Secondary Assessment Working Party final report cover

Secondary Assessment Working Party: Final report

The case for change in secondary assessment and what can be learnt from alternative approaches.


The Secondary Assessment Working Party followed the report of the Independent Assessment Commission – New ERA – along with a number of other reports advocating reform of 14-19 assessment and qualifications. ​ 

These showed a building consensus around the need for change and outlined recommendations on what that change could look like. ​ 

The Working Party ​remit was to build on the recommendations of the report of the Independent Assessment Commission – New ERA – and to research and promote equitable and reliable alternative approaches to assessment in secondary education.

What can we take from this work?

On the current assessment system: ​​

  • The current assessment system is outdated and places limits on everyone. ​
  • Change is possible. ​ Alternatives exist. Change happened during the pandemic, and is currently taking place both within the UK and beyond. ​
  • Working class children are being constrained by a neoliberal education model with the pernicious influences of league tables and Ofsted. ​ Added to this is political influence on our education system with a focus on a narrow knowledge based ‘cultural capital’. ​ The current assessment system is designed to fit these rather than the authentic and future needs of our young people. ​

On principles to inform change: ​

  • Learning is the simple, enjoyable act of someone improving in some shape or form. ​
  • Everyone should have an opportunity to feel successful at school and have their progress in learning suitably accredited. ​
  • One size does not fit all. ​ There needs to be a smorgasbord of assessment, which is criterion based. ​
  • Students and employers need support in understanding the learning and assessment taking place in schools. ​
  • Assessment should take place at a time suitable to the learner. ​
  • Assessment needs to align with the desired outcomes of the course being assessed. ​
  • Learning technologies need to be beneficially exploited for assessment. ​
  • The unproductive links between accountability and choice of assessment models needs to be broken. ​

The main purpose of this report is to highlight the fact that alternative ways of assessing students are perfectly possible. ​ They have existed in the past, they exist currently and there are approaches which are already in development for the future. ​

While the cancellation of exams during the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the problems with a current assessment system which devalues the skills of teachers and relies far too heavily on end of course exams, it did not present clear, sustainable solutions. ​ It is hoped this report can provide a useful and active contribution to the process of planning an alternative system which will be to the benefit of students, educators, universities, employers and society as a whole.

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