Helena Knapton begins our series of articles focused on new teacher development with a special focus on assessment.

Special message from the EBEA Chair:

‘In the last issue of TBE we reported on the continued and growing popularity of our subject discipline amongst students. With the reduction in Higher Education Institution-led PGCE programmes and the increase in school-led provision it is therefore more important than ever that new teachers have access to the resources they need to develop their subject specific pedagogy. That’s why the EBEA is pleased to endorse this excellent guide for new teachers and their mentors and why we will be serialising articles from different contributors following the themes of the book in the coming issues.  In this issue, Helena explains why they wrote the book, how to get the most out of it and focuses specifically on the section on assessment for learning.

EBEA members qualify for a special discount off the cover price by ordering via www.ebea.org.uk/student-teacher.’

Dr. Jo Bentham

Why I wrote the book

I love learning – and I love teaching.  And for a number of years I had the best job in teaching, i.e. a PGCE Programme Leader role.  Or as my daughter would describe it ‘teaching teachers to teach’.  But actually I was always doing more learning than teaching.

It was always inspiring to see individuals come onto the programme from all sorts of backgrounds, with all manner of preconceptions, and see them develop and change as individuals as well as into effective practitioners as they journeyed through the course.  I learnt so much from their different experiences, having to adapt to their individual strengths so that they would know success. I also got to meet and know so many practitioners in schools – each with their own perspectives, insights and wisdom too.

I have also seen my little part of the teaching profession under increasing pressure.  Whilst this includes changes to teaching in general it also reflects changes in perception of the value of the subject.  In addition are those changes to teacher education.  So the impetus to write was from a desire to speak into the context that new teachers face; to provide a wider framework that would support without dictating how to teach, and to acknowledge those colleagues in schools and in university from whom I have learnt so much.  And this includes my co-author, Jamila -Gurjee, who having been one of my first PGCE Business Education students has gone on to have a varied and influential career in her own right.

How to read the book – perhaps…

At first glance, it may look as if the book is written as a ‘Scheme of Work’ for new teachers, beginning with the basics and then, with careful scaffolding, becoming more sophisticated as the reader progresses through the text.  And that is one way of looking at it – and one way of using the book.

Another way, and perhaps a better way, is to view it as a resource that can be dipped in and out of.  That as you go through the chapters – perhaps in order, perhaps not – and use those aspects that, as the reader, you find pertinent to your own stage of your journey as a teacher; that you pick out what is relevant for you at a particular point in time.  And then at a later date, go through the process again.  A pedagogical equivalent to ‘Cook, eat, repeat’ (Nigella Lawson, 2020), recognising that this is only one of a number of recipe books on the shelf, and where you adapt and develop recipes to your own taste and context.

Why do I suggest that it is read this way? Because one of the things that I have learnt from my school and college-based colleagues is that the best teachers are continuously questioning – they question themselves, their purpose, and their practice and don’t take things at face value. And that questioning aspect is something that I have tried to encourage by incorporating opportunities for ‘reflection’, although I hope that readers generate many more for themselves.

For example, Assessment and Assessment for Learning

The book was published at the end of 2019 and before Covid-19 had been heard of and the decision to have two chapters on Assessment was taken at an early stage in the development of the book, one introducing Assessment for Learning and one focusing on teaching students how to achieve well against exam board criteria.

In the summer of 2020, the decision was taken to trust the professionalism of teachers with the adoption of their assessments of students’ capabilities at the end of their chosen courses when other approaches were shown to be not fit for purpose.  And so, it was abundantly clear to everyone that teachers need to know exactly what the specific assessment criteria are for the programmes being delivered and to ensure that students are assessed accurately against those criteria – arguably particularly important for those wanting to progress into university.  Schools and teachers have long been conscious of this and work hard to ensure students are taught to be able to achieve against the set criteria. Consequently, there is a chapter designed to support teachers to understand and use assessment criteria in their teaching to support student attainment.  As such it provides a very practical introduction to this area of significance.

However, in the run up to the final decision to use teacher assessed grades there were plenty of reports, news items, blogs and tweets highlighting the vagaries and unreliability of the different systems of assessing student achievement at both Key Stage 4 and 5.   What may have been a surprise to many was that historically as many as 1 in 4 exam grades have been inaccurate for subjects such as ours.  Moreover, there is a long road between the beginning to the completion of a course and assessment for learning is one of the ways in which that journey can be navigated successfully.

