ALEX QUIGLEY: Assessment Academy speaker profile

Avid followers of ours will know by now that (as well as being experts in Quality Street metaphors…) we’re running our first ever Assessment Academy residential course in Durham in August 2017. You can find more information on that course and book your place here

As part of this course, we have three very exciting announcements to make – namely, our guest speakers for the event! One will be speaking on the first morning, and the other two are evening events, held at the Radisson Hotel in Durham. Tickets for the speaker events will be available separately (follow us on Twitter for news), but all are included in the Residential course, so book early to avoid disappointment…! Without further ado, it’s a pleasure to introduce and chat to our speaker for the evening of 2nd August 2017: Alex Quigley, Director of Research School at Huntington School in York.

Alex also leads the EEF RISE Project (Research-leads Improving Students’ Education), and was a part of the Teachers’ Professional Development Expert Group for the DfE. He is the author of ‘The Confident Teacher: Developing Successful Habits of Mind, Body and Pedagogy’, as well as ‘Teach Now! English’, both published by Routledge. He writes articles for both the TES magazine and Teach Secondary magazine. He blogs regularly at on a range of educational topics, and you can find him (and his wise words on the ever-disappointing state of our local football team…) on Twitter at @huntingenglish.


Hi, Alex! Thanks for agreeing to speak at our inaugural Assessment Academy course! We wanted to ask you a few quick questions about assessment generally, so here goes… Do teachers need to know how to design reliable and valid assessment tasks? Whatever your answer, what is your justification?

I think teachers need support to know a great deal more about designing reliable and valid assessments. For too long we have been beholden to the whims of policy-makers devising clumsy (to be polite, quite frankly) assessment models that have repeatedly failed to improve learning. Yes – accountability measures are a huge lever that is pulled to change assessment in schools, but if we better understood reliable and valid assessment, then we would be able to better voice opposition and to seize more professional autonomy.

The removal of National Curriculum levels is a classic example. The DfE removed the shackles of a failing assessment mode, but without the support to change it, and too little expert knowledge of assessment in the school system, we have failed to grab the opportunity of better assessment system-wide.

To bastardise an Aretha Franklin and Eurythmics lyric, ‘teachers need to get doin’ it [assessment] for themselves’! The justification? Students learning more and getting better, more meaningful qualifications.


What advice can you offer teachers who want to use assessment more effectively to support student learning?

There may be little help coming from the slim-line DfE, but we can learn for ourselves by tapping into the powerful knowledge that already available to us. As the school system is in flux and Multi Academy Trusts emerge, we are offered the opportunity to collaborate more effectively on assessment too, pooling our expertise and finding better solutions for teachers in the classroom.

There is still a huge amount of value to be gleaned from the principles of assessment for learning. In the realm of cognitive psychology, there is much to be learnt from the evidence that attends ‘testing as learning’ (that is to say, a formative low stakes testing model of cumulative assessment). There is good evidence and insight, but we need to recognise that the most effective assessment goes on inside the heads of our students, not in some office in OFQUAL towers.

There are positive movements afoot. The principles of mastery, particularly in mathematics, has offered us an opportunity to forge a more formative assessment model. We need to better align our internal school assessment model with our curriculum, be it a ‘mastery’ approach, or whatever heading you wish to assign to it. Tools like ‘comparative judgement’ and ‘Assessment Academy’ offer us really useful supports to improve our assessment models.

As school leaders, with a new, more demanding curriculum, I think there is a moral imperative to create better assessment systems that improve learning and mitigate the difficulties of more challenging national tests.


Imagine that your country’s government told you that they would implement three – but only three – changes across the education system and that they would be sustained over time. What three changes would you suggest and why?

For me, the improvements that teachers make in the classroom are paramount for improving education for our students, so all of my ideas must be focused on achieving that end.

I would go all out to raise the prestige and attractiveness of the profession – without enough good teachers most other changes will simply come to nought anyway. High-performing graduates and career changers want time, financial recompense commensurate with other high-status professions, and proper continuous training to get better and flourish in their work.

  • We could quickly enhance the intellectual attractiveness of the profession, making it a Masters-level profession, with a clear support framework to undertake evidence-based practice. How good would it be to have clear training tools, like NICE guidelines, for teachers at all key stages for all the key aspects of teaching and learning? They could be updated and enhanced as research and development finds new evidence;
  • Then, I’d increase teacher pay in to be more in line with other high-prestige professions (teacher pay, not executive pay) and ensure that, over time, we find structured time for teachers to undertake the requisite training, research and development. We are not hamsters on a wheel. Like our students, we need to think hard, learn and undertake deliberate practice with ample support to get better; and
  • I’d also take curriculum and assessment out of the hands of point-scoring politicians and have sustained ten-year spells of curriculum and assessment development, piloting and more. For teachers to really improve, we need time to learn. Maintaining a stable curriculum helps support that.

Of course, this all takes investment, but I’d be happy to pay two more pence in the pound in to put a meaningful stake in the future of our country.

Thanks again for your time, Mr Q! We look forward to welcoming you to Durham in August.


For more information on Assessment Academy, or to book on to the Residential course, click here, or get in touch with us! Keep your eyes peeled in the next couple of weeks for our interview with speaker #2…

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