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Negative impact of assessment

Assessment does as much harm as it does good. Overtime you labour over those purple pen comments or tedious rubric boxes that you have slavishly produced, please bear in mind that from the pupil’s perspective you have as much chance of damaging their learning as you do enhancing it. Creativity is such a soul bearing, anxious process that you have every chance of damaging their will to keep wanting to create.

Pupils assess themselves more than you ever will. They put themselves in boxes of ‘I can’t do that’ or ‘I’ll never be able to’ and at the same time they elevate everyone else to high plateau’s. In Early Years education, pupils have a habit of assessing themselves as brilliant at everything. They seem to have such a pride and excitement at what they’ve made that they can’t help themselves. Fast forward to Secondary and the picture is almost entirely negative. It’s as though school is teaching them that they CAN’T do things rather than the opposite. For all your high impact learning resources and dynamic lessons, that have taken you yonks to produce, the majority of pupils feel frustration, doom and despondency. Add to that the plethora of targets, grades, levels or whatever your school enforces on your students and you have a disaster waiting to happen.

The most important aspect you have to address is confidence. You have to work hard from about mid-primary onwards to really address the creative frustration that builds up inside their heads. Pupils have a strong tendency to compare themselves against others and when someone pulls out a brilliant piece of work the whole class can be left feeling completely useless. Creativity is like that, so you have to make it clear that we don’t compare ourselves to others in art, we focus on our own learning journey. This takes time, it doesn’t happen overnight.

I’ve written much more about this in my Art Teacher’s Handbook, available from my website at but essentially the message is clear. You, the teacher, have to shelter your pupils from the wealth of negativity that fills their headband surrounds the learning process in order to make it a positive, enriching experience. You should use assessment to:

  • Apply meaningful praise

  • Inspire your pupils to want to keep learning

  • Show them pupils they can improve with constructive advice

  • Recognise the personal attainment and progress that has been made from their own starting points


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