Assessment to support students during a time of curricular change – Lorraine Counihan

When I took the step to return to college, I thought, it could only be in the area of curriculum and assessment. Having said that, at no time has the latter received so much discussion nationally as now. As I work from home during this global pandemic, news, tv, radio and chats to friends are all dominated by the continuous fascination with assessment. It seems as though for me, even on a study break, there’s no getting away from the discourse of assessment!

After graduating as a Physical Education teacher from the University of Limerick, I proceeded to teach in a DEIS school in Co.Cork. As I was the first Physical Education teacher to be employed in the school, it afforded me the opportunity of establishing a Physical Education department. This was a welcome window of opportunity to engage the students in an assessment culture through Physical Education. In addition to this, I coordinated the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) during this time. The JCSP is a programme underpinned by Formative assessment practices; it really allowed me to explore the potential of Formative assessment in practice. 13 years thereafter, I assumed the role of Advisor with the Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST).

During this time, education in Ireland has sustained significant change. Through this period of change, I have supported teachers emerging needs in assessment practices in Irish Post Primary Schools. Albeit, my initial interest in assessment emerged through engaging with the  students in my PE classes. It became apparent to me, way back then, that the use of effective assessment practices within the classroom (or gym in this case) has the potential to vastly improve learner outcomes and experiences. That being said, it is the harmony between the use of summative and formative assessment practices which is the challenge we as teachers face when planning the next steps in students’ learning.

Two thought-provoking conferences in London recently stimulated my motivation to explore and delve deeper into effective assessment practices. John Hattie’s – Visible Learning Conference and Dylan Wiliams – Embedding Formative Assessment with teacher learning communities. These two conferences provided me the opportunity to reflect with teachers and leaders from other European countries on their experiences of implementing highly effective assessment practices.

So having considered my journey so far in my career with curriculum and assessment, I look forward to the opportunity of adding to the current thinking and research in these areas. What will curriculum resemble in time to come as reform permeates through education? In what manner will reform present itself within the continuum of teacher education – initial teacher education, induction and teachers’ learning(CPD)? How will assessment identify itself in classrooms, news, tv, radio and chats to friends? I believe I can add a vision from my experiences as an Advisor with the PDST and my time as a PE teacher. I hope to explore teachers’ understanding of curriculum development and assessment in Ireland and the implications of this on Teaching and Learning in a multifaceted curriculum.

Lorraine is undertaking a part-time Master’s exploring ‘Post-primary teachers’ understanding of learning outcomes and learning intentions and the impact on student achievement’ with Professor Ann MacPhail and Dr. Antonio Calderon in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences, UL.  Follow Lorraine on @LCounihan.  Contact Lorraine on

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