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Key Insights into the future of assessment

Insights, emerging trends and expectations summarised from the Westminster Education Forum Policy Conference, “The future of assessment in England – moving forward from the pandemic, support for students of all abilities, and the use of technology.” 

Craig Allen, School Leadership Partner, Scomis

The Westminster Education Policy Forum 

At Scomis we proactively invest in keeping up to date with the latest government thinking, policy and guidance. We also take time to listen to key thought leaders in education who help shape policy so that we can disseminate insights to support and guide you through the ever-changing educational landscape. 

Craig Allen builds on the Westminster Education Forum’s outputs with value-added commentary based on his many years of working with schools to inform, shape and support successful assessment strategies and his expertise in the use of technology to aid pupil progress tracking, attainment, reporting and targeted interventions. 

Craig condenses the output from this Forum into 40-minutes of easy-to-absorb key insights, learnings, and highlights. Update yourself with the latest emerging thinking in the shortest possible time. 

Key contributors to the Forum included
Dr Phillip Wright, Director General, The Joint Council for Qualifications
Roy Blatchford, Chair, ASCL Independent Commission into the ‘Forgotten Third’
Jill Duffy, Chief Executive Officer, OCR
Alistair McConville, Deputy Head, The King Alfred School, London; and Co-founder, Rethinking Assessment
Derek Richardson, Vice President and Senior Responsible Officer, Pearson 

Further reading and reference material

To follow

Craig Allen’s background 

Craig worked in secondary schools before joining Scomis in 2003. 

Here at Scomis he provides consultancy helping senior leaders in education make more effective use of our CT. In his role as School Leadership Partner, he focuses on exploiting MIS, that’s management information systems, to track attainment and progress, and to support behaviour, policies and interventions. 

He has worked with large MATs on reporting systems, and he’s a School Governor, so he knows first-hand, and as partner to Scomis customers, how vital it is to have fast, effective access to the right data, and interpreting data in the right way. 

Part of Craig’s role is to keep up to date with the latest government thinking, the policy and the guidance and to build relationship was other thought leadership in education, who help shape policy. 

This helps us at Scomis to understand the ever-changing educational landscape, and for us to disseminate our insights to our customers to support and guide you. 

Here Craig considers the future of assessment, following his attendance at a recent Westminster Education Forum Policy Conference: 

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“The future of assessment in England – moving forward from the pandemic, support for students of all abilities, and the use of technology” 

I was lucky enough to take part at the Westminster Education Forum Policy Conference, which took place recently to consider the future of the assessment in England. 

These take place regularly, and take in topics such as SEND, initial teacher training but this one focused on assessment and how we move forward post-pandemic. 

The context was really looking at where we are, what lessons we may have learned, and where systems need to change and migrate and evolve over the next, few years, to take into account the changing education situation in schools. 

As a forum, it tried to deal with a large number of questions, which had been raised. It was possibly a little bit ambiguous in my opinion, in that the content they hoped to cover was very wide-ranging. And it was difficult to get all of that covered in the four or five hours of discussion and debate that took place. 

Who attended the Westminster Education Forum Policy Conference? 

The people involved in the Westminster Education Forums are drawn from a wide range of areas with an interest in education. So we had people from JCQ, we had representatives of the various exam boards including Pearson and City & Guilds, and teachers and head teachers represented through ASCL. And practitioners, who work every day in schools, who were there to give their view of what’s happening, from a wide range of schools from both independent and mainstream state, comprehensive schools. As well as thought leaders in the area of assessment, and researchers from academia. 

So, all together there was a large mix of people contributing into the Westminster  Education Forum Policy Conference. 

Debate ranged for four to five hours so what I have done here is to take a subset of the most important things to draw out of the day, the points that were important to share with you.  

Formative versus summative assessment 

So the very first area which came up for debate was the role of formative against summative assessment. This was really seen as something that the pandemic seemed to affect more than anything else in that schools have moved towards more summative assessment to ascertain for example teacher-assessed grades, for example in secondary schools, and to be able to benchmark where students were at a certain point during the pandemic and where hopefully they moved on to in the months since. 