The uncertainty about end of programme assessment reliability together with a recognition for those students that don’t go to university or academic study at Key Stage 5 should serve to underline the fact that learning is not only about exam assessment (if at all). I would argue that this is the case whatever the subject but, perhaps, it is even more true for our subject area with its association with enterprise and links with businesses outside of school or college. Thus, a good teacher will have a good understanding of both what assessment for learning is and how it can make a difference to student experience.  The better the understanding, the more flexible and adaptable the teacher can be to student needs then the better that student will be able to learn. To reflect this ambition the first chapter on assessment is focused on ‘assessment for learning’ as the ‘big picture’. This would provide an environment that is fit for purpose for all students and to avoid being drawn into a narrow ‘teach to the test’ context when the only acceptable form of learning is explicitly tied to examination success.

And is teaching to the test actually learning?

Trying to get all my assessments done – it feels a little like the learning has stopped and everything is just about assessment tasks.

Tracey Muir et al (2019:267)

This quote from a student underlines the problems that ‘teaching to the test’ can have – that it interrupts genuine or deep learning rather than fosters a delight in exploration of the world and how students can engage with it.  By having the Assessment for Learning chapter first we hope that the readers’ own exploration of the pedagogical world is encouraged and not limited to the world of exam criteria.  And by having two chapters a more rounded view – if not quite 3600  – of assessment might be developed.


The text is short and there are some things that I wish I had included and others where I think I should have been more explicit.  For example, good assessment for learning is motivational.  It allows students to see what they are able to do, and how to build on this rather than see the gaps in their learning.  And it allows teachers to build better relationships with students, reflecting most teachers’ motivations for joining the profession, i.e., to have a positive impact on young people.

There is no chapter on behaviour management.  The combination of being so much already written as well as being such a contested area meant that addressing this in one chapter would be an impossible task.

And there is an obvious gap in remote teaching, online teaching and hybrid or blended learning.  Whilst the EEF report written in April (Steve Higgins et al. 2020) was a welcome response to the closure of schools it has its limitations. Over the summer other organisations provided their own responses for the pivot to online delivery, including the Future Learn (Open University) free, short, online course introducing secondary teachers to online teaching.  In the Higher Education sector, we had our own opportunities for learning through Future Learn and Advance HE etc.  These alternatives pointed out the distinction between emergency remote teaching and effective online learning.  But the pandemic has also meant that in some areas the rule book for online learning is in the process of being re-written.

At Edge Hill University there has been a radical shift to hybrid learning, a mixture of present-in-person teaching, synchronous online learning and asynchronous online learning which has driven forward colleagues’ practice based in a new preparedness to work collegially (including with schools), to experiment and to innovate.  This has had a significant impact on our teacher education programmes, with students finding that they are at the forefront of what it means to deliver in different contexts and engaging in a much broader range of experiences – including with schools – as traditional barriers have been challenged. And for all of our students, their experiences provide them with a breadth of digital knowledge and facility that will prepare them well for their next steps into the world of employment.

And to end…or is it?

The best mentors enable new teachers to be the best that they can be at the end of their training rather than mini-versions of themselves.  Moreover, the mentors recognise that the new teacher is not the finished product (if there is such a thing).  It is in this spirit that the book has been written, in the way it is structured as well as the contents.  As such it is written as a primer, an introduction to the world of teaching in our subject area.  It is not the last word…

Helena Knapton is Learning and Teaching Development Lead at Edge Hill University


Steve Higgins, Jennifer Stevenson, Jonathan Kay, Amy Ellis-Thompson, Mohammad Zaman (2020)
Remote Learning: Rapid Evidence Assessment Education Endowment Foundation Available at Distance_Learning_Rapid_Evidence_Assessment_Protocol.pdf (educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk)

Nigella Lawson (2020) Cook, Eat, Repeat London. Vintage Publishing

Tracey Muir, Naomi Milthorpe, Cathy Stone, Janet Dyment, Elizabeth Freeman & Belinda Hopwood (2019) Chronicling engagement: students’ experience of online learning over time, Distance Education, 40:2, 262-277, DOI: 10.1080/01587919.2019.1600367