Next Generation Assessment 2024: Hot topics and key themes

Get the headlines from the NGA 2024 conference convened by the Edge Foundation in partnership with Rethinking Assessment, HMC and the University of Manchester, hosting a jam backed day of discussion and deliberation about the future of assessment.

Convened by the Edge Foundation in partnership with Rethinking Assessment, HMC and the University of Manchester, Next Generation Assessment 2024 brought together over 200 delegates for a jam backed day of discussion and deliberation about the future of assessment.

With live debates in the media and in the political arena on the future direction of education, the relevance of assessment reform has generated significant energy, and there has been a noticeable shift in momentum over the last 12 months from ‘what’ needs to change, to ‘how’. This year the Conference focussed on practical examples and reforms being led by schools, coalitions, awarding bodies and Government bodies across the UK four nations.

For more information on the event and to watch recordings of the sessions, you can visit Next Generation Assessment- Shaping the Future Conference | Edge Foundation

Spotlight on Greater Manchester

Hosted by the Alliance Manchester Business School, the Conference cast a spotlight on the region with academic hosts taking the lead to show the work being done in Higher Education. Gabrielle Finn, Vice Dean for Teaching, Learning & Students, shared Manchester University’s work on rewriting the university Assessment Framework to ‘future proof’ their assessment systems and ensure inclusivity and rigour, in consultation with the Student’s Union.

Other speakers across the panels including Sara Prowse, CEO, UA92, Jennifer Riding, Director of Learning & Engagement, The Lowry, and Andy Moor, CEO, Holy Family Catholic Multi Academy Trust – all demonstrating the game changing work happening across the region, and made the case for greater localism and place based approaches to education reform.

Offering an expert perspective, Marie Hamilton, the Greater Manchester Lead for Microsoft – a major employer in one of the fastest growing sectors in the region – spoke of the role of Artificial Intelligence in transforming the nature of digital assessments, and reiterated the importance of essential skills for young people.

Innovation in digital assessments

Colin Hughes, CEO, AQA shared the benefits of digital exams for students and teachers as well as what it will take to make it a reality. 'Making it Click: The case for digital examinations in England’, launched last year, argues that the move to digital exams is an evolutionary process and outlines AQA’s approach to developing digital on screen assessments. From 2026 the reading and listening components of AQA’s GCSE Italian and Polish will, subject to regulatory approval, be assessed digitally. AQA is aiming to continue introducing further digital components in other subjects at GCSE and A-level, including large entry subjects (eg GCSE English) by 2030.

Cassy Taylor, Director of Qualifications Policy and Reform at Qualifications Wales explained that many of the new GCSEs in Wales will use on-screen assessment rather than pen and paper, and students will be able to combine units from “skills for life” and “skills for work” suites, to tailor their own qualifications. Marie Hamilton also highlighted the growing importance of digital skills in education.

Assessing Oracy

The Independent Commission on the Future of Oracy Education, hosted by Voice 21, was launched at the beginning of March, chaired by Geoff Barton, outgoing General Secretary of ASCL. The Commission is aiming to provide a blueprint for a national entitlement for oracy education at all stages of statutory education in England. During their breakout session at the Conference, Amanda Moorghen, Head of Impact & Research, Voice 21 and Mark House, Product Manager, RM Compare discussed Voice 21’s project, ‘Comparing Talk’, which has developed a methodology for assessing oracy using adaptive comparative judgement. Initial proof-of-concept trials have been promising, finding that reliable rankings of examples of student talk are able to be produced. Audience members discussed whether oral components should be reintroduced into qualifications, as well as the merits of oracy for ongoing formative assessment.

Skills across the curriculum and in HE

There is significant interest from teachers to teach and evidence their students' skill development alongside academic knowledge. Emily Reid from Holy Catholic Family MAT shared their Trust wide focus on Creative Habits of Learning, and their work as part of the North West Creativity Collaborative. Helena Good, CEO Daydream Believers shared their work on developing a new accredited qualification in creative thinking, which is gaining significant traction in Scotland and now accepted by four Universities. The qualification, and curriculum which sits behind it, deploys cross curricular interdisciplinary learning approaches with students assessed around 5 key learning outcomes, and is supported by real world learning and validation from leading employers.

During the ‘Preparing young people to thrive’ panel, Sara Prowse, CEO of UA92, “a deliberately different university founded by the legends of Manchester United” discussed their 92 Programme which covers a range of life skills and is a mandatory part of every degree. The programme is worth 20-25% of a student’s final degree and covers elements including communication skills, critical thinking, and teamwork. Sara also highlighted the University’s approach to assessing a student’s ‘body of work’ as a method of applied real-world assessment and identifying ‘distance travelled’ across their learning journey.

Project Qualifications and School Designed Courses

Project qualifications was a major theme of the Conference and breakouts on this and creative thinking drew a lot of interest from delegates. Al McConville, Co-founder of Rethinking Assessment and Deputy Head at the King Alfred school chaired a panel with school representatives who discussed their work in developing new courses at Key Stage 4, with alternative forms of assessment. The panel discussed the work of Rethinking Assessment and Pearson to expand the uptake of recognised project qualifications, and a new trial to test the Higher Project Qualification in place of one or more GCSEs, with participating schools able to ‘bundle’ HPQs together to deepen and broaden their curriculum. Schools participating in this trial cover the state and independent sectors and include King's High School, Latymer Upper School, and Bohunt Education Trust. The pilot will begin in Sept 2024.

And finally…

PISA and global assessment trends

Michael Stevenson, OECD, shared an emerging global vision for an Education for Human Flourishing, which the OECD is working on with 7 high performing countries: Singapore, Canada, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Australia and the UK. The ‘High Performing Systems of Tomorrow’ project is bringing together Permanent Secretaries from Government Departments to look at curriculum, assessment and pedagogy in the context of the future that young people today are growing up to inherit, and the need for new capabilities given new global challenges. The framework being developed focussed on 3 main competencies; Adaptive problem solving, Ethical reasoning and Aesthetic perspective/meaning making. Michael discussed how PISA has been a mechanism for change with the introduction of new assessments in collaborative problem solving and creative thinking. The political economy of educational change, Michael argued, necessitates a global approach.

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