And maybe some of the formative assessment, which would be taking place normally within the classroom by teaching staff, had been pushed to one side due to circumstances. 

Teaching practitioners’ areas of discussion for assessment in schools 

If we just have at some of the things which were brought up by the teaching practitioners attending the forum. Normally in the classroom situation, they would be using a wide range of formative techniques to assess, and a lot of those would be going possibly unnoticed by the students themselves. Some would be more noticeable, so things like self-evaluation, saying where you are at the end of the particular module and how much knowledge you thing you have, and what skills you have developed, would possibly still go on. But the ability to hold class discussions, and to do observations, has probably been curtailed a little by the pandemic, as children have been either out of the classroom or working remotely, without that instant feedback. 

It seems like the teaching staff and teachers involved in the conference think the formative assessment was put a little to one side, which was a pity really, due to the fact that formative assessment is something which normally as teachers working in schools we use all the time. We assess formatively during every lesson.  

As a former languages teacher I would be looking at building vocabulary, holding conversations, pieces of writing to then move on. It’s the interplay between myself as the teacher and the students, or the student and student language assistant, that builds up their knowledge. 

We look at visiting and revisiting; bringing back learnings under another topic. And the retrieval of information from one time to another. The thing about all of the little assessments, which we do, when we’re teaching in a classroom and working with children is that they’re low risk. If they get it wrong, it is just a step forward to moving on to the next, stage of that learning and acquiring that learning. 

Cognitive load theory for assessment in schools 

One of the things I had to look up was cognitive load theory, which came up and was talked about for quite a substantial part of with one of the discussions. I realised I know what this was. This is what I did as a teacher, where you break things down into small elements, you do worked examples, you use different ways of communicating whether it is through audio or visual sources or some sort of kinetic learning. What you’re doing looking at taking things from your sensory memory and embedding them into long-term memories to be retrieved and then actually used in certain situations. 

And possibly, that is maybe one of the types of assessment, which has been less easy to build during the pandemic but which technology might be able to help with. More on that later. 

To summarise that bit of session around formative and summative assessments. There was a feeling that people had switched to doing more summative assessments, to make sure that they were convinced that children had covered certain elements of the course, certain modules and that they could actually put down a benchmark from which to move on. Rather than the formative assessment, which we tend to use all the time, which is for learning, about learning, and which develops the learning skills that you need to go on. 

So, when it comes to summative assessment there again was a wide range of views. But the main focus of the debate about summative assessment was very much on the high stakes assessment. 

High stake assessments in schools 

So, when we’re talking about high stake assessments, in the context of this particular Forum we’re looking at public examinations at age 16 and age 18. So looking at GCSCs or A levels, and to a lesser extent the end of the key stage tests from primary schools. 

The main people involved in talking about this were from academia, and the Example Boards, and also the practicing head teachers. And the head teachers were split very much, depending on the type of school they had. 

Variety of views on high stake assessment in schools 

Let me just give you an example. The deputy head of an independent girls school was very much the of the opinion, as were others in the group, that the formal assessments we do at age 16 and 18, actually work quite well. They’re seen as a gold standard internationally. And they are used by other countries to assess their student population. And that we should not look at totally changing the way that we assess at 16 and 18. 

There has been a lot of reform over the years. Exam syllabi have changed. How we change which students do which papers have changed. And the example given that children doing certain math exams this year will have done that with very little in the way of past examples and past papers to see how that examination would go. And any change to the examination system brings anxiety, to the teaching staff, and then that can be transferred on to the students themselves. 

The particular Deputy questioned whether exams themselves cause a lot of anxiety and a lot of stress. And if they do so, their view is that it is the role of the school to minimize that stress, and to take on board the needs of the students, to make sure that anxiety and stress does not impair the performance of the children taking part in their exams. 

The feeling given was that social media, general news media, information pushed about the exams were probably the key factors in raising anxiety amongst students, rather than the fact of the exams themselves. 

So, that’s just to summarise points of view. 

The other point of view can be summed up almost with a picture. 

