Assessment in a world without levels

by Sue Walton, assessment consultant and part of the Rising Stars Assessment advisory team.

The wait for information about the Government’s proposals for assessment in primary schools was a long one and it wasn’t until July last year that we finally had sight of the proposals – and there were some surprises!


A key change was the abolition of national curriculum levels and level descriptions. The Government plans to give schools the freedom to carry out day-to-day formative assessment however they choose. So it will now be up to schools to decide what assessment regime they follow.

However, schools will still need to be able to demonstrate that pupils are making progress against the new curriculum. This means they will need to decide what evidence to collect to show to Ofsted and also what and how they report to parents.

These proposals mean that not only do schools now have a new curriculum to prepare for,  they also have to create a new way of tracking their pupils’ progress. This will be challenging. The new attainment targets have very general wording. They state that ‘by the end of each key stage, pupils are expected to know, apply and understand the matters, skills and processes specified in the relevant programme of study’. This is all well and good, but how should teachers go about deciding that each pupil can in fact apply and understand the curriculum as well as ‘know’ it? For example, does the pupil just need to demonstrate a skill in maths once, or do they need to do it several times? What level of evidence is sufficient to demonstrate that a child has ‘mastered’ the new curriculum? This is a key issue and one that schools will need to address. The absence of national guidelines also means that in future there is more likely to be variation from school to school as teachers interpret the requirements in different ways.

Alongside day-to-day formative assessment, statutory assessment is set to continue. Until 2015, the National Tests will assess children against the current curriculum and National Curriculum levels. In 2016 this will change and there will be new National Tests for Year 2 and Year 6. New reporting arrangements are also proposed for the end of Key Stage 2 tests. From 2016, pupils will receive a scaled score and they will also be told how their results compare with all other children by decile.

The new national curriculum is already increasing the level of demand for pupils with many topics moving down a year group. There are plans to further raise the stakes in terms of attainment thresholds too. In, maths, reading and writing the government has already announced a new target of 65% of children to attain a ‘good’ level 4 from 2014. The new expectation from 2016 is that 85% of children should reach a new ‘secondary ready’ standard at the end of Key Stage 2; this is a big jump for schools. In order to measure progress the government is also considering whether or not to continue with Key Stage 1 tests or to replace these with a new baseline assessment at the start of reception.


So how are schools currently reacting to the proposals? It is fair to say that some schools have not started to think about assessment yet and are instead focusing on planning how they will teach the new curriculum which starts for most year groups from September 2014. Many are finding it difficult to imagine assessing without levels.

In deciding what to do about assessment, schools will need to consider a number of factors. They will need to decide what evidence they need to collect so that they can track the progress that individual children are making as well as groups, such as pupil premium children. They will also need to decide how often they want to assess children and how the assessments will be used to identify strengths and weaknesses so that children can be appropriately stretched or supported.


Although there are no plans for national schemes of assessment similar to, for example, APP, the government has committed to provide examples of good practice and to work with various groups including professional associations, subject experts and educational publishers to signpost potential approaches to schools.

Local authorities are also likely to provide advice to their schools. Some LAs are currently suggesting that schools wait to see what develops, as they believe models will emerge. Others have been more proactive. For example subject advisers from Cornwall Learning have worked with the team here at Rising Stars to develop new assessment materials that take some of the pressure away from schools.


Here is one scenario:

A Year 3 teacher is about to teach her class about light. She begins by using a diagnostic assessment so that she can see what the children know already and what ideas they have. She discovers that the children know quite a lot about light already and so she is able to build on their prior knowledge in her teaching through a quick recap of what they learnt in the same science topic in Year 1.

The children do some practical work on shadows and write about what they found out. The teacher asks the children to assess each other’s responses and suggest how work can be improved. She talks to the children while they are doing this and notes the children who may need support or who could be given more demanding work. She also marks the children’s work and records the results in the school management system.

Midway through the topic the teacher wants to check how the children are progressing. She decides to do this using a short mid-topic test. The results show that most of the children are making the progress she expects but two are not. She therefore adjusts her planning so that she can provide extra support to those who need it.

At the end of the year the teacher uses the evidence from the tests as well as evidence from her observation of the children and her marking to decide whether each child has made the progress she would have expected in science. In doing so she uses her own professional judgement and also draws on the examples of ‘good’ work on the DfE website.

She may also take advice from colleagues at her local teaching school. The teacher finds that the majority of children have made expected progress. However, three children have made more progress than expected and two less progress. The Year 3 teacher passes this information on to the Year 4 teacher so their work can be planned accordingly. In line with the school assessment policy, the information is also recorded in the school management system so that attainment and progress can be monitored across the school.

Whether they commit the time to devising their own assessment scheme or use available supporting resources, there is a decision each school must make as is what evidence to collect for Ofsted and how to report to parents.

Now is the time for schools to start to plan how they are going to approach assessment post levels.



english, key stage 1, key stage 2, maths, national tests, new curriculum, ofsted, science

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