Another Problem with AfL

September 24, 2013

Earlier this month I wrote a blogpost The Problem with AfL which explained that while I am in perfect agreement with the principle of formative assessment, i.e. using assessment to find out what students don’t know and then teaching them it, the practice that has grown up around it is often harmful. However, I now realised that in my list of 4 problems I missed a 5th one. I shall now address that here:

5) AfL is being used to deter time spent practising.

There now seems to be a pervasive idea that when you use AfL techniques during a lesson to identify that students can do something then you must allow those who can to move on to something else. Often this thought is expressed using the dread word “differentiation”. This might seem to make sense and you might ask: “why would somebody continue to spend time learning something they can already do?” The trouble with this is that this question has a very simply answer, and that answer is “practice”. As we all know, what students can do in one lesson immediately after being taught, is not the greatest indicator of what they’ll be able to do the next lesson. It is not enough to simply get something right once, you need fluency . So while it may be important to find out who can’t recall or do something you have just explained, it is not the case that those who can are automatically in a position to move on. You may well want students to, not only be able to do something, but do it fast, without thought, and effortlessly. Combined with the need to “show progress”, AfL is now being used as an excuse to avoid effort and practice and simply throw new ideas at students in an effort to ensure they “show progress”. This fits in with the idea, which underlies so many educational gimmicks, that there are pedagogical shortcuts that will take the effort out of learning. Personally, I think students are only truly secure in their ability to recall something or do something when they can do it effortlessly. Ironically, this is the point where they will show least interest in wanting to move on.

Please say if you think I’ve missed any other problems with AfL.



  1. […] Update 24/9/2013: A fifth point has now been added here. […]

  2. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  3. An excellent point. Now we just need Ofsted to take it on board……

  4. I am always impressed by the fact that you have time to post such considered blogs and keep up to speed with the myriad of ‘stuff’ that a practising teacher has to contend with.

    Although, I’m guessing you may have rushed this post and did not have time to use a spell checker.

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