The Depth vs. Breadth Challenge – Assessing Pupil Knowledge in the New Curriculum

At the BETT show this year, Rising Stars and Classroom Monitor joined forces to assemble a panel of experts to discuss the New Curriculum, Mastery and its implications on Assessment.

The debate was chaired by Chris Scarth, Commercial Director of Classroom Monitor and the panel was made up of:

Ed Walsh: Lead consultant for science at Cornwall Learning

Shareen Mayers: Primary English Adviser for Sutton Improvement and Support services

Ben Fuller: Joint Lead Assessment adviser at Herts for Learning Ltd,. Former primary school teacher and local authority adviser for assessment.

Tanya Parker: who has worked as a consultant at a number of different education technology companies including Classroom Monitor and was a primary teacher with responsibility for assessment and maths.

Some sizeable issues were dissected during the debate and our panel offered some really interesting and practical perspectives on how teachers can approach mastery and assessment in a world free from levels.

The first point of discussion was around the depth vs breadth debate. Chris Scarth questioned whether focusing on fewer things in greater depth was intrinsically linked to mastery.

Ben suggested that finding a balance between the two could be a more useful way of approaching mastery, commenting: I would say that in really good schools teachers always go for depth and breadth, helping students take knowledge and applying it in a range of different contexts.”

The conversation then moved on to question whether mastery could lead to repetitive teaching. However, Shareen offered a positive and practical approach that would avoid this pitfall, suggesting that teachers could approach one concept in a variety of ways. She illustrated her point with capital letters; while middle ability children can write using capital letters, applying them in different contexts, for example in names, places and with reference to people, implies mastery. The key point, she stressed, is applying knowledge in a variety of contexts and this avoids repetitive teaching.

Chris then focused the debate on assessment and questioned whether more assessment is indeed better than less.

Ben dismantled the assumptions surrounding the idea of assessment, commenting that "assessment is actually something that you’re doing every minute of every day anyway."

Similarly Tanya stressed the importance of ongoing formative assessment and teachers being aware not just of what pupils write down, but what they say, their questioning skills and how they interact with their peers and their teachers. The panel agreed that the notion of more assessment therefore, is not possible as teachers are assessing and making judgements on pupil progress all the time.

Chris then focused on the issue of life after levels and the concerns that many teachers have regarding how to benchmark progress without nationally agreed levels.

Ed highlighted that the new programmes of study offer a clear guide as to what the expected learning outcomes are.

However, aside from this guidance, Ed found that the removal of levels actually offers greater autonomy for teachers over how they assess their pupils.

He commented: "There’s a real opportunity here for us to re-own the process and the purpose of assessment." He said that while assessment has multiple uses for multiple people – e.g. parents, Ofsted, and teachers themselves, the important thing at the moment is to re-define the purpose of assessment and make it work for teachers and pupils as a method to improve learning outcomes.

The debate drew to a close on this optimistic point with teachers at the heart of an exciting opportunity to shape the way students learn and are assessed. Rising Stars would like to thank the panel along with Classroom Monitor for making the debate so thought-provoking. We hope teachers find our panel’s thoughts useful in moving forward with assessment.



bett, key stage 1, key stage 2

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