Is it possible just to move that slide on one, please. 

Thank you. 

So the picture we have, which will be familiar to many people working in secondary schools. 

An examination hall. 

The question, which was asked. 

Where is that? 

Is it a photo taken a couple of years ago? 

Back in the 1980s? 


Or 1950s? 

A Levels were introduced during Winston Churchill’s second term in office, and have been probably examined in the exams in the same way ever since. 

Only the fashion, and the haircuts and the pencil case will probably tell us where that examination is actually taking place in, terms of had history. 

Why are we using examinations which date back–  

I’m having to take on the role of asking for next slides. 

The view taken by people there was that examinations need to have three things. 

They should be appropriate to the age of the child, and appropriate to the ability of the child. 

They are therefore, rewarding that you come out with a qualification that you merit, through the work you’re doing. 

And you should be motivated to work towards that examination. 

And find out that you have achieved an examination, which reflects your ability as a student. 

>> The issue that presenters at the forum recognised was that this is not always the case with our examination system. 

That you can probably split the school population into three. 

Now this is not to say that we will say that this is a third of each school. 

If we look at the school cohort as a whole that, we have probably the lowest third N terms of ability probably have no ability to access some of the qualifications which they’re currently but in for. 

So have to look at other alternatives rather than GCSC and A Levels probably pushed as being the gold standard. 

You would then have a middle third of the population, who will struggle to score more than 50% in any, particular paper. 

But, who push themselves and work hard to try to get there but rewarded with the grade, which may not be seen as the media and society as being a “pass grade.”  Then you have the top third, who do achieve great, but have to put in huge amounts of effort and where the pedagogy employed to help them get to their grades has very much been pushed to passing the examination, rather than anything else. 

Okay, my clicker has come back. 

Looking at England rather than Scotland or Wales or Northern Ireland, at this stage we’re pretty much an outlier at age 16. 

Few other countries have a formal examination stage at that age. 

It is almost always terminal exams. 

Going back to that pick in the exam hall of students with paper, and pen, and exam papers. 

The formal amount of those exams is still very much a terminal exam to sum up a period of study in your life. 

We’re also very unusual in the sheer quantity we make students do at age 16. 

We were looking at some examples of children doing eight to 10 subjects, who have had to sit up to 50 hours of examinations in a very, very short period of time. 

But to sum up, the five years at secondary school. 

Again there’s a uniformity to a lot of exams. 

A lot of subjects be it computing or math or history. 

The format of the exam has been traditionally very much the same a written paper to summarise, what the children have learned in that period of time. 

Where something like computing we’ve had children, who have learned to code, who have a test, an examination, where coding is important, but that has traditionally still been done on paper, rather than on a computer itself. 

There’s also been a push towards the knowledge curriculum. 

And, there are any number of academic Articles, which have even been published today . 

Today there is an Article published about the heaviness of content. 

Which means that the teaching methods, which are employed are very much on retaining knowledge, rather than the ability to process information to problem solve to collaborate. 

And very much exams of very individual performance. 

The child coming out with a piece of paper with a number of grades. 

To say this is what they have achieved during their time at the school. 

>> Again, a proposal. 

I’m from the floor at the Westminster  Education Forum Policy Conference, was there were four myths. 

The first that the exams are the best and fairest way of judging students. 

Can we sum up a child’s performance in say 12 hours of written papers to sum up a two year A-level course? 

Or are there better ways of doing that? 

Including the knowledge that the teachers have of the students and their abilities. 

The myth that the best schools get the best grades, because they are best at encouraging learning. 

Where some children may be in schools, which are less high in terms of academic obtainment. 

But where children make incredible progress from the starting point they have. 

The ideas that more knowledge, more content, more course content is a better indicator of how children are working, compared to having a deeper knowledge on a smaller, quorum of essential items for that subject. 

And the myth, unless everyone sits the same exam, then, it is not fair, it is not social justice. 

So, quite a few I had people coming up with ideas at the system maybe at the moment is not where it needs to be. 

So the ideas put forward were that the exams need to evolve. 

