Further to recent reforms in the English National curriculum, parents may want to ask about new systems of assessment. There are fundamentally two different schools of measuring a child’s progress and Great Britain may be about to make a leap from one to another. To grade or not to grade, this has been the question in education circles, especially primary schools.
The English National curriculum, used in many Anglophone primary schools in Switzerland, so far based its assessment and reporting on a progressive set of levels, acting as descriptors of a child’s individual achievement in a given area of Literacy and Maths. For example, student x can write sentences using capital letters and punctuation; such an achievement may not be reported at the same time of the year for all students. This system is about to be revamped. Details are yet to be released but number grades, similar to a percentage score system, have been mentioned. Here in Switzerland or neighbouring France, children’s work is evaluated with grades in a system that is familiar to parents and universities. However, in the early stages of education, parents generally just want to know if their child is on target or below or above average. In order to make progress, children need to know where they are according to their own ability; their work should not be compared to others’ but to their own performance. This can only be reported fully with a set of criteria to describe a child’s achievement rather than a single grade.
Grades can be a great motivator for high achievers, but can easily demotivate those struggling no matter how hard they work. Grades are also necessary in standardised exams, such as IGCSE or the IB Diploma, as they are universally understood by universities and future employers. They can never stand alone, however, in reflecting a student’s true and complete abilities.
In a similar way, students working later on to obtain a grade, whether an A to C (UK) or a 4 to 7 (IB), need more specific feedback in order to improve. If they stagnate at a B, did they at least gain additional points within that band? What are the assessment criteria to move up to an A? Changing the overall assessment system in any curriculum is inevitable as trends and politicians sweep by in the world of education. Hopefully, with a little more freedom granted to teachers, clear systems of assessment can be put in place. With grades or not, they should inform both students and parents of an individual child’s ability, progress and potential against a clear set of criteria. This can only make for a clearer, more successful and productive measure of a child’s full potential.
Sabine Hutcheson is an Education Consultant at TutorsPlus