A brief history of Assessment in Drama (1988 to 2005)

In 1988 the Task Group on Assessment and Testing established the methods of assessment for the National Curriculum. They created a national assessment scheme. The scheme measured progression in every subject against comparable criterion based levels. There were 10 levels and expected students would achieve higher levels as they got older. The highest levels were equal to GCSE results of F through to A.

Thus the age of data began!

Based on this concept and as time went on we could collect more data. Such as data from the average progress for age, ethnic and socio-economic groups. The most contentious piece of data created is the target grade which using averages of previous data to predict future grades.

The problem that drama found with this system was that as a subject it was different.

David Hornbrook suggested that progression in drama isn’t as straight forward as other subjects. It isn’t age related and tends not to follow the trends suggested by the system of 10 levels. This is because is it is impossible to use a set of criterion to quantify qualitative concepts. The skills of drama and performing are difficult to quantify for the purposes of an assessment criteria.

Is the ability to do two accents better than one accent? How do you define when you can do an outstanding accent or a satisfactory accent?

Authorities in the past encouraged teachers to rank their students in order of what they saw before them and grade them.

David Hornbrook was one of the first to insist upon Drama developing its own system of criteria based assessment

Hornbrook argued that Drama would have be to an academic subject.He believed that doing so the establishment would be able to treat and respect Drama in the same way as other subjects on the National Curriculum.

He was right.

Thirty years on Drama is still the only subject that is not on the National Curriculum but regularly taught as a discreet subject.

Schools continued to deliver Drama and Drama continued to excluded from the National Curriculum.

The assessment criteria that the National Curriculum gave to other subjects also gave those subjects kudos and accountability.

Meanwhile Drama, without the support of the National Curriculum, had dwindling kudos and no accountability.

That was a massive threat to its existence in schools.

In 1992 Arts Council of England used the initial work by Hornbrook to develop an assessment criteria in their document “Drama In Schools”.

The document was fantastic but it received criticism for not going far enough. The problem was that the criteria used quantifiable language to assess qualitative products without defining the quantifiable language. This meant that the standards were open to personal perception of the examiners.

In 2000 Andy Kempe and Marigold Ashwell attempted to build on this in their book “Progression in Secondary Drama”. They turned the assessment criteria from “Drama in Schools” into a comment bank for summative reports. They hoped to avoid the trap of not mixing the quantitative with the qualitative. But this began a split between the way in which we assess Drama knowledge and Drama skills.

In 2003, the DFES published the ‘Key Stage 3 Drama Objective Bank’. This provided practical ideas to help teachers deliver and assess the drama element of the English curriculum.

The Key Stage 3 Drama Objective Bank was important in two ways.

First, it went back to Hornbrook ideas and said that drama was a process of Making, Performing and Responding.

Second, the DFES sent the document to all English departments rather than Drama departments. Whereas the Arts Councils sent ‘Drama in Schools’ to all Drama departments. This appears to be a move by the DFES to move ‘Drama’ back into the identity of English rather than as a subject in its own right.

In response to the Drama Objectives Bank, The Arts Council then produced a second edition of ‘Drama in Schools’ and sent it to all Drama departments. The new edition contained level descriptors developed from evidence of best practice in schools

In 2005 Ofsted criticised this competition between Drama as a discreet subject and Drama contained within English. Ofsted felt that there was much conflict between the two published assessment criteria. This meant that different teachers and different schools used different criteria. This opened up an uncertainty with standardisation across the country.

The conflict between the two once again undermined the position of Drama in schools. Let’s not forget that it was a conflict caused by the conflict of not including Drama on the National Curriculum but it still offered as a discreet subject.

3 thoughts on “A brief history of Assessment in Drama (1988 to 2005)

  1. Whilst being freed of the shackles of NC assessment in 1989 seemed liberating at the time, now we are marginalised as an ‘also ran’ subject in progress 8 measures. We lost the protection of English Assessment objectives in speaking and listening; the arts council recommendations were confusing and non binding and now we are adrift. Sink or swim depending the school curriculum which is being squeezed by govt measures.

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