Assessment for Learning

Essex ACL

This project will demonstrate the process to create a new online initial assessment tool to be used independently with all maths learners. We will share the challenges we identified and benefits of this process to both tutors and learners.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway.


Our aim was to ensure that the assessment process used for GCSE and Functional Skills maths was fit for purpose. We wanted to engage the learners from the beginning and encourage them to evaluate their own starting point whilst also developing a process which was streamlined and timesaving for staff.

Essex ACL supports adults across the whole county of Essex in nine main centres and other outreach sites. Our ethos is to ‘improve lives through learning’. ACL works with adults over the age of 19 in the main but also has apprentices under 19. We deliver English and maths across the whole county from GCSE to pre-entry level. In the current climate all delivery has moved to online but, in the future, will return to both classroom and online learning. Initially the project involved maths tutors and learners but, following successes, has now included stakeholders from other curriculum areas.


We found no suitable pre-course assessment for reform maths Functional Skills qualifications. Essex ACL previously used BKSB which, although a very well packaged resource, we felt did not meet our needs following changes to their reform assessment package. It had become far too fluid and did not allow the overriding of levels. For lower-level learners the initial questions could be too hard which could cause an initial dip in confidence and therefore lack of engagement. None of the awarding organisations at the time had updated assessment materials and other providers in the region had commented on the lack of suitable assessment materials also.

Our Functional Skills tutors previously completed assessments for both Maths and English which caused some issues with interpreting results and therefore signposting learners to the correct class. Learners in an incorrect class are unlikely to engage with learning which could be too difficult and this can therefore, effect retention and the learner’s success.

The Covid-19 situation meant all centres closed and so ACL needed to have the ability to assess learners remotely in order to signpost them to an appropriate class. This meant any resource developed needed to be compatible with online platforms and also classroom delivery in the future. A version was created, however feedback from tutors identified that whilst the content of the initial assessment was appropriate, it was a labour-intensive process from the perspective of the tutor and also resulted in poor attendance. This links to Ofsted’s assertion in the EIF note “Leaders understand the limitations of assessment and do not use it in a way that creates unnecessary burdens for staff or learners” (Ofsted 2021). We, therefore, wanted to improve this process.


Figure 1: The learner journey

Figure 1: The learner journey

After feedback from the tutors, it became apparent that the tools we already had in place were working well but that the initial assessment was extremely time consuming. We therefore decided to focus on improving this. From tutor feedback and use of interactive tools, the initial assessment questions were adapted into a Microsoft Form. A previous barrier to assessments was learners requiring (and remembering) a log on. The Form was created with direct access which removed this barrier. Tutors evaluated the Form and marking guidelines then fed back any initial changes they thought could further improve this process (appendix 2). This was then trialled with a small cohort of learners who gave feedback (appendix 3).

The Form was amended to remove the scoring as this did not mean anything to the learner and we did not want them to feel demoralised. We also included other questions to support with future planning and to save further time for both tutor and learner.

This process was then implemented for all learners enrolling on a maths course for the second cohort of the year. To date 329 learners have successfully completed the new Initial Assessment and have enrolled on a suitable course. Based on recent feedback received 96% learners who completed the IA went on to do the pre-course interview with a tutor. This was a vast increase to a previous attendance rate of approximately 55%.

Professional Learning: Evidence of changes in teaching, learning and assessment practices

This project has now involved every maths tutor in Essex ACL across all 9 of our centres. Tutors have developed confidence in the assessment process as they are only assessing their own subject area and feel the assessment is valid and meets the needs of ACL learners. Tutors experience a less time intensive process and believe this benefits the learner as well. A tutor commented:

“You get a proper chance to chat with the learners and they have time to ask the questions they need to so that they can choose the most appropriate course for them. I also think because it is a proper 1:1 they feel more comfortable discussing any concerns or declaring any additional needs.”

