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.
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