Professional judgement in assessing Computing


“OK, then. What do you think about this?”

I was talking to the delegates on a course I was running entitled Assessing Computing. We were discussing sources of evidence of pupils having learnt stuff.

“What if you took the view: I’m a professional, and I’ll know it when I see it?”

The reactions of the class were very interesting.

That lightbulb momentSome delegates looked as though a lightbulb had just gone off in their heads. Others looked aghast. The teachers in the latter group were worried about whether their professional judgement, ie opinion, would be good enough for Ofsted. It’s a good question, and here my thoughts on the matter.

First, I think professional judgement is a much under-valued resource by many teachers. My opinion is that having suffered for years and years from a combination of being provided with schemes of work that were the equivalent of painting by numbers, and politicians telling schools that they are no good, many teachers have lost self-confidence. But I think it’s important to hold on to the fact that teachers are experts. Even if you’re not (yet) an expert in teaching Computing, you are an expert in teaching.

That means that you can tell when a pupil understands or does not understand something. You know how to ask further, more probing questions. You have a range of techniques available in your teaching toolkit (see 5 Assessment for Learning techniques for ICT or Computing for example).

Second, one of things Ofsted inspectors look for is evidence of subject expertise. In my opinion, if you know your subject, then you can tell when somebody else knows it, and when they don’t.

Third, Ofsted inspectors themselves use professional judgement. Look at these excerpts from the new Ofsted school inspection handbook (2015) about how inspectors will reach their judgements:

Inspectors will use a considerable amount of first-hand evidence gained from observing pupils in lessons, talking to them about their work, scrutinising their work and assessing how well leaders are securing continual improvements in teaching.

information from discussions about teaching, learning and assessment with teachers, teaching assistants and other staff.

[the extent to which] teachers make consistent judgements about pupils’ progress and attainment, for example within a subject, across a year group and between year groups.

(That last one clearly implies that the inspectors are going to be expecting teachers to make professional judgements – unless you don’t need professional  judgement to make consistent judgements about pupils’ progress.)

Each of those three aspects of the inspectors’ approach involves their making professional judgements. If it’s good enough for inspectors….

Now, I am not suggesting for one minute that professional judgement is enough. You will need to have a range of evidence, and types of evidence. But professional judgement enables you to look at “objective” data and say to yourself things like:

“I am pretty sure, from that answer/piece of work that this pupil really understands this concept. But I need to confirm whether or not that’s the case.”

“Hmm. I am not convinced that this is an accurate reflection of this pupil’s ability or understanding. I need to investigate further.”

“I think this pupil doesn’t really get this. I need to look into that.”

In other words, it’s professional judgment that tells you whether a pupil probably understands something or not, and then guides what you do to follow up your feeling. Indeed, I’d say that professional judgement is so important, I honestly don’t see how you can accurately assess pupils’ knowledge, understanding or skills in Computing (or any other subject come to that) without it.

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