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Assessing Pupils Progress (APP)

This briefing gives advice and guidance on the Assessing Pupils’ Progress (APP) materials which are being used to an increasing extent in primary and secondary schools in England. The briefing summarises the key features of APP, the background to its introduction, the potential benefits of APP and addresses examples of poor practice which the NASUWT has encountered in some schools and local authorities.

What is APP?

APP is a nationally developed and standardised approach to assessment which seeks to provide a framework within which teachers can make judgements about the standard of pupils’ work and plan future learning activities.

APP has been developed by the Department for Children Schools and Families (DCSF), the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) and the National Strategies. APP is a key part of the DCSF’s Assessment for Learning Strategy, published in May 2008, which aims to support teachers’ classroom-based assessment in the context of National Curriculum levels. APP has been developed as a means by which schools can be given the resources and support needed to develop and enhance their assessment polices and practices. The APP materials, which are not statutory, have also been used extensively in schools participating in the Making Good Progress pilots and their implementation has been given further impetus by the ending of externally marked, statutory National Curriculum tests at the end of Key Stage 3.

The materials are comprised principally of APP Assessment Guidelines and Standards Files. The Assessment Guidelines set out the criteria for each National Curriculum level and are central to the operation of APP in practice. The Assessment Guidelines are comprised of sheets which allow for the assessment of pupils’ work in relation to national standards and provide a recording format for the assessment criteria in each of the assessment focuses in each subject at each level.

The Standards Files are collections of assessed evidence of pupils’ performance that exemplify attainment at different levels in different subjects. The aim of these materials is to ‘give a feel’ for each level and to demonstrate how to aggregate performance in different aspects of a subject. These are underpinned by the APP Handbook which provides advice and guidance on implementation practice.

At present the APP materials are currently available for reading, writing and mathematics at Key Stages 1-3 and for science and ICT at key stage 3 only. It is intended that other subjects at key stage 3 will be developed and made available in 2010.

The potential benefits of APP

The NASUWT is clear that ongoing assessment of pupils’ work is an integral feature of effective teaching practice. The Union shares the view set out by the Government in its assessment strategy that effective and appropriate assessment practices involve teachers being given the scope to make appropriate use of their professional judgement to shape approaches to curriculum content and assessment to meet learning needs.

However, to date, many school-level arrangements for formative assessment or assessment for learning are unnecessarily bureaucratic and time consuming, often as a result of a perceived need to demonstrate to OFSTED inspection teams or other external auditors of school performance that effective approaches to formative assessment have been put in place. The Union is clear that assessment for learning undertaken on this basis is:

  • of limited use to parents or pupils in identifying and working towards future learning goals;
  • adds to teachers and headteachers’ workload burdens; and
  • distracts them from focusing on activities directly related to supporting pupils’ achievement and progress.

The NASUWT’s view, confirmed by many of our classroom teacher members, is that the APP materials, implemented effectively, have the potential to improve assessment practice in schools. Feedback from members has highlighted a number of clear benefits. In particular, APP provides an opportunity to replace existing bureaucratic and workload-intensive internal school assessment practices with a more streamlined and purposeful approach to making professional judgements about pupil progress and achievement.

The guidance materials from the DCSF, QCA and the National Strategies make clear that APP should be regarded as a ‘complete’ system. Where implementation has been viewed positively by members, it is frequently the case that schools have taken the opportunity presented by APP to review the burdens associated with their existing assessment practices and have tackled these issues through the introduction of APP, discarding previous approaches and systems.

It is also clear that APP can have other benefits when introduced by different schools in the same locality. In terms of the transfer of pupils between primary and secondary schools, teachers have reported that where APP is used by schools in both sectors, secondary teachers are often able to make more effective use of assessment information from primary schools to the benefit of all staff concerned. Similarly, with increasing collaboration between schools in the 14-19 sector, use of APP in all schools involved in local consortia reduces burdens on teachers by ensuring that teacher assessments are undertaken within a commonly deployed framework.

Examples of poor practice

The NASUWT continues to receive reports from members that, in some schools and local authorities, implementation of APP is being undertaken in a way that undermines its potential to improve assessment practice and is leading to increased workload and bureaucratic burdens on teachers and headteachers.

The guidance from the DCSF, Getting to Grips with Assessing Pupils’ Progress and the QCA, Assessing Pupils Progress: Assessment at the Heart of Learning, sets out clearly ways in which APP should and should not be used. Getting to Grips with Assessing Pupils’ Progress can be accessed at http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/node/160703 (new window).

The handbooks for APP are available as discrete documents for each subject in both primary and secondary phases. They can be accessed through the National Strategies website at http://www.nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/primary (new window) and http://www.nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/secondary (new window).

It must be emphasised that where problems have arisen as a result of the introduction of APP, these are almost always not a result of any inherent difficulty with the APP materials or the accompanying guidance but instead reflect inappropriate approaches to implementation.

Set out below are examples of unacceptable practice that have been drawn to the attention of the NASUWT and which do not reflect the guidance produced by the QCA, the National Strategies or the DCSF on the ways in which APP should be introduced or used in schools.

APP is implemented in addition to existing assessment arrangements 

The guidance on APP makes clear that it is a complete assessment system (Getting to Grips with Assessing Pupil Progress, p2). There should be no need in any circumstances to add APP to existing assessment systems. This not only risks increased workload burdens as a result of replication of assessments of pupil progress and attainment, it also undermines the ability of APP to operate a unified, clear and consistent approach to whole school assessment practice. It is also made clear in the guidance (Assessing Pupils’ Progress: Assessment at the Heart of Learning p7) that APP should not be used in addition to the ‘optional SATs’ at Years 3-5 and 7-8 or alongside use of existing statutory test materials at Year 9.

APP is implemented with excessive frequency of pupil assessment 

The handbooks for APP in each subject area for both the primary and secondary phases on the use of APP set out that APP works best when use no more than two or three times a year.

All pupils’ work is subject to in-school moderation 

All the APP handbooks describe arrangements for in-school moderation and confirm that moderation should only involve a small sample of pupils’ work. Moderation of all pupils work for this purpose is unnecessary.

Arrangements involving the production of detailed portfolios of pupils’ work or the implementation of specific assessment tasks 

The guidance on APP (Getting to Grips with Assessing Pupils’ Progress p4) explains that it is appropriate to use the work that’s already in pupils’ exercise books or to make use of any notes in which teachers have captured pupils’ spoken contributions in class. There is no need to undertake specific activities or to generate dedicated portfolios of pupils’ work.

APP is introduced without adequate support or with insufficient time for teachers to become familiar with the materials

Example of practice given by the QCA, the DCSF and the National Strategies consistently emphasise the need for APP to be introduced in a phased and consistent way in order to support the development of teachers’ familiarity with the materials and to identify any potential implementation issues (Getting to Grips with Assessing Pupils’ Progress p8). The DCSF has ensured that additional financial support for the introduction of APP is available through the Standards Fund, which includes nationally-developed professional development materials and resources.

Effective practice - local authority level

The NASUWT is receiving an increasing number of reports that local authorities are issuing advice to schools on implementing APP which is promoting its use in ways never intended. It is important that negotiating secretaries check what information and advice their local authority is issuing on APP to check it is in accordance with the national QCA and DCSF guidance.

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