Early career teachers’ experiences with assessment for learning in Western Australian secondary schools

Author Identifiers

Lachlan Spears


Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Integrated)


School of Education

First Advisor

Dawn Penney

Second Advisor

Christine Ormond


International research suggests that when teachers enact Assessment for Learning (AfL) they can greatly improve student outcomes. In Australia, the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership’s Professional Standards for Teachers mandates that teachers regularly engage with assessment, reporting and ongoing professional learning (PL). However, little is known about the perspectives and practices of early career teachers (ECTs) who are challenged to enact AfL and develop assessment literacy (AL) in complex policy and school contexts within Western Australia (WA). In this study, ECTs are defined as teachers within the initial four years of their teaching career.

This research project was an interpretive study that employed a case study methodology to generate in-depth understandings of how four ECTs in two WA independent secondary schools were engaging with AfL and developing it as a component of professional practice. The study was guided by four research questions: (1) How are ECTs in WA developing their knowledge and understanding of AfL? (2) What factors are influencing WA ECTs’ choices to variously engage with AfL and develop it as a component of their practice? (3) How are ECTs in WA using AfL in their teaching and assessment? (4) How do contextual dimensions affect early career teachers’ policy roles and enactment of AfL?

The policy enactment work of Braun et al. (2011) informed exploration of ECTs’ enactment of AfL in relation to the professional, situated, material and external contexts and the positioning of ECTs as policy actors (Ball et al., 2011) who were challenged, through various enabling and constraining contextual dimensions, to enact assessment policy in their classrooms. This enactment, and ECTs’ associated development of AL, were considered in terms of Marshall and Drummond’s (2006) guiding work on the ‘spirit and letter’ and analysed alongside a PL continuum in AfL (DeLuca et al., 2019).

Data collection for each teacher involved classroom observations, documentary analysis and semi-structured interviews over 15 months. As the study took place from 2019 to 2021, it also captured school responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, and ECTs’ reactions to the sudden policy shifts.

Results report the ways in which each of the contextual dimensions affected the teachers’ enactment of AfL. Findings reveal how various aspects of each dimension enabled or inhibited the ECTs’ enactment of AfL and the significance of interrelations between the contextual dimensions. Mapping the ECTs’ enactment of AfL to the PL continuum revealed that these ECTs were engaging with practices more closely aligned to the letter, than the spirit, of AfL. Factors limiting application of AfL, including the effect of COVID-19 in WA, are discussed.

The insights from this thesis contribute to the current understanding of AfL enactment and extend knowledge about the opportunities, benefits and values of an AfL approach, particularly in WA. It contributes to the existing literature on contemporary teaching and learning practices in AfL as well as initial responses and pedagogical approaches to COVID-19 school closures. A series of reflections and implications from this study will assist initial teacher education institutions, systems, schools and departments to support ECTs to enact AfL to improve teacher AL and, therefore, their use of AfL.

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