You Can Go Your Own Way. OR : recording progress is a matter for you, and you alone.

Below is a quote from the most recent statement from the DfE, regarding the impending demise of national curriculum levels:

“We accepted the Expert Panel’s recommendation to remove level descriptors from the national curriculum and not replace them. This is because we agreed that levels have become too abstract, do not give parents meaningful information about how their child is performing, nor give pupils information about how to improve. Levels have detracted from real feedback and schools have found it difficult to apply them consistently — the criteria are ambiguous and require teachers to decide how to weigh a huge array of factors. Beyond the tests at key stage two and GCSEs at key stage four, it will be for schools to decide how they assess pupils’ progress.”

(National Curriculum and Assessment from September 2014: Information for Schools DfE)

As of the start of the new academic year in September 2014, national curriculum levels are officially gone. This news has, understandably, done little more than offer an additional source of anxiety for many leadership teams. Schools simply aren’t used to being told they can do things for themselves.

Unsurprisingly, then, the removal of levels has left many in school leadership staring into an empty assessment abyss. I’d like to offer here a few suggestions for traits that successful assessment schemes may have in common.

I would suggest they link strongly to the NC programmes of study for the particular subject. I also think the actual language of the NC should be quoted, wherever possible, to evidence progress. Additionally, I would strongly advocate the use of termly (or at least yearly) in-house tests to ensure the accuracy of records. These could be devised by middle managers – subject leaders, coordinators or department heads, in consultation with the class teachers. I would even go so far as to suggest there might be a place for different subjects to devise their own assessment system because one size does not fit all. The logistics of this is something that subject leaders may wish to plan in conjunction with each other.

I think it’s important that simple, no-nonsense, easy to decipher phraseology be used when recording and reporting. For example, ‘has met end of term (or year) expectations’, ‘is exceeding..’ or ‘has not met…’.

Not all pupils will meet the mark, but levels were often rightly criticised for offering a means of shielding the (sometimes) harsh reality from parents.

As for Ofsted inspections, I think schools should simply show inspectors what they are doing, and explain why it works for them. It’s important for schools be honest about any enhancements that may need to be made – after all, systems do evolve.

It’s not Ofsted’s place to be critiquing the means to the end. As someone once astutely said, Ofsted should be hygiene inspectors, not restaurant food critics. Indeed, the following confirmation came through to me, as a tweet:

‘Correct, (the assessment system) is up to schools, as long as their systems are effective.’ (David Brown HMI)

Thus, from now on it will be acceptable for schools to present Ofsted with a fait accompli of how they are recording progress. If schools aim for transparency of approach, simplicity and honesty, it’s hard to see how anyone could ever find fault.

To summarise: in developing a system, school leaders should take the time to seek advice and shop around to see what other schools are doing. But they should also remember that the freedom is now there for them to design their own, unique system. I think we should all feel obligated to test that theory to breaking point. Schools really must now be brave enough to to go their own way.

Please follow me on Twitter: @cazzypot

* This blog was written for the NAHT Edge website. (@NAHTEdge)

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7 Responses to You Can Go Your Own Way. OR : recording progress is a matter for you, and you alone.

  1. Ian Lynch says:

    KS3 baseline testing http://www.theingots.org free crowd sourcing and data analysis for progress tracking. 35,000 tested so far since the beginning of term. No need to be on your own or spend a lot of time on this.

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    • cazzypot2013 says:

      Thanks for that, Ian. I’m not sure if that fits the brief for schools to be devising their own assessment system, though. Aren’t we supposed to be moving away from a ‘one size fits all’ way of doing things? I’ll certainly have a look at your site. Thank you again.

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      • Ian Lynch says:

        Look at it this way, if the government had initiated a national progress measurement project who would not have though this is about more accountability pressure? How much would it have costed and how long would it have taken? A community approach means there is no cost to the tax payer, from an idea in May we have tested over 35,000 pupils and seem to have a fairly representative national sample for Year 7, 8 and 9. More people that do it the better the data will be. We will provide a lot of useful empirical data that can be used formatively but it is up to any school to use that as they think fit, it’s their data and no-one else will see it. Not OFSTED, not the DfE unless the school wants to share it. Open Source global communities have built most of the internet so its more about using the power of connectivity in that manner than one size fits all. While 560 secondary schools have made accounts on the web site that is still a minority and no-one is forced to take part. It’s not a statutory or even a government funded initiative.

        This is finding out what children know before and after teaching and is particularly relevant in Computing because it is a new subject and hasn’t been taught before. All we are doing is contextualising that in nationally representative data by getting teachers to share the outcomes using the web.

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      • cazzypot2013 says:

        That sounds interesting, Ian. I’ll certainly take the time to have a look at your site. Thanks again for commenting.

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  2. Di Baker (@coatgal) says:

    I’ve been turning pre and post assessment over in my mind… Testing the same knowledge and skills before teaching a topic and then after. Should make progress more demonstrable? I’m aware that this can’t be a new idea so am wondering what all the pros and cons of it might be. Any thoughts?

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    • cazzypot2013 says:

      I think that sounds absolutely fine, Di. The key is to keep it really simple, pick a few key objectives from the curriculum. Don’t over-complicate by trying to assess too much…think that could take us back to a levels-style system. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with low-stakes regular testing, in my opinion – in fact, it may even help consolidate learning. Thanks for the great comment. I’ll try and draw some attention to it to get some more views.

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