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Outstanding Lessons, Redesigning Classrooms

Assessment Without Levels Is Built on Trusting Teachers

Assessment is integral to curriculum design and delivery including at the class room level as teaching and learning … so starts the first draft of our new Assessment Policy.  We attempting to nail the principles – there isn’t a +/- or a, b, c in sight.


Acknowledgement: James Theobald

Acknowledgement: James Theobald

A lot of schools are still working on replacing levels with something which looks like levels but aren’t anything in particular.  I think other schools and teachers are still in denial and tell me they “intend to carry on using levels next year.”  It’s looking like a bit of a mess to be honest.  With everything that is coming at schools, leaders and teachers over the next few years, in terms of changes to curriculum, examinations and accountability, it’s very difficult to find the time to step back and really think through the implications of assessment without levels.

Here is the first draft of our new Assessment Policy principles.  Feedback is welcome as nothing is set in tablets of stone and the draft won’t go to staff till after half term for their thoughts.  Plenty of time to make changes.

Assessment must support teaching and promote learning.  This will be achieved through:

  • Ensuring periodic*1 interim and next year ready assessments*2 are pre-planned and exemplify the high standards expected in teaching and learning as defined by challenging success criteria.
  • Ensuring these assessments and success criteria lead to the formation of clear learning intentions within each scheme of learning.
  • Interim and next year ready assessments which are common across year groups/bands and cumulative across the year or key stage.
  • The use of regular low stakes assessments to monitor and respond to pupils’ on-going acquisition of knowledge*3
  • The use of verbal and written feedback which requires pupils’ to respond to improved their performance and standards of work.
  • Using the analysis of an assessment to inform the further development of schemes of learning and future improvements in teaching.

This whole section is predicated on high quality collaborative planning by staff, including shared professional development time across the two primary academies, supported by the Trust’s Numeracy & Literacy leads, and much more departmental time in next year’s secondary academy calendar.  It’s crucial that the curriculum is sufficiently challenging with Years 3-5 and 7-9 being particularly important areas of focus for us.  The assessments must help exemplify curriculum excellence.  As well as the interim and next year ready assessments, that will be common and cumulative, there will be the assessments of prior learning and in lesson assessments to sort out.  That’s a lot of work and so a lot of time for us to find.

Four Principles

Click me to read Life After Levels: An Assessment Revolution


Assessment must help close the learning gap between current and expected learning.  This will be achieved through:

  • Analysing assessments and acting on this information to close the gap between a pupil’s current learning and the expected learning. 
  • Re-teaching and whole class or individual feedback which must be used by pupils to improve the quality of their work.  These, class room based, close to the point of the assessment, actions will be supplemented by additional out of class support if required. 
  • Building time into schemes of learning to allow for whole class re-teaching and pupils’ response to feedback.

If we can catch a student’s lack of learning early we hope to eventually move from closing the gap, with varying degrees of success, to stopping the gap appearing in the first place.  This whole section is about re-educating or reminding ourselves that if children haven’t grasped the idea, concept or skill then simply moving on and pretending otherwise is not the best strategy.  Curriculum coverage is an important but also dangerous concept.  The need to analyse interim and next year ready tests will lead to re-teaching aspects of the scheme or providing feedback for students to act on.  We will need to build time into our schemes of learning for these post-assessment actions.  Despite working on increased challenge at the beginning of Key Stage 2 and in Key Stage 3 for a number of years, there is more time we can find by searching out any low challenge or unnecessary activities.  Also the ability to continually refine out schemes of learning, using the assessment data, will help us get better and better at teaching it very well first time, every time.

#5MinAchievementPlan (http://wp.me/p3Gre8-Fk)

#5MinAchievementPlan (http://wp.me/p3Gre8-Fk)


Assessment must be meaningful and manageable.  This will be achieved by:

  • Developing assessments at a subject level to provide data, at a grain size appropriate to the subject and age of the pupils, which is capable of being analysed and acted on to improve teaching and learning.
  • Leaders within the Trust’s academies using teacher-leader data analysis meetings, following interim and next year ready assessments, as the main means of monitoring pupils’ progress during the year.
  • Ensuring a smart approach to marking and feedback which require pupils to think and work harder in responding to marking and feedback than it took teachers to produce it.  Using self, peer and computer generated assessment and marking effectively.
  • Each academy ensuring staff have the time and professional development, built into their annual calendar, to deliver the Trust’s Assessment Policy effectively and efficiently.

We’ve avoided, what I consider, the trap of rushing to dictate how teachers will produce a reportable grade.  Parents rightly want to know how their child is doing so at some point we must make a determination but this may be more of an organic process involving staff.  It’s only really the early years of Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3 which are an issue.  End of the key stages with external judgements, SATs and examinations will be reported using current grades (see *4 below).  Instead of monitoring students’ progress at a whole grade size too early the focus will be on the data meetings between a teacher and leader.  If you’ve read leverage leadership this will be familiar to you.  The other element here is about a smart approach to marking.  It’s got to be worth the teacher’s effort in terms of impact on a student’s learning.  If it isn’t than maybe we need to spend the time on something else.  I think we’ve a lot to learn and discover with respect to this.