That they need to have more accreditation pathways which feature motivational content for all, which can be accessed for all 

And where each child can to go choose a pathway that best suits their aptitudes and abilities. 

That we need to have more multi- modal assessments. 

That the examinations need to reflect the different abilities, the different project work, the collaborative skills. 

The problem-solving skills and the cross-subjects skills, to reflect that a child can do. 

That we need to have a different measure of where a child is. 

So the example given of progress A, which is very much focused on a range of academic subjects that we need to have. 

And an extended version of with where we can show the children have made progress. 

And we do need to cut down on the content, because the high knowledge-based curriculum does not favor, a deeper understanding of the learning within those subjects. 

The overall conclusion then was that since A Levels were introduced in Winston Churchill government, and GCSC were introduced and Margaret Thatcher, we have done a lot more working to understanding how teenagers brains work. 

How they learn, how they acquire knowledge, how they acquire skills. 

That maybe at the moment the format of exams, which our children sit year on year S possibly not the best way to serve these learners, as they move forward into the workplace. 

The third area, which came up, was about fairness. 

About how we can create a level playing field. 

And indeed, what is a level playing field, in terms of assessment moving forward. 

I have actually credited a lot of this to Isabelle from the University of Cambridge. 

She did a very quick, but very good presentation on the level playing field, based on research which she has had across the education system in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

>>> Would like to credit her with a lot of the things, which are coming up. 

So the very first question she posed. 

What say level playing field? 

Is it one, which is weighted favorably for some students? 

Is it one, where all students have the ability to progress wherever they are? 

And why do we have a situation, a little bit like the picture, where for some children starting at the bottom right. 

It is always going to be a mountain to climb to actually access the qualifications, which we see as being essential for everyone to have under the current system? 

So three questions were posed. 

What do we aim to do, to be fair? 

We had a quick look at some of the numbers and some of the reasons behind those numbers. 

Then the question of, what is the best, level playing field. 

So let’s just go through a few of those things here. 

So, what are we aiming to do, when we say Web want fair access to all? 

We need to make sure that children with certain disadvantages, with disabilities or special needs have access to qualifications which would enable them to show how they have moved on during their time in education. 

How can we be fair to another candidates? 

That we’re not giving some students an unfair advantage over others? 

And how can we also make sure that the event users of the qualifications, the world of work. 

The world of academia, can value the qualifications which these children can strive to get? 

And so, two parts identified to this fairness. 

Treating like case as like. 

Making sure that all candidates taking exams have an equal opportunity to show what they can do. 

Also an outcome that each, individuals merits. 

Not looking at everyone, but looking at each individual. 

Coming up with something that will reflect the journey they have made. 

So, when we look at examinations, over the last, few years, and this is a growing trend which has gone back. 

We have seen a large increase in the use of access arrangements. 

And so figures there from, 2018-19, 20-20. 

The number of approved access arrangements in England went up by almost 14%. 

And in two-thirds of those cases it is always a question of giving children extra time. 

And typically, almost universally, that’s 25% extra to do an examination. 

Now, we know that the number of students diagnosed with a special need, which then allows them to access the special arrangements is growing. 

And, two reasons for that. 

One under an increased understanding that children have need and better diagnosis of that need. 

But also, that there is an uneven distribution of the use of these access arrangements by social class. 

If you are a child with a recognised special need, who comes from a fairly affluent background, where you have parents who are very supportive. 

And maybe even demanding, you are more likely to receive special access arrangements for your times and examinations than if you’re a child from a lower socio-economic class or a deprived background. 

So, what do we do, when we try to make this playing field level, for exams? 

Well, what we can’t co-first of all. 

We can’t say, if that child didn’t have that special need. 

That’s meaningless. 

We can’t take away the special need of the child. 

That is part of their character and them, as a person. 

What we always try to did is give a reasonable judgement based on experience of what’s happened over the years. 

But at the moment that’s only seen as 25% of extra time to complete this exam, which is a reasonable guess. 

Why isn’t it 20%? 


For some children you could give them any amount of extra time. 

It would not make that much difference to how they can work through that exams. 

