Evaluation of Project 1 of the Assessment is for Learning Development Programme:
Support for Professional Practice in Formative Assessment:
6. Phase 1 of the Evaluation: The role of the Education Authority
Overall, schools reported variability in the support received from their Education Authority Co-ordinators. In some cases it was of a high quality, in other cases it was minimal in terms of quantity and quality. The size of the remit of individual personnel was an important factor in the extent to which they were able to give time to the project. Where they had a large number of schools to work with this caused particular problems. In some cases, someone had been seconded from a school to take on the role.
Some co-ordinators took an active part in setting up networks of teachers involved in the project. For others the level of commitment was much less. Some evidenced scepticism about the whole project having a focus on raising standards, meeting targets and summative assessment. In some cases there were perceived conflicts of interest.
Most Education Authority Coordinators welcomed the project as underpinning and enhancing work already in train or planned. Many responses emphasised the links between the Formative Assessment Project and best practice in teaching and learning. Where the aims of the Education Authority and the project were aligned the project was particularly welcomed:
'The authority has identified a Learning and Teaching Policy as one of its improvement objectives and in preparation has organised a series of learning and teaching staff development opportunities. Assessment and reporting also feature in the Improvement Plan. The school undertaking the project had identified, through 'How Good is Your School' audit, assessment as a priority. The opportunity to volunteer for the Formative Assessment Project was opportune.' (Education Authority Co-ordinator)
Co-ordinators were also aware of the impact of the project on participating staff in schools and expressed their hopes that within school dissemination would be effective:
'This has been a very positive experience for the staff involved in the project school. I hope that their enthusiasm and knowledge will spread through their own school and ultimately through all other schools in the authority. It has been very encouraging to see policy making, research and practice all coming together and it would be good to see this model continuing in the future.' (Education Authority Co-ordinator)
The way that the project had been allowed to develop from the roots up was seen as a positive way of changing practice:
'Where staff are encouraged and develop their own skills in learning and teaching they 'infect' others. In a profession that is traditionally sceptical of innovations imposed from above, this model may well prove to be a far more effective way of allowing change to happen.' (Education Authority Co-ordinator)
Some Education Authorities perceived the project as one aspect of a drive towards raising attainment which related to existing targets focused on monitoring and target setting using conventional assessment at individual, school, Education Authority and national level:
'Specifically, the Formative Assessment Project will relate to our stated targets to improve attainment in national examinations. Formative assessment will be just one tool in ensuring effective learning in the Education Authority. Other tools/techniques will include the use of standardised testing in Language and Mathematics; use of prior attainment information; tracking pupil progress; target setting for pupils.' (Education Authority Coordinator)
Some co-ordinators were cautious in their comments:
'This is an exciting initiative and there are lots of good ideas but we must be careful to ensure that we do not make huge claims based on the experience of one or two classes in one school. It will be more important to get the overall evaluation of the project from across Scotland before we plan how to disseminate best practice across our Authority. It will also be important to link this initiative to the other projects in the Assessment Development Programme to show how they are all inter-related and have a part to play in contributing to effective learning and teaching.' (Education Authority Coordinator)
There was a broad expectation that the co-ordinators would have a higher profile in the dissemination phase of the project, although there was considerable variation in the extent to which this was seen as likely to have an impact. In some cases school staff reported that dissemination would happen in spite of the officer. Several Education Authority coordinators had already set out plans for dissemination:
'Good practice will be disseminated through:
- information updates to Head Teachers at heads meetings;
- discussion of examples of good practice at local cluster level;
- possible inclusion in an Authority video showcasing good practice;
- items at appropriate PTs/Coordinators meetings in primary and secondary schools.' (Education Authority Coordinator)
'We are at a very early stage in considering the ways in which dissemination will happen. Initially I am hopeful that results from the project will inform whole school policy in the project school. It is hoped to bring another school into the scheme early in the New Year and to encourage the staff from the project school to provide peer support to the new school. A presentation to directorate is scheduled early in the New Year. Project staff will speak to a Head Teachers meeting about their experiences in the project. I hope to talk to groups of middle management at the termly network support meetings about the project. Research material is being distributed to schools. Meeting with probationer teachers at their usual team meeting is being looked into. Inclusion in the staff development programme for 2003/04. One of a series of options available on an Authority staff development day in February.'