Establishing principles before embarking on practice.

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Examinations appear to rule education systems across the world. Not only do they dominate, but they are largely limited to an unimaginative written format that often fails to assess what they claim. Many of the assessment methods adopted in schools today do little to encourage learning, and some are a major obstacle to providing more inclusive approaches to teaching. This theme was to the forefront of our minds today, as our latest group of students on the MA in Special and Inclusive Education here in Bangalore, got to grips with considering the relationship between assessment and the provision of an equitable education system.

Assessment is obviously an important part of the teaching and learning process and the summative measures used at the end of a period of teaching can be useful in providing an overview of attainment and progress. However, when schools use only these summative approaches they miss an opportunity to really understand what is happening in the classroom and in the learning experienced by children. With this in mind today, Jayashree, Mary and Johnson have each challenged the thinking of our students, presenting them with ideas and encouraging them to debate principles of assessment alongside the mechanics of how this can be applied.

A series of activities based around those principles of assessment articulated by, amongst others Tim Loreman, Joanne Deppeler and David Harvey, enabled our student colleagues to reflect on their own practices and those of their colleagues. As an observer of part of this session, on my return from visiting a school across the city, I was immediately impressed by the way in which well-established assumptions and ingrained practices were being challenged. Having been given the space to think and debate issues in a supportive environment, our students were soon developing innovative ideas of how the assessment procedures in their schools might change to become more inclusive. As they presented their ideas to their classmates it was easy to see that they have a high commitment to developing their own practice and experimenting with approaches which they hope will benefit both pupils and teachers.

What we assess, how we do this and how the information from assessment is used were all questions considered. The formative processes of using assessment information and alternatives to simplistic pen and paper approaches found favour with all the class, and the examples they provided of how this might be further developed were greatly appreciated by all involved. The concept of assesment as a celebration of learning may not have been debated by teachers everywhere, but here in Bangalore was discussed with considerable flair and enthusiasm. As I listened to what our students had to say and the ideas that they articulated so effectively, I appreciated that I was probably learning as much in this class as any of the them. The importance of starting from a set of principles, rather than simply following established assessment practices was an important part of the message that everyone took away from today’s sessions. If this applies to assessment, then surely it is equally critical in all other aspects of what we do in schools.

This is a theme that we will revisit later in the week on this course, as we consider the role of children in the assessment of their own learning, and in appraising the teaching that they receive. With such reflective teachers, the delivery of this module is proving to be a real pleasure and I am sure that we will all continue to learn from each other.

As I sit here writing, awaiting the latest downpour of rain that is most certainly on its way, I cannot help but think that if all teachers were given more opportunities and time to reflect upon the practices in their schools, it would be far easier to establish a more inclusive education system. This freedom, of course, is unlikely to happen and therefore we will continue to be dependent upon the professional commitment of small groups of teachers, such as these to ensure that progress will eventually be made.