We’ve are also got to stop doing a comparison of other children. 

We need to make sure that the system reflects the obtainment and the progress the child as made as an individual. 

So, to summarise up the level playing field. 

Fairness means giving all colds a reasonable opportunities to show what they can do. 

Now, those three, previous sections then lead to perhaps where, as Scomis we become very, very interested. 

How technology can help N terms of assessment going forms. 

To date it has not been used dramatically for those high-stake assessments. 

As a teacher myself, I can recall back in the 1990s using rudimentary software at the time in languages to assess recall and vocabulary. 

But very much on a formative basis. 

Often in the example of a small game, where we would try to acquire a little more knowledge and reinforce it through the use of some formative assessment using some software programmes. 

I believe for those of you as old as me. 

This is done on a BBC computer when things first started so things have moved on dramatically. 

When you’re looking at bringing in the use of technology into assessment, a number of questions arose. 

So, the focus on the integrity of the exam, if it is switches from being a paper-based examination. 

With the security of papers being kept and locked and transferred security to examiners. 

To the ideas of children sitting at a device and accessing the examination in that way. 

We need to think how we can level the playing field. 

Be more inclusive, in terms of using the technology to assess those students. 

How that may open up other ways, in which they can display their skills and knowledge. 

And the fact that we need to adapt to changes in the world and in the workplace. 

Most of us will spend a large amount of our time with technology, either sitting in front of a PC or laptop, as I am at the moment. 

And how we can integrate that into the world of the high-stake and formative assessments. 

So, again, ideas from the technology companies. 

There are a variety of inputs from companies, such as Pearson, such as RMC city and Gilds boards. 

To say yes, we can move towards this ideas of a digital first assessment and how design and deliver that and make sure how it works. 

There are other countries where it is far ahead of what we’re currently looking at in England, where physical geography or other reasons have encouraged the use of digital, in terms of assessment. 

We need to show that this has a huge benefit to the students taking the exams. 

Rather than just coming in as we would all do these exams digitally from later on we need to make sure we can see the benefit and see that we can give those students better access and maybe a fairer access to taking the qualification. 

We need to engage with the students, school, and the smaller medium-sized enterprises that would employee these students as they move forward. 

We need have a process, by which we establish these qualifications. 

Then we can embed them and move on. 

City and Gild being a provider of education or probably slightly head N terms of what they provide for students taking those qualifications. 

And already deliver a large number of qualifications through digital means but also use that digital assessment right through the course. 

So, there will be tests, which enable you to diagnose where a child should be and what next assignment should be. 

The come accumulative aggregated adaptive, something I had to look up I realised I did a accumulative aggregated adaptive looking at performance over a time if you improved it made it slightly harder. 

You can still achieve a good score, without making it in accessible. 

Using software to put in place at each stage of that assessment process something, which will help the child, the student know where they are. 

And what they need to move to the next level of education. 

The whole process could be summed up with this sort of five stage. 

Once we have begun to enhance the pro access and go digital, we get it embedded. 

We Transform the way we assess. 

Then Transform the learning. 

So it has got to be a process, which is put in place. 

Which enables our learners to access those qualifications and their learning in a slightly different way. 

The next slide is very busy. 

>>> Took it straight from theca city and Gild presentation. 

It shows how digital assessment have a key role to play at each stage. 

The digital assessment is very good for doing some of the types of assessment, which we need to be able to move on. 

If we took the bottom left-hand corner you have multiple choice and interactive testing. 

All of which can be done by a digital means in a very. 


(Buffering )–  

For a bit of software. 

Yes, you can use the IT to provide the code. 

Maybe you can do the research. 

It needs to be written down and involve human interaction, so there will be a need for more divergent and therefore more human Marked and human assessments, rather than the automated assessment. 

So a lot of qualifications are already taking place using more digital means. 

Very much at the moment that’s favored by the vocation qualifications, rather than the traditional academic ones, which we have been looking at so far in the forum. 

And the last thing, which wanted to come up. 

As a child leaving school at 18, very much you pick up your certificate with a number of subjects and a number of grades. 

