About us 

Our advisory group for Rethinking Assessment

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Cambridge

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore is Professor of Psychology at the University of Cambridge, UK, and leader of the Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience Group. Her group’s research focuses on the development of social cognition and decision making in the human adolescent brain, and adolescent mental health. You can read more about the group and their research here.

Why rethink assessment?

It has become increasingly clear that holding high stakes national exams (in the form of GCSEs) during a period of life characterised by increased vulnerability to mental health problems no longer makes sense, and that other forms of assessment might be better aligned with adolescent development.

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Kenneth Baker Baron Baker of Dorking, former Secretary of State for Education

Former MP and Cabinet Minister. First Information Technology Minister introducing computers into schools. As Education Secretary he introduced the National Curriculum, testing, City Technology Colleges, grant-maintained schools, devolved budgets, and polytechnics established as independent bodies. Chairman of the Baker Dearing Educational Trust which promotes University Technical Colleges of which there are 48 open across England. UTCs deliver an innovative curriculum that combines technical, practical and academic learning. Born in 1934, Lord Baker is married with three children. He enjoys collecting political caricatures and writing – his latest book, On Assassinations, was published in 2020.

Why rethink assessment?

There is no need for two sets of high stakes exams. GCSEs were designed as a school leaving certificate, and that’s no longer required at 16, so it’s time for them to go.

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Geoff Barton General Secretary, the Association of School and College Leaders

Geoff studied English and Linguistics at the University of Lancaster, then trained to teach at Leicester University. From 2002 to 2017 he was headteacher of King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds, a comprehensive school of 1650 students.

He is a Founding Fellow of the English Association and writes for a range of newspapers and journals. He has worked with various organisations, including the Department for Education, on leadership and literacy.

Geoff was a longstanding member of ASCL Council, former chair of its Pedagogy Committee, is Patron of the English and Media Centre, and a ‘Leading Thinker’ for the National Education Trust. He became General Secretary of ASCL in April 2017.

Why rethink assessment?

Milton Friedman said: ‘Only a crisis — actual or perceived — produces real change’.

Let’s make the legacy of the COVID crisis an assessment system that more proportionately reflects the range of knowledge, skills and talents of all our young people. We owe it to them. We owe it to our society more generally.

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Rachel Macfarlane Director of Education Services, Herts for Learning

Rachel Macfarlane is the Director of Education Services at Herts for Learning. She was Headteacher of three contrasting schools over a sixteen year period, mostly recently an all-through academy for 4-18 year olds in East London. From 2009-2018 Rachel was Project Director of The London Leadership Strategy’s Going For Great (G4G) programme, which involved working with leaders of outstanding schools to share good practice and produce case studies for dissemination to London schools.

Why rethink assessment?

As a school leader, I aimed to equip students with the learning power and character, as well as the testable knowledge, needed for successful and fulfilling lives: exams only assess one part of that.

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Dr Meeta Vouk Director, IBM Singapore Research Centre

Meeta Vouk, PhD is a business woman who has built and led various businesses within established global organizations. In particular she has directed research labs to productize deep technology. Meeta is currently a Product Officer at IBM managing several businesses and an adjunct professor at North Carolina State University where she teaches advanced graduate courses.

Why rethink assessment?

The current education system and its focus on assessment is teaching pupils to learn for the sake of testing. It is failing to execute on the vision of preparing them for personal and professional success as they grow up. The workplace needs thinkers of tomorrow and for that, we need children to understand, engage, and shape the changing world. We need our children to be thinkers who will be change-makers of the future.

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Alistair McConville Deputy Head, King Alfred School

Alistair is Director of Learning and Innovation at Bedales School, where he has overseen the development of the diversely assessed ‘Bedales Assessed Courses’ which take the place of many GCSEs. He’s also co-author of ‘Learning How to Learn’, an inspector, and a TES features writer.

Why rethink assessment?

Too many exams based on too much material is a recipe for poor quality learning and works against the flourishing and dignity of young people. Kinder, broader, more relevant assessment is possible.

