The Purpose of Assessment

Broadfoot (1996) asserts that assessment can be understood through the interplay of the themes; competence, competition and control. Education is an apparatus of social control, to legitimise, reinforce and validate the prevailing political ideology and perpetuate status quo. It is a socialising tool operating as a filter: filtering individuals through assessment for assimilation into the workforce, which equips them with competency and a ‘mastery of the norms and skill necessary for effective participation in society’. This cold, yet accurate, view has challenged my idealised perspective on what education is and what function it provides.

Broadfoot’s exploration of this relationship between education and society is revealing; the political and historical aspects bring forth the complex foundations upon which education and assessment have been formed. The connection between industrialisation and the educational / social shift enabled students with academic ‘ability’ and ‘intelligence’ to transcend social class barriers, thus accessing further and higher education brings to light the transformation of education and society.

The standardisation of education through syllabuses and curriculum is the industrialisation of education, whereby educations role is to provide society with competent and certified individuals with career aspirations or skill for the workforce. Assessment has been legitimised by the notion of ‘fairness’ that it provides free competition based upon academic ability. Assessment ignites competiveness and thus motivates students to do well. Motivation is a form of control. Assessment keeps the loop closed, it locks down the status quo and perpetuates itself.

Considering Broadfoot’s notion that assessment is an agent of control, it prompts me to look again how assessment is employed on the Foundation course.

The aims of assessment are to measure your achievement against the Learning Outcomes and Assessment Criteria for each Unit, to provide feedback on your progress and achievement and to provide a focus for self-evaluation and future learning.” Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, Foundation Diploma in Art and Design, Course Handbook 2011/12

The Graphics Communication and Design pathway on the Foundation course is assessed through the learning outcomes and assessment criteria. The course structure is as follows:

Part One
Learning Skills and Context
Unit 1 Art and Design Research Methods
Unit 2 Art and Design Ideas Development
Unit 3 Art and Design Materials and Methods
Unit 4 Evaluation and Reflection

Part Two
Development and Progression
Unit 5 Integrated Art and Design Research, Ideas and Methods
Unit 6 Preparation for Progression

Part Three
Proposal and Realisation
Unit 7 Art and Design Project Proposal and Realisation

Assessment occurs at the end of each part and progression to the next part is dependant upon passing the previous part. The students are to evidence all learning outcomes and assessment criteria through their sketchbook(s), information file, reflective journal, outcomes and supporting work.

Assessment does assert control, in the context that students are required to fulfil criteria, but I would argue that the criterion, once deciphered and understood, offers a robust, relevant and rigorous approach to the creative process. With this in mind I feel that the Foundation course does not employ control as its modus operandi, but nurtures the threshold concept perspective of education as transformation. The foundation course encourages critical and independent thinking, hopefully igniting ownership and authorship of their own learning within the student assisting them in ‘becoming’ who they want to ‘become’.



  1. Hi Paul,

    On reading Broadfoot I felt quite emotional at the sad but as you say ‘accurate’ view of assessment as an instrument for social control and class progression. It seems to fly in the face of how I suspect most of us would like to see assessment – as fair and meritocratic. I suppose that there’s no getting around the fact that on any course assessment does assert control as it is there to gauge students against course learning outcomes. Hopefully the ‘creativity’ of the student and the tutor comes in the interpretation of the assessment criteria so that students can flourish and progress as individuals and tutors don’t feel that they are just ticking boxes and merely perpetuating the Status Quo.

  2. Hi Paul,
    I appreciate what you are saying about the ultimate aims of the Foundation Course, and it does seem to be well-structured and geared towards encouraging personal growth and development. I am not sure if on the Foundation you award an actual grade to the students for each unit as this may not be necessary at this level, but as soon as a course demands this you automatically start to categorise performance into a certain ‘box’ of attainment, whatever assessment criteria you use. In this way, students can be ‘ranked’ in order of achievement – I’m sure that some of your students develop critical thinking skills and independent skills more successfully than others, and in this way, they could be ranked into an order. A lot of the control you mention comes from the assessing lecturer/s, and in this way assessment has to be handled carefully. As soon as grades come into the equation, assessment has the potential to de-motivate as well as motivate, making an already complex subject even more so.

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