Assessment must raise aspiration and encourage pupils to work hard.  This will be achieved by:

  • Setting targets as a range, at the upper end of what is achievable, which promote high aspiration and hard work by pupils in order to achieve them.
  • Determining current grade assessment data*4 towards the end of Key Stages 1, 2, 4 & 5*5 at a pupil, subject and academy level.  This will be reported to parents and directors.

This throws up an interesting conundrum for us about how early we start setting and sharing targets with students in terms of grades as opposed to learning intentions and success criteria.  Have we got a bit too carried away with the wrong type of targets?  Is a target of a 4a or of starting each sentence with a different beginning of more use as a target?

Photo Credit: Jol Ito via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Jol Ito via Flickr cc

I’m really just thinking out loud here and would be genuinely interested in you leaving a thought or comment on the post.  What has struck me most powerfully as I’ve been working on this with the head teachers is that the the biggest paradigm shift, in this whole approach, is the move to greater trust of teachers within schools.  It’s a far cry from constant data input and monitoring followed by exhortations to work harder or raise standards.  It will remain interesting to see whether trusting within a wider culture of mis-trust, that pervades our education system, is wise or foolish?

Please click to share this and spread the word – TRUST

You can download a copy of the draft Assessment Principles below:

Assesssment Principles v1.2 – PDF


*1 – Periodic means 3-5 interim assessments per annum plus one end of year next year ready assessment, in core and option subjects and 1-2 interim assessments per annum plus one end of year next year ready assessment for other subjects.

*2 – Next year ready assessments include national assessments at the end of Key Stage 1 & 2.  National assessments may be broadened to include additional aspects which will ensure students are ready for the next stage of their education.

*3 – Knowledge is defined as factual, conceptual, procedural and metacognitive.

*4 – Current grade assessment data must be determined using one year’s complete assessment/ examination/test papers and/or controlled/teacher assessments, from a specific examination season, as used to determine the final mark/grade/judgement.

Where it is determined not to include a specific element in the assessment of the pupils, at that time, the overall mark/grade/judgement must be determined including the marks for the non-assessed element.  Procedures as used by the assessment body to standardise and moderate the assessment of pupils’ work must be employed or as near as reasonably practical.

*5 – Towards the end of each key stage means the end of the academic year preceding the end of the key stage (Y1, 5, 10 & 12 – data submitted to the Executive Director by the 1st Friday in September of the following academic year) and twice during the final year of the key stage (Y2, 6, 11 & 13 – data submitted to the Executive Director by the 1st Friday of December and April).


Bambrick-Santoyo, P (2012) Leverage Leadership Jossey-Bass (Kindle Edition)



9 thoughts on “Assessment Without Levels Is Built on Trusting Teachers

  1. I agree with everything Stephen. In our school subjects have been trusted to come up with their own models. Luckily we’ve been given plenty of time and I’ve really enjoyed the process of reading lots via Twitter of what others are doing to make some informed decisions.

    As you know I’ve been very conscious that in many cases it has been a case of ‘The emperor’s new clothes’ so I’ve tried to be mindful of this whilst creating a model for RE. I’ve tried to keep to Michael Tidd and Dylan William’s criteria for assessment and will refer back to these as much as possible.

    Part of the whole school system is that we’re ditching target ‘levels/grades’ as used in the past. None in books or on reports. There was even talk of never sharing ks2-ks4 levels of progress grades with students.

    We have a attitude to learning grade and will have an attitude to homework grade. These cover an awful lot.

    I also think there is huge value in students self reporting (I’ve blogged on how this could be done). The most important person that should know what they’ve achieved and what they need to focus on is the student so why don’t they write their reflections as the report, alongside those two other grades. This could act as powerful reflection time and for some a reality check. I’ve seen too many teacherss moaning about report writing and taking short cuts that essentially make end of year reports pointless. Reflection times throughout the year seem much more logical and links to meta cognition in learning.

    Exciting times if your school is brave and trusts their staff. So happy to say mine does.

    Posted by missdcox | May 31, 2015, 9:13 am
  2. I myself might be thinking out aloud here too, but I have been really grappling with the assessment of ‘other’ aspects associated with learning. For example, do the same steps apply for Physical Education,Technology and Thinking? Maybe I am missing the nuance of different education systems, so apologies for the mis-interpretation if I am. However, it is something that has really been bugging me of late. Any thoughts are appreciated.

    Posted by aarondavis1 | September 16, 2015, 12:44 pm


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