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Peter Hyman Co-Director, Big Education, Co-founder and first Headteacher School 21, Co-founder Voice 21

Peter is the co-director of Big Education a Multi Academy trust and social enterprise that is trying to forge a more expansive education based around the education of the whole child – head, heart and hand. He is co-founder and the first headteacher of School 21, a pioneering 4 to 18 school that opened in Stratford, East London in 2012. The school has a growing reputation for developing oracy (speaking) skills having set up Voice 21, a charity working with hundreds of schools across the country. It has also developed sophisticated programmes for real world learning and wellbeing.

For nine years to 2003, Peter worked as a strategist and speechwriter to the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. He left to become a teaching assistant in a challenging Islington school, before training as a history teacher and working his way up to become a headteacher. He is author of 1 out of 10, from Downing Street Vision to Classroom Reality.

Why rethink assessment?

What is a good education? For me it is about developing the tools – the knowledge, skills, ingenuity, empathy – to become a human being with the capacity to leave the world in a better place than it was.

Our assessment and exams system does not help us to achieve this – it stifles the creativity of young people rather than liberating it. It causes unnecessary pressure rather than supporting the transition to adulthood. When things are not fit for purpose, it is our duty to change them.

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Bill Lucas Professor of Learning and Director of the Centre for Real-World Learning, University of Winchester

Bill Lucas is Director of the Centre for Real-World Learning and Professor of Learning at the University of Winchester. Bill, an ex school leader and CEO of two national educational charities, is a researcher, writer and educational thought-leader. His model of creativity is now in use in more than 20 countries across the world demonstrating that creative thinking can be developed and assessed in students. Bill is co-chair of the new PISA 2021 Test of Creative Thinking and co-author of the recent Durham Commission Report on Creativity and Education. A prolific author, Bill’s latest book is Zest for Learning: Developing curious learners who relish real-world challenges.

Why rethink assessment?

As a young teacher I helped Sir Tim Brighouse develop the Oxford Certificate of Educational Achievement, an early prototype designed to value the full range of young people’s strengths, and ever since then have been trying to describe how students are developing rather than where they have apparently failed the tests the system sets them.

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Tamsin Ford Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge

Tamsin Ford is a Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge. Her research academic work focuses on the effectiveness of interventions and the efficiency of services in relation to the mental health of children and young people, with a particular focus on the interface between education and health systems. She completed her PhD at the Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College London and she set up the Child Mental Health Research Group at Exeter Medical School in 2007. She moved to Cambridge in October 2019 where is also an honorary consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist at Cambridge and Peterborough Foundation Trust. She is part of the Research Advisory Group of Place2Be and a board member of the Association of Child and Adolescent Mental Health.

Why rethink assessment?

Surveys of school age children repeated stress exam stress and academic pressure as a major source of distress and if most young people are in education until the age of 18, GCSEs at 16 are unnecessary and take time from potentially more constructive and useful skill development

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Leanne Forde-Nassey Headteacher, The Key Education Centres, Gosport and Havant

Following a career in Prison Education resulting in a Headship at a Young Offenders Institute in West London, Leanne has worked with children with complex needs for 17 years. A career supported by studies in Special and Inclusive Education and Attachment and Trauma-Informed Practice has led to her working with partner schools and agencies to champion this approach to working with young people. An advocate for collaboration and equity in educational experiences for children, Leanne moved from prison Education to take a Headship at a Pupil Referral Unit to try and prevent children from being adversely affected by their exclusions from mainstream schools.

Why rethink assessment?

As Head teacher of two Pupil Referral Units I am passionate about ensuring our pupils and children in alternative provision across the country have full access to a curriculum that fits their needs. Pupils at our school often fit into the ‘forgotten third’ when it comes to examinations and I am committed to being part of a solution to this to ensure every child can be successful.

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Sarah Fletcher High Mistress, St Paul’s Girls’ School, London

Currently High Mistress of St Paul’s Girls’ School and previously Head at Kingston Grammar School and City of London School.

