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Barriers to formative assessment in school science: a critical realist perspective

Singh, Birendra (2015) Barriers to formative assessment in school science: a critical realist perspective. PhD thesis, UCL Institute of Education.

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There is strong evidence in literature that formative assessment (FA) promotes learning, has a positive impact on teacher development and improves pupil outcomes. It nevertheless remains at the periphery of practice in schools in England. This study investigates why this is so, through an observational study of classroom practice in science in Year 8 (ages 12-13) in three secondary schools in an outer London local authority. The study is set in the context of tensions and anxiety in schools emanating from the government’s ‘standards agenda’, namely, the imposition of National Tests, targets, league tables of results and inspections by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted). Through lesson observations, scrutiny of pupils’ books, interviews with teachers and pupils and discussions with school, local, and national managers, this study confirms the dominance of tests and examinations. It confirms too the practice of ‘triage’ for rationing education and discovers the existence of the ‘tripartite’ system and the ‘factory-model’ of schooling within the walls of comprehensive schools. All of these mitigate against the effective use of FA to promote learning in the classroom. The findings include teachers’ lack of subject knowledge, an acute shortage of physics teachers and the disabling of teachers’ agency through ‘double triage’- leading to demoralisation. The government and school managers continue to use blunt instruments for monitoring narrowly defined ‘standards’ whilst the professional learning of science teachers is neglected. Schools are ‘marking up’ or even ‘making up’ test and coursework results through dishonest practices, masking the fact that they are failing many of their pupils. Finally, Bhaskar’s theory of learning drawn from his theory of creativity and his notion of ‘unfolding the enfolded’ are counter-posed against the theory of innate ability and used to propose a new, improved theory of assessment. This theory is Enabling Assessment, which builds on formative assessment and assessment for learning and provides a model of assessment with transformative potential.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Subjects: Departments > Curriculum, Pedagogy and Assessment
Depositing User: Mr Julian Zerfahs
Date Deposited: 14 May 2015 15:52
Last Modified: 14 May 2015 15:52
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