(Appendix 4)

The tutors involved in this project have increased their digital skills and promoted the benefits of technology to their learners. It has given tutors an opportunity to see how a tool such as MS Forms can support formative and summative assessment within their classes and, as these can be shared across the team, further save time and develop a greater collaborative environment which was challenging due to lockdown. They have also been able to contribute to the wider organisational change by evaluating the process and giving feedback on improvements which can be made.

Evidence of improved collaboration and changes in organisation practices

Following on from the success of this within the maths area, we have shared our challenges and successes with colleagues in English and ESOL who also had to amend their assessment practices due to the challenges brought about by Covid19. We have worked alongside our marketing, business development and MIS team to develop a more autonomous process for learners accessing assessments. We now have the opportunity on our website for all learners who wish to join one of these three curriculum areas to complete the assessment online in their own time and then be contacted for a pre-course interview. Already, at this early stage, the successful pilot has influenced the assessment process for newly launched qualifications in the Creative Industries. By following this method there has already been a noticeable increase in enrolments.

Across the wider sector, we have also shared our findings in maths network groups, both regionally and nationally, enabling other providers to gain from our experience. We have shared the process, pitfalls, positives and the impact this has had on our service.

Evidence of improvement in learners’ achievements, retention and progression

Whilst it is too early to know the impact this change in initial assessment process has had on learner achievement, we have evidence that it has impacted their journey. Learner attendance on assessment sessions has increased significantly from 55% to 96% with 93% of learners surveyed commenting on the ease of accessing the assessment (appendix 4). We know that learners often find it daunting to come back to studying, especially a subject such as maths, using technology can help overcome this:

“Computer programs and apps have also been recommended for practising maths. One advantage of this approach is that computers offer a motivating, attractive and non-judgmental environment for practising some essential skills, and they can be used without the contribution of trained professionals.”


Therefore, this move to online assessment in an environment learners feel comfortable will be of benefit.

This has been shown in the improvement in our retention on courses from block 1 to block 2 showing how this has helped learners even with the challenge of learning remotely. Maths retention in the first block was already excellent at 94.3%, but since implementing the new assessment process it is now an outstanding 95.1%.

Learner A comments

“I found it all really easy. The tutor was lovely and I’m happily working through my course now”.

We will continue to monitor learners’ results and assess the impact this change in process has across other curriculum areas as they move to the same model.

Learning from this project

Eliminating the challenges we faced of a labour-intensive process and lack of suitable initial assessment materials have overall been highly successful and effective. These have brought about changes to our assessment processes which will now be implemented across the whole Service.

Image of initial learner feedback

Initial Learner Feedback

By using MS Forms for this process, it is very easy to make any changes to the assessment questions or format which means we can quickly adapt and adjust as necessary. We can use a new form per course or cohort as required and the results are easily accessible by anyone who requires the information whilst still meeting the requirements of GDPR.

Enabling learners the opportunity to access an initial assessment at a time which is convenient to them has removed some of the previous barriers. The process has also become more accessible as learners no longer need a log in to access. Tutor time is now used more effectively and enables the important interview before joining a course to focus on each learner’s individual needs and aspirations. Attendance on these sessions has increased from 55% previously to 96% due to these changes.

Whilst we appreciate not all our learners will want to, or have the skills to access an assessment online, we will use this model to support learners who may arrive in our centre or use our phone lines to request information about a course. Tutor support in centres will be available for those learners who require it to ensure our classes remain accessible for all.

However, we are aware that to continue to maximise our learners’ successes we need to identify ways in which they understand what their own starting point means for their journey and see the progression they make throughout their programme of learning.


Ofsted, 2021, Education Inspection Framework [online]. Ofsted. Available at: [accessed 14 May 2021].

Morsanyi, K.,Tomasetto, C., O’Connor, P., and Guardabassi, V., 2020. What a fear of maths does to children – new research. The Conversation [online blog], 3 December. Available at: [accessed 6 January 2021].