How can assessment be used as a tool for improving learning and achievement for all pupils? What do you need to do differently for your more able pupils?

Assessment plays a key role in how teachers teach and how students learn. There are different types of assessment and not all are about results and exams. The best forms of assessment will combine data analysis with ways of getting to know pupils and understand their educational needs more fully: at an individual, subject, class, school and Ofsted level. Indeed, whole-school self-evaluation is now a key part of school management as a tool for looking at how different groups of pupils are performing in different subjects, measured against their age peers, personalised targets and, in national exams, across the country.

For G&T coordinators this means access to an unprecedented supply of data that will help monitor and evaluate the progress of their most able pupils. The quality of the data going in, assessment data in all its forms, is crucial to the whole-school self-evaluation process and its value as a tool for school improvement. But to utilise different assessment approaches it’s important to understand their limitations as well as benefits.

Benefits of assessment for teachers

Assessment issues are not specific to your provision for more able pupils but rather issues for all high quality teaching and learning. Effective assessment enables teachers to:

  • reflect on the quality of their own and colleagues’ teaching
  • assess and identify pupils’ learning needs
  • determine the appropriate level, depth and pace of work for pupils
  • plan and provide effectively for pupils’ learning needs.

Benefits of assessment for pupils

Using a variety of assessment techniques can benefit pupils, too.

Assessment can:

  • help pupils to reflect upon their own learning and progress: understand and appreciate their strengths, abilities and areas for development; set individual targets
  • provide information for governors, parents and teachers
  • improve attainment and achievement
  • help prevent underachievement
  • improve motivation and self-esteem
  • help to set realistic targets.

Formal assessment can be a motivating force for some students – but not for all.

Different techniques of assessing

The type of assessment you use will depend on what you want the assessment to achieve. However, effective assessment should:

  • take account of different learning styles
  • be consistent in its approach (the same techniques should be used with all pupils)
  • involve pupils and take account of their opinions
  • help colleagues to assess their own teaching/develop formats for pupils to be able to assess teachers sensitively
  • share information across departments
  • be ongoing, using a variety of assessment methods.


Self-assessment can be a powerful tool, allowing pupils ownership of their own learning and includes:

  • ‘all about me’ questionnaires
  • surveys
  • one-to-one interviews
  • portfolios of work, with feedback from teachers.

G&T pupils can be highly self-critical so it’s important to use self-assessment to agree targets for development. Pupils may not accurately assess their abilities, either under- or over-estimating. Self-assessment questionnaires are also valuable in uncovering previously unrecognised ability – often in areas beyond the curriculum.

Peer assessment

This offers pupils the chance to use agreed criteria to assess their work and the work of their peers.

Use marking ladders to help pupils with classwork or homework; organise pupils to work in small groups to critically assess work completed by an (anonymous) student in a previous year, or work from a ‘portfolio of excellence’ collected over a number of years. By seeing a range of responses to a question, pupils can begin to see what makes a strong and interesting answer, as opposed to a by-the-book answer.

Do bear in mind that pupils may be overly swayed by poor handwriting or flashy presentation – encourage them to look beyond this.

Informal assessment

This may include:

  • quizzes
  • presentations
  • coursework
  • self-directed project work. 

By offering pupils the chance to be assessed in a range of formats, you are offering them the best chance to shine in one or more formats. For example, a pupil who hates tests may excel in self-directed project work. However, informal assessment may not measure attainment.

Disadvantages of formal assessment

Formal assessments can miss the able underachiever or the child who prefers to remain ‘anonymous’ in a middle-ability group. It is unlikely to measure a range of abilities.

  • Formal assessment tends to focus on written tasks and, as such, is unlikely to reveal oral, creative or visual abilities.
  • Tests and examinations can cause anxiety and result in students’ underperformance.
  • Standardised assessment methods may not be ‘culture-fair’.
  • Performance-based assessment ignores underachievers or students who have potential but need opportunities and/or support.

Try not to overemphasise the importance of formal assessment – it is just one component, although one of the most commonly used.

Assessment for learning (AfL)

AfL is a key component of personalised learning. It uses assessment to give students feedback about where they are and where they need to go in their learning. This in turn encourages students to take charge of their own learning.

Because of its focus on helping learners better understand how and when they learn, it is a particularly effective tool for use with more able pupils, especially in its focus on peer learning.

Assessment for learning needs to be implemented at a whole-school level to function properly. The box above, right, is taken from the Institutional Quality Standards for G&T education, which allow schools to assess how well they are providing for their G&T students. It gives examples of how a school would progress with different aspects of AfL from a baseline level to an ‘exemplary’ level, which would relate to a ‘very good/excellent’ Ofsted rating.

The importance of feedback

Assessment should always be followed up with feedback. Without feedback, pupils will a) not see the relevance of assessment and b) will not be able to use it to agree targets.

Feedback should be regular, consistent and offer suggestions for further improvement. It can be in a variety of formats:

  • verbal feedback in lessons to individuals or groups
  • one-to-one discussions/interviews
  • marking and written feedback
  • reports.

Feedback should identify what has been done well and which areas still need improvement. The feedback should then go on to give guidance on how to make that improvement.

Assessment for learning in the Institutional Quality Standards

Entry level 

Processes of data analysis and pupil assessment are employed throughout the school/college to plan learning

Focused feedback to students is used to plan for future learning; good feedback provides insight into how a pupil can improve work

Self- and peer- assessment, based on clear understanding of criteria, are used to increase students’ responsibility for learning

Developing level 

Routine progress reviews make effective use of prior, predictive and value-added attainment data to plan progression of pupil groups

Oral and written feedback helps students to set challenging curricular targets

 Students reflect on their own skill development and are involved in the design of their own targets
and tasks

Exemplary level

Assessment data are used by teachers and across departments to ensure challenge and sustained progression of individual students

Formative assessment and individual target setting combine to maximise and celebrate student achievement

Classroom practice regularly requires students to reflect on their own progress against targets, and engage in the direction of their own learning

Assessment: key points

  • Give pupils clear learning objectives, with a clear progression/ development path and evidence for their continual improvement.
  • Agree targets together.
  • Offer pupils feedback on how they can improve their work.
  • Assessment should be ongoing and continual.
  • Effective assessment systems are at the heart of target-setting and personalised education provision. They need to be routine and familiar to pupils. Teachers should share learning goals with pupils.
  • AfL helps make learners take responsibility for their own learning and progress.
  • Use a wide range of assessment techniques.
  • Don’t over-test. Value the quality of learning, not the quantity.
  • Involve pupils in the assessment process and as part of your school’s assessment policy.
  • Help colleagues develop a clear link between pupil learning and lesson planning. Teaching should be adjusted to take account of assessment results.
  • Well-thought-out assessment can have a profound effect on a pupil’s self-esteem. Poor assessment (unmarked work) can have a negative effect.
  • Share information with pupils, parents, colleagues and governors.
  • For early years and younger children, be aware that ‘developmentally appropriate assessment’ is not always right for a child who is at a very different stage of learning from his/her age peers.

Further information

QCA guidance (type ‘assessment’ in the search box)

Edward de Bono’s ‘Six Hats’ is one framework for thinking about

Assessment for Learning. See Leyland, P (2006) ‘Six Hat Thinking’, Primary G&T Update, issue 6 for further details.

The IQS webpages can be found via the G&TWise website:

Assessment for learning in everyday lessons