside of lessons and school can actually be a means of learning and form evidence for their progress, everything we have been trying to get them to do, namely making connections between contexts and situations, transferring knowledge and skills and thinking for themselves, began to emerge.’

The kinds of activities beyond school that provide evidence for PLTS assessment could include:

  • participating in external clubs (eg drama groups, sports clubs)

  • taking significant responsibilities at home (eg planning and cooking a meal, helping care for an elderly or disabled relative)

  • volunteer and charity work 

Many schools found that this had implications for how they recognised this out-of-school achievement and explored the possibility of using 'third party' assessors such as parents, carers, peers and other relevant adults such as sports coaches. This had the benefit of widening understanding of skills assessment and making the process of gathering and verifying this aspect of PLTS evidence less time-consuming for the teacher.

Curriculum case studies

Key stage 4 pupil in conversation with a teacher

Assessing skills

Oasis Academy Enfield has made assessment of progress an...

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