And that becomes the summary of what you have achieved at the school. 

The fact that I can go off to university with my three A levels, where we’re looking at other parts of the world. 

Already moving towards a digital portfolio. 

There’s just a couple of examples, which I’m really not going to talk about in any detail. 

But which combine both the academic side of the child’s learning, which those other skills. 

Their collaborative skills. 

Their taking part in project and activities and their leadership skills, their involvement in social clubs. 

So that you end up building a much better picture of the child to take away from their time in secondary school just an example of various elements, which you might want to include in a digital profile rather than pure examination grades to summarise in three words, which seems to be one of the key things these days. 

The forum at the moment suggests that evolution, not revolution is the way forward, but we need to evolve the system, by which we assess children. 

Both helping children to learn through formative assessment, which is maybe a bit lost through the pandemic. 

But also to take children onwards and through to taking examinations in a digital manner. 

So that they can progress. 

And that’s my summary of the Westminster  Education Forum Policy Conference. 

I seem to have spoken for a lot longer than I intended to. 

I’ll hand back or see if there are any questions from the floor, Tara. 

Tara:  Thank you, Craig. 

That was so interesting to hear about the broader assessment ideas 

And discover current thinking on accessibility and inclusivity.  With regards to assessment that 

Really resonates with the couple of key themes we have running at ScomsLive. 

I’m really excited to see digital first coming to the fore in our sector, as well. 

It is at the core of expertise. 

Looking to guide our customers into the future. 

There’s a couple here I would like to ask you. 

In terms of equality of access, how can we, how can you help schools provide secure technology for on-line and remote testing? 

>> Craig: Okay. 

I’m probably not the best person to answer that directly. 

But as Scomis, obviously we do a lot of work and partner with Microsoft and Google education. 

Within those platforms there are numerous ways, in which you can deliver, especially formative testing as you go through. 

So that, you can assess where a child is. 

So you can do a quick class test. 

Get that chance straight back in. 

Do class surveys. 

I just explained something to the group using my–  

Classroom technique. 

Have the children understood? 

Can I get that instant feedback? 

Have I hit two-thirds? 

A third? 

How can I reexplain that? 

I’m not the best person. 

It has been quite a long time, since I’ve been in the classroom. 

I would probably point people for a more detailed answered for some of the sessions with really good real-life examples from Microsoft and Google over the next day and a half. 

Tara:  Thank you. 

That’s really cool. 

If we wanted to build a formative assessment tracking system asks one of our anonymous guests. 

If we wanted to build a formative assessment tracking system to reflect our skills-based curriculum. 

How could you help? 

>> Craig: That’s something myself or many of my colleagues working within the school leadership support team can do. 

Assessment tracking system doesn’t just have to be a label on a child at a particular time.  If we’re looking at skills-based curriculum identifying a series of competencies there’s no reason we can’t put that into the management information system that modules that relate to assessment. 

Suggest there is a skill they need to acquire. 

It could be they’re training for something in catering and want their understanding of the basic hygiene residential schools we can set up each of the hygiene rules as a statement. 

Rather than assessing as yes, or no. 

We can look at yes, maybe a matrix where they have some knowledge, more knowledge, full knowledge. 

Or using something like meriting developing securing that knowledge. 

With we can build up a pick of their skills, rather than just their knowledge. 

And if you have particular needs, we’re happy to talk to you. 

Your account Manager will be able to have an initial discussion, and to bring in myself or one of my colleagues to have that discussion with you. 

Tara:  That’s fantastic. 

I can see quite a few people mentioning in the comments. 

It is a brilliant summary can they get a recording of the presentation? 

The answer to that everyone. 

You’ll be glad to hear is absolutely yes, at the end of the today you’ll receive a recording of today’s sessions and in a couple of weeks time, when we manage to edit the day’s output and tomorrow’s output as well, we’ll be producing individual pages on our website that reflects both the content of the sessions that you hear, as well as all of the questions and the Q&As, further reading and any link that are helpful. 

So with that, I will say Craig, thank you so much. 

>> Craig: Thank you, Tara. 

It has been a pleasure.