I have had the privilege to teach in a number of schools at home and abroad, boarding, day, single-sex, co-educational, state and independent. I was involved from the outset in the development of the Extended Project Qualification and the Cambridge Pre-U, sitting on the Pre-U Steering Committee from inception to launch. I am also fortunate enough to be a school governor at West London Free School as well as a board member of The School and Family Works, a brilliant social enterprise company which supports families in resolving deep seated familial and behavioural issues.

I have a strong interest in curriculum reform and in encouraging creativity in teaching & learning. For me, education ought to be about welcoming and cultivating the natural interests of all young people. It should be about inspiring in them a deep, life-long curiosity that enables them to engage actively, responsibly, and critically in the world.

I believe that we now need the courage to revaluate the way we assess achievement so that we can realise these aims and recognise the full potential of everyone.

Why rethink assessment?

For me, education ought to be about welcoming and cultivating the natural creativity of all young people. It should be about inspiring in them a deep, life-long curiosity that enables them to engage actively, responsibly, and critically in the world. I believe that we now need the courage to revaluate the way we assess achievement so that we can realise these aims and recognise the full potential of everyone.

Rebecca Boomer-Clark Chief Executive, Academies Enterprise Trust

Rebecca Boomer Clark is the Chief Executive Officer of Academies Enterprise Trust. An experienced school leader, she was Director of Secondary at Ark Schools from 2017 to 2021. Prior to that, she worked for the DfE as Regional Schools Commissioner for South-West England. Rebecca also worked at Oasis Community Learning for eight years in a variety of roles, initially as a vice principal and principal in Bristol, before becoming a Regional Director and then National Education Director at the multi-academy trust. Rebecca is also a Trustee at Ambition Institute and Jamie’s Farm.

Why rethink assessment?

We need assessments that reflect all aspects of the development of our individual pupils and students in their preparation for leading “remarkable lives”.

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Robert Lobatto Headmaster – King Alfred’s School, London

Robert Lobatto is Head of The King Alfred School in London. Founded in 1898, it has a strong tradition of creativity, independence and education of the whole child. Previously, Robert was Head of a large award-winning Secondary school in West London, and Executive head of a large primary school. He helped to found one of the first parent-led schools in 2010, and sits on the board of a MAT in South-west London.

Why rethink assessment?

Disillusioned by the way assessment and accountability interacted to distort the purpose and practices of education, I left the State system in 2015. It has never been more urgent to reform that system for the benefit of all children and young people.

Dame Alison Peacock Chief Executive of the Chartered College of Teaching

Dame Alison Peacock is Chief Executive of the Chartered College of Teaching.  Her research and commitment to ‘Learning without Limits’ has taken place over many years.  Working with colleagues from the University of Cambridge she has participated as an insider-researcher studying the impact of removing national curriculum levels  within primary school settings. Alison is pleased to join Rethinking Assessment in a personal capacity.

Why rethink assessment?

Learning should be truly without limits; assessment should help us to gain feedback as we progress further over time, rather than being the means to draw a halt to future ambition. Children should always be given the opportunity to surprise us.

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Jonnie Noakes Director of Teaching and Learning, Eton College, and Director of the Tony Little Centre for Innovation and Research in Learning

Director of Teaching and Learning at Eton and the Director of The Tony Little Centre for Innovation and Research in Learning, a centre for pedagogical excellence, evidence-informed practice and research into teaching, learning and leadership in education. An expert in character education, with two decades of experience in teaching emotional intelligence and a deep knowledge of boarding education.

Why rethink assessment?

The way we currently assess served an important purpose when it was implemented, but over time it has come to exert a stranglehold over schools – one that is unhelpful to our core purposes of enabling all young people to find their talents, to discover who they are and what they can contribute, to understand the interconnectedness of knowledge and to be aware of the interdependence of all people. It’s time we looked at assessment again so that it serves these holistic educational purposes much better.

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Gwyn ap Harri Co-founder - XP School, Doncaster

Gwyn ap Harri is the CEO and co-founder of XP School Trust in Doncaster, UK. XP delivers a three dimensional curriculum focused on academic performance, beautiful work and character growth.

Why rethink assessment?

