Underpinning Principles: Purposeful assessment

When a teacher teaches, no matter how well he or she might design a lesson, what a child learns is unpredictable. Children do not always learn what we teach. That is why the most important assessment does not happen at the end of learning – it happens during the learning, when there is still time to do something with the information.
Wiliam, 2015

Purposeful assessment within our Trust is characterised by:

Assessing What We Value

The ideological focus of assessment within The Trust is one that supports the development of the ‘whole child’. As such the Trust uses a range of assessment tools and approaches that identify and measures strengths and challenges across the breadth of the curriculum and includes the ongoing assessment of ‘human development’ in areas such as engagement, happiness, self-esteem and confidence. However, teachers understand that at certain points in the year judgements need to be made about how well a child is progressing in relation to expected standards. For the purposes of evaluating their progress, evidencing the effectiveness of the curriculum or a particular intervention; and providing large and broad inferences about how well pupils perform in comparison to their peers nationally. Summative assessments are chosen carefully and are only used where information gathered will directly impact on teachers’ ability to support teaching and learning more effectively.

Evidence-Based Practice

Leaders are confident in sourcing high quality assessment resources, frameworks and schemes and regularly review, evaluate and, where necessary, make changes to assessment practices. The Trust adopts an evidence based approach to assessment practices ensuring that systems support teachers to understand and drive pupil progress whilst at the same time freeing teachers and children from arduous assessment procedures. Teachers use a range of summative and formative assessment strategies to track progress and identify next steps, including the use of comparative judgement for writing. Teachers understand that the ideal type of assessment is different depending on the purpose. “Great assessment is not a single thing. It is a collection of tools brought together in a toolkit, and used artfully by teachers. Great assessment is the servant of learning, not its master. It is purposeful, manageable, efficient and effective. Great assessment is lean and valuable.” (Kime et al, 2017, p15)

Assessing What Children Understand

Teachers understand the difference between ‘surface’ and ‘deep’ learning and ensure they are assessing the children’s ‘true’ understanding and knowledge of the underlying concepts through their application to different problems or situations rather than their ability to merely recite ‘stock’ answers. Teachers make time to investigate and understand what the children already know and use this to clarify and prioritise the children’s learning and to focus their teaching. The depth and application of learning is an important marker of mastery, achievement and progress of the children. Staff understand the importance of discussion and conversation and will take on the role of ‘professional eavesdropper’ to learn more about the children’s level of understanding.

Involving The Children

Children are actively involved in assessment processes, supporting them to have greater ownership and understanding of their personal learning journey and progress. Teachers ensure that children know what they are being asked and why. They are explicitly taught to use a range of strategies to help them develop awareness and understanding of their own and their peers’ learning. This means identifying clear success criteria, regularly putting the children in positions to discuss and review their thinking as well as equipping them with the appropriate language and emotional resilience.

Consistent Practice

Assessment practices are consistent across the Trust. This enables teachers to work collaboratively, have a clear and consistent understanding of expected outcomes and what progress means for specific children, groups, years and in different subjects at different times of the year. Teachers regularly moderate their judgements (including Trust wide comparative judgement activity), scrutinise and compare their outcomes, jointly review the effectiveness and impact of their teaching and find evidence and best practice to learn from. At the same time they also understand the importance of varying the frequency and type of assessment depending on the needs of individual or groups of children.


Feedback is designed to support and enhance children’s future learning and focusses on specific learning objectives. Adults act as ‘professional eavesdroppers’, enabling them to ask questions, probe learning and gain valuable insight into children’s levels of understanding. Children are supported to follow up and act on feedback, to answer questions in the moment, to record their thinking or to revisit, redraft and edit their learning as relevant to individual tasks. “Feedback should cause thinking. It should be focused; it should relate to the learning goals that have been shared with the students; and it should be more work for the recipient than the donor. Indeed, the whole purpose of feedback should be to increase the extent to which students are owners of their own learning.” (Wiliam, 2017, p132)

Shared Objectives

Teachers ensure that learning objectives are clear and children understand exactly what this means and the what success in that learning looks like. A shared understanding of the criteria enables teacher and child to have a framework for a ‘formative dialogue’ enabling both to be clear about what has been achieved, where help might be needed and strategies for further improvement. “In a nutshell: The teacher decides the learning intentions and success criteria, makes them transparent to the students, demonstrates them by modelling, evaluates if they understand what they have been told by checking for understanding, and re-telling them what they have by tying it all together with closure.” (Hattie, 2009, p206) 

Responsive Teaching

Teachers assess, at the point of teaching, they identify misconceptions and knowledge gaps and use this information to inform targeted and responsive teaching including, pre-teaching the skills and knowledge that the children need to know; setting up tailored interventions, identifying effective groupings and the use of ‘corrective teaching’ approaches. “If students left the classroom before teachers have made adjustments to their teaching on the basis of what they have learned about the students’ achievement, then they are already playing catch-up. If teachers do not make adjustments before students come back the next day, it is probably too late.” (William, 2007, p191

Creative Approaches to Documentation

Teachers and leaders work closely to consider the best ways to gather and document evidence of pupil progress, achievement and attainment.  Different approaches are used depending on subject, need and audience. Documentation may include, journals, exercise books, floor books, photographs, electronic systems and displays. Teachers aim to make children’s learning journeys visible, interactive and key for planning next steps in learning.

Engagement with Parents / Carers

Teachers and leaders empower parents/carers to engage in their children’s learning by working closely with them so that they understand what their child does at school, the progress they are making, how well their child is doing in relation to the expected standards, what their child needs to do to improve and how they can best support this at home.

Hattie, J (2009) Visible Learning:  A synthesis of 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. New York: Routledge
Wiliam, D (2007) ‘Content Then Process: Teacher Learning Communities in the Service of Formative Assessment’, in Ahead of the Curve: The Power of Assessment to Transform Teaching and Learning, ed. by Douglas Reeves. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree
Wiliam, D (2015) Embedding Formative Assessment: Practical Techniques for K-12 Classrooms
West Palm Beach: Learning Sciences International
Wiliam, D (2017) Embedded Formative Assessment. Bloomington: Solution Tree Press