Assessment approaches developed by teaching schools

In October 2013 the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) invited teaching schools to bid for small-scale research funding to investigate assessment of the new National Curriculum now that there are no longer levels. A report summarising this research, Beyond Levels: alternative approaches developed by teaching schools, is now available.

34 teaching school alliances took part in the research, which involved 238 schools including 153 primary schools. Three priorities emerged from the research:

  • development of assessment tools to support individual progress
  • development of assessment tools to capture and record progress
  • use of technology to track attainment and progress.

Further details of each of these are provided below.

1.  Development of assessment tools to support individual progress

Formative assessment emerged as an important tool for assessing the progress made by individual pupils. Approaches used included:

·         Visible learning approaches i.e. approaches where it is clear what teachers are teaching and pupils are learning. Examples included self- and peer-assessment and SOLO (structure of observed learning outcomes) taxonomy. Teachers found these helped with their planning and led to active engagement in learning activities by pupils.
·         Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy - schools used Bloom’s knowledge and cognitive processes to classify objectives, activities and assessments which they then used to improve curriculum planning and their teaching. This led to schools developing tools such as ‘learning ladders’, ‘stepping stones’, ‘command words’ and strategic approaches to questioning.
·         Mastery statements - many schools used ‘I can’ grids. Skill ladders, milestones and assessment grids were also used.
·         Curriculum progression objectives – many of the teaching alliances developed progression objectives for English and maths by identifying key objectives to teach and assess throughout the year. Some used the ones developed by NAHT. This approach enables pupils to assess their own progress and also provides a way for schools to provide feedback to parents. APP-style grids and ‘I need to’ statements were also used by some schools.
·         Feedback methods – almost all alliances used pro-formas for pupil feedback. Other methods included marking ladders, pupil dialogue and learning review meetings.
·         Choice and challenge – some schools involved pupils in self-assessment when selecting practice tasks. Others used feedback grids with choices for pupils and visible learning/building power approaches.

2.  Development of assessment tools to capture and record progress

Many of the tools used to capture and record progress built on the formative assessment approaches outlined above.

·         SOLO Taxonomy grids – schools found these useful for capturing progress but the ‘one size fits all’ approach was problematic for recording whole group progress and needed adapting.
·         Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy – this proved useful for capturing progress as well as for formative feedback.
·         Mastery statements – some schools used these as statements to ensure progress is on track rather than as capture tools.
·         Objectives marking grids – schools were keen to find a robust replacement for their current tracking systems. Several explored approaches that broke down progress into three or four bands e.g. entering, developed, secure. Some then used this to view the percentage of pupils on track or exceeding expectations. RAG rating was also used.
·         Summative testing – some alliances are planning to use frequent summative tests to inform progress against specific learning objectives and so piloted end of unit progress checker sheets.
·         Moderation – many of the alliances were planning moderation activities within and between schools including around transition points such as Y2 to Y3 and Y6 to secondary. Participating schools raised a concern about future consistency of assessment data across schools and counties given the variety of approaches that schools will be following in the absence of National Curriculum levels and any national system.

3.  Use of technology to track attainment and progress

Some alliances explored some of the technological options available to track attainment and progress. All schools intended to use SIMS for tracking progress. The EDlounge software with its ‘I can’ statements was popular with primary schools taking part. ‘Flightpath’ software was also trialled but schools found it too prescriptive.

Some primary schools trialled dictaphones and flip cameras to record pupil reflections on learning and sound files to capture pupils’ self-assessments and then used online whole-school assessment programs to record progress and attainment data. Others captured evidence and used it to create electronic profiles for pupils comparing each child’s standard of attainment against school and national expectations.


The report makes a number of recommendations for schools and the DfE:

  1. A culture shift is needed regarding the nature, range and purpose of assessment to recognise the opportunities arising from the new curriculum and the removal of levels
  2. National conferences and seminars are needed to enable all schools to develop their assessment expertise and learn from each other.
  3. New tracking software should be developed to provide schools leaders with data to enable progress to be monitored across year groups and over time.
  4. Financial incentives should be available to encourage teachers to be research active and undertake further study in assessment.

By Sue Walton, Assessment and Publishing Consultant


assessment frameworks, key stage 1, key stage 2, new curriculum

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