Dylan Wiliam’s principles for designing an assessment system

Teach Primary recently shared an article on their website by Dylan Wiliam, a member of the Expert Panel selected to advise the Secretary of State on revisions to the national curriculum. Dylan believes there are lots of important questions all schools can ask themselves when developing their new assessment system in light of the removal of levels, but that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach.

Dylan was actually a fan of the levels system, and believes that “had we stuck to reporting student achievement at the end of each key stage—which is still the only legal requirement—everything would have been fine”. However, when schools began reporting levels termly and even on individual pieces of work, and Ofsted starting asking students what level they were working at, he felt a system which was designed to be a ‘summary of the totality of achievement across a key stage’ was being inappropriately used. He says it was the fact that levels were getting in the way of children’s learning that he recommended they be abolished, and not because they were a bad idea.

Dylan explains: “It will be up to each school to decide how to determine whether children are learning what they need to be learning. Some schools are planning to continue with national curriculum levels for the time being. That’s fine. But it is important to realise there will be no straightforward way to carry levels forward from the current national curriculum to the new curriculum.

Most importantly, Ofsted inspectors will no longer be able to walk into a school and assume they know how a school is monitoring student progress. They will have to ask. And as long as the school has a good answer, they will be OK.”

Dylan sees the removal of levels as an opportunity for schools to design assessment systems that best fit their curriculums rather than adapting the school’s teaching and learning to fit a predetermined assessment system. In his article he puts forward a set of principles for schools to consider when designing their system. These are:

  1. Start with big ideas
  2. Identify learning progressions
  3. Establish checkpoints
  4. Determine where the evidence will come from
  5. Think about how the evidence will be accumulated
  6. Set targets thoughtfully

Dylan signs off his article: “Assessment is a good servant, but a terrible master. Too often, we start out with the idea of making the important measurable, and end up making the measurable important.” It may therefore be well worth heading over to the Teach Primary website for a full read of his article.



key stage 1, key stage 2, teach primary

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