The future of assessment – time for a rethink?

The Edge Foundation at the Conservative Party Conference 2021

Susan Higgins Edge Foundation


Here at the Edge Foundation, we strongly believe that one of the biggest levers to achieving substantial change in our education system would be to reform the assessment system. Our current assessment system dominates our entire education landscape, influencing what is taught (curriculum) and how it is taught (pedagogy), so we were delighted to host a Fringe discussion “Assessment-time for a rethink?” at the Conservative Party Conference, 2021.

Our panel discussion was chaired by Flick Drummond, MP for Meon Valley who is passionate about exploring how best we can assess and evidence the skills of our young people. Her co-authored paper “The Future of Education” explores the challenges of the current GCSE system and what some alternatives might look like.

Rt Hon Robert Halfon, MP for Harlow and Chair of the Education Select Committee – “This should not be an argument about knowledge versus no knowledge. It’s about ‘knowledge-rich’ versus ‘knowledge-engaged’, marrying powerful knowledge with the skills and attributes needed to apply them. Post-Covid gives us enormous opportunities to transform our education system, and have a real debate about how our curriculum can prepare young people for the world of work, and onto the ladder of opportunity”

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, Professor of Psychology – University of Cambridge – “We now know a lot more about adolescent brains than we did back in the 1980s when GCSEs were introduced. 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”

Jonnie Noakes, Head of Teaching and Learning – Eton College – “There are sensible reasons why we have the system we have, to test pupils understanding in a standardised way, and to give them a valid certificate. But the current system is not doing this in a way that is fair and we are seeing unreliability in marking. At Eton we are lucky enough to be able to go through a process of remarking, but many schools do not have the time or resources for this. So the argument of the ‘rigour’ and ‘standardisation’ of GCSEs is not holding up, and there must be a better way to do this”.

Phil Avery, Director of Education – Bohunt Education Trust – “Our young people want to find meaning and grapple with the big issues of the world – how motivating is our education system for our young people? We should be arguing for ‘and’ not ‘or’ in this debate and I want to argue for content, skills, vocational and motivation.Let’s educate our students for what is coming in the future. Let’s give them the motivation and incentive, let’s give them the skills they need, and the wellbeing they deserve”

Alice Barnard, Chief Executive – Edge Foundation “Government talks about being led by the evidence, and our discussion here has shown us that the evidence is calling for change. We are asking young people to navigate through a world that is changing all the time, but we are not giving them the skills they need to embark on that journey. We should now move the debate towards action and look for the best way to evidence the skills of our young people, rather than default to a ‘lazy’ homogeneous system.”

A number of other organisations including the Rethinking Assessment movement, the New Era for Assessment, the Times Education Commission, the NCFE, the National Baccalaureate Trust and many others are exploring the case for reform, so we must now work together and seize the momentum for change.

This piece and the recording from the event was first published by the Edge Foundation on their website 

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