Constructive feedback/formative assessment  from a teacher provides the stepping stones for learners, giving them confidence they are progressing. The principles for this,  we suggest, apply across cultures, settings, ages and phases.

Editor's comments

Formative feedback is one of the basic tools in a teacher’s toolkit - a positive word from a teacher, praising work done and constructively showing how a child can improve their work, may be remembered for a lifetime. Negative unconstructive feedback can damage self belief and motivation in some learners.

Strength of evidence

There is extensive research into forms of assessment in education and the ideas in this Guide are backed up by research across settings, ages and phases.

Online communities

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Areas for further research

Classroom-based formative assessment is a popular topic in educational discourse with a wide literature base. There is still work to be done, however, on subject-specific formative assessment practices and the contexts of which they occur to impact positively on the teaching and learning cycle. As such, we very much welcome examples of classroom-based formative assessment. These could be, for example: video or audio recordings; PowerPoint slides; student work; and so on.

Providing feedback to move teaching and learning forward

Feedback is key for reducing the gap between where the learner currently is to the desired outcome. It is, therefore, a central part of the formative assessment process. The important point, however, is that it is not only the giving of feedback which improves learning, but that the feedback received is acted upon by the learner and/or the teacher.

Gathering quality evidence of pupil learning

A frequent key question for teachers is: “Are we ready to move on yet?” In many classrooms, it might be the case that a teacher asks the class a question; several students put up their hands; the teacher picks one of these students; the student gets the answer correct; and the teacher feels confident that the class is ready to move on. The big problem here is that we are not sure as to whether the other, say, 30 or so students have understood the concept, too. In other words, we have not gathered quality evidence that we are indeed ready to move on.

Learning intentions and success criteria

Learning Intentions

In many English schools, it is quite common for teachers to begin the lesson with sharing the Learning Intention(s) (also commonly referred to as Learning Objectives) with students. Although wording may differ slightly, these tend to relate around the following three categories:

  • To know…

  • To understand… (sometimes know how…)

  • To be able to…

Validity and reliability in assessment

An assessment system which relies heavily on making inferences about individuals, teachers, and schools from just end-of-course examination data can be seen as hugely problematic; to some one of the principle issues is that, by doing so, a serious threat to validity has occurred: construct under-representation. What this means is that, since only a small part of the entire taught curriculum can be assessed, other equally important learning outcomes go untested. (Brookhart et al., 2019).


Assessment Reform Group (1999) Assessment for learning - Beyond the black box, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge School of Education.

Bjork, R. and Bjork, E. (1992) A new theory of disuse and an old theory of stimulus fluctuation, In: A. Healey, S. Kosslyn and E. Siffrin (Eds.) From learning processes to cognitive processes: Essays in honor of Wiliam K. Estes, (Vol. 2, pp. 35-67), Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.


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