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Professor Dominic Wyse gives evidence at House of Commons

10 May 2017

Professor Dominic Wyse, Head of the Department of Learning and Leadership (DLL) at the UCL Institute of Education (IOE), spoke to the government’s Education Select Committee last week about assessment in primary schools. 

Drawing on the IOE’s extensive research in the field, Professor Wyse highlighted the potential issues with the current system, which include a narrowing of the curriculum and undermining of pupil wellbeing.

House of Commons

IOE research has shown that focusing on the three ‘core’ subjects of English, mathematics and science has resulted in a narrowing of the curriculum. Professor Wyse argues that even within these core areas, assessment is not currently addressing important elements of learning, such as creativity. In addition to this, national standardised assessment systems can focus on passing and failing, and high stakes assessments can lead to a tendency for schools to ‘teach to the test’. 

The initial written submission from DLL, led by Dr Jake Anders, reported research by Dr Melanie Ehren, also from the IOE, which revealed teachers’ views that pupils’ motivation and self-confidence had been affected negatively by the introduction of the new Year 6 maths test. The report also highlighted the research of colleagues Dr Guy Roberts-Holmes and Dr Alice Bradbury, who warn that introducing baseline measures with children in nursery or reception classes risks inappropriate ‘labelling’ of children. 

Professor Wyse argued that the main purpose of the assessment of children should be to assess their learning to inform teaching, and to inform parents about their children’s progress. For example, the IOE’s work on Reading Recovery, that is part of its International Literacy Centre, includes some of the most respected examples of formative and diagnostic assessment of reading to inform teaching. 

Following the meeting, Professor Wyse submitted further written evidence to the Committee, particularly in relation to writing. Professor Wyse argued that greater attention should be given to the composition of writing, including creativity in writing. He also suggested that a national assessment system that used samples of pupils would be a better way to provide evidence about the performance of the education system as a whole. This evidence on writing, and the evidence from DLL, is cited in the Select Committee report.

Professor Wyse’s upcoming book, How Writing Works (Cambridge University Press), is the culmination of extensive new research on writing, and the basis for his observations to the Committee. He will give a talk on writing at the UCL Festival of Culture on Thursday 8 June.

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