Our assessment of our children must reflect that qualifications open doors, but it is who you are and the quality of your work that gets you the job, the place at university or that start up business loan.

For the sake of our children, we must do better than the current one dimensional system.

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Olly Newton Executive Director of the Edge Foundation

Olly spent 12 years in the Department for Education working on policies including 14-19 diplomas, raising the participation age and finally as Head of Apprenticeship Strategy. Olly is now Executive Director of the Edge Foundation, where he oversees a programme of primary research, is lead author on all of the charity’s policy reports and runs the Edge Future Learning delivery programme for schools and colleges.

Why rethink assessment?

In any system, you get what you measure – Edge is all about making education relevant to create the rounded adults of the future, so we want to help the assessment system to catch up with that aim.

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Sally Dicketts Chief Executive of Activate Learning

Sally Dicketts, CBE, has held senior posts in both secondary schools and further education. She is Chief Executive of Activate Learning, which brings together seven FE Colleges, 4 UTC’s, two 11-18 secondary schools, a studio school, a training provider delivering apprenticeships and an engineering training provider.

Sally has chaired the Women’s leadership network and is a member of the Oxfordshire Management Club, All Souls Group and the National Education Trust, and was appointed President of the Association of Colleges in August 2020.

Why rethink assessment?

If a plumber comes to your house you don’t want them to write you an effective essay. Let’s have an assessment system fit for today.

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Will Goldsmith Acting Head, Bedales School

Will Goldsmith is Director of Teaching & Learning at Latymer, having been a Head of English at the school before that. He has an MA in English Literature from the University of Edinburgh and is currently working on another MA, this time in Education at the University of Bath. With a background in teaching at both state and independent schools, Will is currently working on proposal for an alternative model of curriculum and assessment for 11-16 year olds. He hopes that, together with colleagues from a range of schools and other organisations, real change can be achieved.

Why rethink assessment?

Making all our judgements about a young person based on the outcome of a few hours spent in an exam hall is not an accurate way of representing them. Our system is unjust, uninspiring and only exacerbates divisions in our society.

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Phil Avery Director of Education, Bohunt Education Trust

Phil, who joined Bohunt Education Trust in 2010, is responsible for major learning & teaching projects, the BET curriculum, cross-Trust assessments and new-build school projects. He has a commitment to the pursuit of excellence in learning & teaching and a passion for building an education system that values not only the knowledge of the child, but their passions, character and ambition; that hints at not only what they know, but who they are.

Phil’s holistic, systems perspective on education means he is as likely to be found up mountains with students as he is in classrooms; he has led numerous, ambitious student expeditions to Greenland researching the impact of the outdoors on young people in conjunction with the University of Lancaster. Phil is a Winston Churchill Fellow, a Trustee of the Royal Geographical Society, a previous STEM Leader of the Year, a Sinnott Fellow and actively engaged in several significant research projects including the largest UK study of the impact of lockdown on students’ wellbeing and learning (in conjunction with ImpactEd).

Why rethink assessment?

For students to thrive in the future it looks likely they are going to need to deliver change in the World. To do that they will need to master not only certain subjects, but also multidisciplinary thinking; they will need to be autonomous and carve their own path; and they will need a strong sense of moral purpose. I believe it is our job as educators to support students towards positive futures and so we need new ways of assessing that tell us and them how we are doing at developing ‘game-changers’.

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Kerry-Jane Packman Executive Director, Parentkind

Kerry-Jane is the Executive Director of Programmes, Membership and Charitable Services. She has 20 years’ experience of working within the charity section in roles at Maggie’s, Macmillan, Cancer Research UK and British Heart Foundation, driving successful funding operations, generating income from multiple sources, building and leading teams, business development and marketing.

Why rethink assessment?

Parentkind’s policies are evidence-led, and we will always champion parent voice. Our research shows that most parents believe a good education goes beyond exam results, but they also want a curriculum that prepares pupils for the future job market. At the same time, many express concern that education isn’t preparing children for the modern day job market. As a major education stakeholder, parents have to be part of the national conversation about assessment reform and the future of education.