Before starting out on our analysis, however, we must mark out the ground by looking briefly at the nature of educational assessment itself.

The need for assessment It is very hard to set limits to assessment. Passing judgement is a central part of social behaviour. We are continually passing judgements on our fellows — on their clothes, their accents, their actions, their beliefs — in fact in every area of human life. We pass judgement on products too — on books and television programmes, on buildings and furniture, on art and music, not least on football teams! Since we regulate and give meaning to our own lives by the values we adopt, it is inevitable that our values should influence our interpretation of the actions of others and their results. Most of the time we are probably not aware of the judgements we make for, unlike the drama or music critic whose job it is to evaluate an artistic performance in terms of the prevailing standards of our particular society, very few of us would claim the right to pass a formal judgement in an area in which we have no special expertise. Rather, we appoint and train specialists who become expert at interpreting what they think are the values of society which operate in their own field and we entrust to them the task-of being arbiters of the quality of a particular performance. Thus, despite the fact that their criteria are often in fact greatly avant garde in comparison with society at large, the decision whether to buy a particular painting for a national collection will be the responsibility of a few individuals whose experience and talent lead the nation to rely on their judgement. Informally of course we still reserve the right for ourselves as individuals to decide what we personally find pleasing or moving, shocking or in bad taste, for such value-judgements are as integral to social life as social life is to being human.