Essay on Investigating the Role of Assessment for Learning (AfL) in Education

Published: 2021/12/02
Number of words: 1580

The Assessment Reform Group (2002) defines AfL: ‘Assessment for learning is the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers to decide where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there.’

The last bit in that sentence seems to give us a precise clue what that could mean in practice. According to Gladsby (2012) genuine AfL occurs at the point of learning, the moment when a learner engages in reflection. AfL practitioners make sure that all their planning and interaction aim to facilitate exactly this.

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Black and William (1998 p3) note in their famous article ‘Inside the Black Box,’ “Pupils who come to school and see themselves as unable to learn usually cease to take school seriously”. In this article that sentence made an impression on me. I think because its implication has consequences and there is a real sense of sadness in it. It seems schools are at risk of failing students too easily, whereas things could be turned around by using simple effective methods to promote progress. Stobart (2008) notes that real AfL is about learning to learn; a skill for life not just for examination success.

It is in no doubt that Assessment for learning is well approved, accepted and probably applied throughout all key-stages in most schools, but it seems it is the understanding of it and the practical usage of it that needs to be improved in order to have an impact on learning.

Black and William (1998, p5) note in their article, ‘The ultimate user of assessment information, which is elicited in order to improve learning, is the pupil’. A strong belief in AfL is shown by Claire Gladsby, a teacher turned writer, emphasises how assessment for learning genuinely can transform the learning outcomes of our students. Gladsby (2012).

However, Stobart (2008) warns of the potential abusive use of Assessment and its implication. He says: “My argument is that we are being shaped by forms of assessment. The most insidious of these are those, which claim to reveal our underlying abilities and aptitudes.” He further claims that assessment is much too grade related and neglects the actual learning needs of the students. He says that high-stakes assessments can become an end in themselves, it is then the grades that count, not what has been learned. (Stobart (2008, p4). He also mentions the social impact assessment can hold. Children start to think of themselves as levels and associate their achievements with morality and goodness.

There is a widespread discussion about how to use and apply AfL effectively in the classroom. Black and William (1998) mention in their findings various approaches of AfL are purely assumptions about what makes for effective learning. Black and William (1998) discovered in their study three main errors in applying AfL . The first one concerned the efficiency of learning, claiming that inconsistency encourages rote and superficial learning. The second was concerned with negative impact, claiming that marking is overemphasised, useful advice is underemphasised and that comparison of work between students makes pupils with low attainment feel de-motivated by teaching them that they are not able to learn. The third group focused on the managerial role of assessment, claiming that teachers understand their pupil’s likely outcomes in tests, but not their actual learning needs.

The call for improvement and change was reflected in a later updated article where Harrision (2004) suggested that questioning, feedback through grading, peer and self-assessment with formative use of summative tests, have begun to shape the use of AfL in a more effective way.

Finally, William (2009) identifies the key elements as a set of activities, which can empower learners to become independent learners. The four key elements are sharing learning intention and success criteria; engineering effective classroom discussion; formative feedback and activating learners as resource for each other. These criteria for assessment for learning resonate well with the Primary Teacher Hannah Corinne (2014), which proves that these researched and developed ideas are being put into practice. Hannah Corinne, in an educational BBC video (2014) shows practical insight into how to effectively use AfL . She points out that she thinks that teachers might have insecurities about how to use AfL however teachers have always used it. Even previous generations of teachers used AfL all the time, though it was not actually defined as AfL. However, it is the way we are now actively using it and how we teach children to use it effectively that aids learning that has become so important. She says self and peer-assessment make students understand the actual need for assessment. She talks about using a range of techniques like two stars and a wish or the traffic light system; questioning; discussing feedback and so forth. She notes that in terms of self-assessment the students benefits most if the students know exactly what the teacher wants them to do. Shared and agreed success criteria are vital for self and peer-assessment. Pupils learn to take responsibility for carrying out the assessment and they also learn to be analytical, looking at how to apply those criteria. That is a skill and a learning objective in itself.

She further explains that she is using a 5 key action plan to apply AfL in her lesson effectively. Opportunities for effective questioning and opportunities for effective feedback secure success of the learning outcome. She also mentions to create opportunities for quiet or low self-esteem pupils like partner work or group work.

That practice confirms what Black and William (1998) claim in their article about AfL. They point out that all those new ways of applying AfL enhances the feedback between pupils and teachers and highlight the mutual consensus. The ways in which assessment can affect the overall motivation and self-esteem of a pupil resonates with the introductory comment of this essay that students with low confidence in themselves as an achiever are less likely to take learning seriously in the first place.

Addision (2007) suggests learning and assessing in Art and Design is about not to spoon fed pupils with ready-made formulae, as this can repress their personal interests and inhibit their motivations, instead one must find ways to encourage them to take on increasing responsibility for their own learning. Beere (2012) also suggests that finding methods to measure progress is the way forward. It empowers pupils to take ownership of their own progress. That resonates well with Stobart’s suggestions that AfL is a skill to be used for life and not just for examination purpose.

As Burgess (2007) points out, Art and Design is a subject that can accommodate the expanding field of material and visual culture, ranging from designing furniture, using recycled materials, to the production of performance. The key lies in the uses to which they are put: utilitarian, symbolic, affective, discursive, physical and spiritual. It seems to me that in such a diverse subject, where the variety is so vast that communication in terms of individual feedback is vital in order to find out in which areas a pupil is strong and where they really need support. Individual feedback and self-assessment is vital particularly for KS4 and KS5 in Art and Design, where self-directed learning and research builds the centre of their activity throughout the year.

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Heritage (2013, p6) confirms that trend, stating that children learn in different ways, at different rates, they have different motivations for learning and distinctive interests in its pursuit. A one-size-fits-all approach to learning does not accommodate the diversity of learners found in a classroom. That means we need skilled teachers, who are able to respond to students as individuals and that involves shaping learning. AfL can pave the way to learning that is individually sized.

I believe getting pupils actively involved in assessing their own and their peer’s work, communicating what they do and do not understand, will make them take on a more active role and take responsibility for their own learning. Students can be taught to bring their own learning forward through self-evaluation and peer-assessment.

I am planning to reflect further on the practice of peer-assessment, self-evaluation and questioning, as I believe that it is a method that has the flexibility to cover the diversity of learners but also the variety of the subject I am teaching.


Addision N. and Burgess, L. (2007) Learning to Teach Art and Design in the Secondary School. Routledge, New York

Assessment Reform Group (2002) The assessment for learning strategy. Department of Education, DCSF Publications London.

Beere, J. (2012) The perfect assessment for learning. Wales, Independent Thinking Press.

Black, W. and William D. (1998) Inside the Black Box, King’ s College London School of Education, p 3.

Gladsby C. (2012) The perfect assessment for learning. Wales, Independent Thinking Press.

Gripps, C. (1994) Beyond Byond Testing. Falmer Press, London.

Hanna, C. (2014) Curriculum in action Assessment for Learning. BBC

(Accessed 15. February 2014)

Harrison, C., Lee, C., Marshall, B., William, D. and Black, P. (2004) Working Inside the Black Box . PHI Delta Kappan, pp 9-21.

Heritage M. (2013) Formative Assessment in Practice. Harvard Education Press, Cambridge.

Stobart, G. (2008) Testing Times: The Uses and Abuses of Assessment. Routledge, New York.

William, D. (2009) Assessment and learning. Sage Publishing Inc., California.

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