This edition focuses on strategies for developing whole-school formative assessment or assessment for learning (AfL)

The checklists presented here build on the outstanding insights provided by Paul Black’s team* at King’s College London University. You can use them to confirm strengths in your policies and practices, and then choose focuses for further development.

There are policy moves to make, for example:

  • Revise your whole-school assessment policy so that it highlights AfL in lessons.
  • Spell out differences between assessments whose function is primarily reporting summative outcomes and assessments whose function is promoting learning.
  • Enable different areas of the school (eg subjects, PSHE, tutorial and pastoral work, mentoring, inclusiveness and SEN…) to share and disseminate their practices and developments.

There are roles to assign so that actions can be seen through:

  • Have an AfL coordinator who stimulates and collects accounts of developments across the school, who links with colleagues from other schools and centres, who reports your experience and brings different ideas into your school.
  • Have a group to lead AfL development and reflection: eg representing different subjects, year teams, with different levels of seniority including subject leaders, newly qualified teachers, trainee teachers…
  • Have advanced skills teachers (ASTs) or others whose capabilities are well recognised, lead trials and dissemination of interesting practice.
  • Have subject areas either concentrate on the same one or two strategies or deliberately cover a range of strategies.
  • Have pupils as researchers explore and report on AfL.

You can change procedures in your school:

  • Prioritise AfL in school improvement planning and activity.
  • Link AfL with other initiatives, such as creativity, pupil voice, personalised learning, SEAL, citizenship, and inclusion.
  • Make AfL a regular focus in training sessions, staff meetings, and team meetings.
  • Use senior leaders’, teachers’ and classroom assistants’ performance management reviews and objectives to highlight AfL.
  • Make AfL a focus of parent interviewing and questionnairing.
  • Make AfL a focus of pupil interviewing and questionnairing.
  • Use reports to parents to communicate pupils’ achievements through AfL.
  • Have subject leaders report on AfL development in their annual subject reviewing.
  • Make films of AfL in practice. (See Teachers TV and for examples.)
  • Make AfL developments a focus of intranet and website communication.
  • Make portfolios of pupils’ assessed work, including notes on the role of AfL in their teaching and learning.
  • Make AfL a thread running through your self evaluation reports and conversations with your school improvement partner (SIP).

There are crucial benefits to be gained from working with and learning from others:

  • Invite other schools to share your AfL policy and practice, and explore theirs.
  • Share AfL experiences with schools and education providers from which your pupils come and to which they graduate.
  • Encourage the governing body to focus on AfL in visits and their strategic work.
  • Invite outsiders such as university researchers, LA consultants and/or Ofsted inspectors to comment on AfL in your school.

Taking action to develop whole-school provision is more effective when it is systematically evaluated. You can question how well your structures and systems promote development, and point up lessons for future work.

You can examine the effectiveness of your school’s processes:

  • How well have teachers and teaching assistants been trained to reflect on and change their practices?
  • How well have new practices been introduced in the classroom?
  • How well have leaders prepared and supported changes in policy and practice?
  • How well have outside-school agencies supported developments?
  • How well are new practices being monitored and evaluated?

You can collect and analyse perceptions:

  • What do pupils think of AfL developments?
  • What do staff members think of AfL developments?
  • What do leaders think of AfL developments?
  • How do other stakeholders think of AfL developments?

You can evaluate effects and outcomes:

  • What difference have changes to policy and practice made to staff members’ and leaders’ attitudes and performance?
  • What difference have new practices made to pupils’ attitudes and behaviour?
  • What difference have new practices made to value-added measures of pupils’ attainment?
  • How well have new practices contributed to the school’s capacity to plan, carry out and evaluate its own development?

Quality in teaching and learning depends on how well colleagues work together to share and develop their thinking and practice. Harry Torrance**, at Manchester University, put it very clearly:

‘What is required is an understanding that, ultimately, quality provision, of teaching, learning and assessment, must be developed by local groups of teachers discussing the nature of what they do and how they do it, just as student learning is produced out of the interactions which they have with teachers and peers. This process can be supported by centrally produced materials and structured by engagement with local authorities, governing bodies, parent groups and parents’ evenings to discuss the progress of individual children. The possibilities for making the local discussion of assessment processes as rigorous as possible are many. But the space must first be made available for them to begin to occur so that assessment is oriented towards the development of understanding, rather than achieving compliance.’

You have a role to play in this as curriculum manager. But you might also legitimately wish national policy were more conducive to promoting professional collaboration and distributed responsibility.

* Eg see Black, P, Harrison, C, Lee, C, Marshall, B & Wiliam, D (2003) Assessment for Learning: putting it into practice. Buckingham: Open University Press.

** Torrance, H (2009) ‘Using Assessment in Educational Reform: Policy, Practice and Future Possibilities’ in Daniels, H, Lauder, H and Porter, J (Eds 2009) Knowledge, Values and Education Policy. London: Routledge.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in February 2010

About the author: Dr John Blanchard is an independent consultant and author of Teaching, Learning and Assessment (2009, Open University Press): contact him via