Our 4-step plan for dealing with ‘life after levels’

The removal of the old assessment levels is a huge opportunity to transform teaching and learning. Follow these steps to make sure your new assessment framework is the right approach

The removal of the old assessment levels daunts many teachers – and is not helped by the delay and then leak of the Commission on Assessment without Levels report. But the change is a chance to transform our classrooms.

Take a deep breath, plan and review

Review the way you assess now and figure out what works and what does not. Make sure that you fully understand the changes to the curriculum, assessment and accountability measures. Some require modifications to pedagogy. Some need to happen immediately.

Next, work out what needs to be done to implement change. A skills audit could identify what strengths you already have (for example, teachers that taught before levels, or those who are examiners or markers). Crucially, you need to set a good plan of action.

Think about who you want to get involved in planning. You could create an informal cluster with other schools, so together you can set standards.

Agree, design and develop

The curriculum is the starting point, so you must agree this before you design your assessment framework. In our experience, developing the curriculum works best when you adopt a holistic approach – getting all the teachers around the table to plan what you are going to teach each child throughout his or her education. This ensures that your curriculum is joined up, your pupils are being taught something different year-on-year and they are being stretched and making progress.

Think about your school’s approach to assessment. Being clear about your assessment principles is crucial. It often helps to appoint a senior leader responsible for assessment and to provide ongoing staff training and development.

When designing your methods of assessment, you should ensure that it uses descriptive profiles, not numbers (like the old levels). Numbers have their place but they do not give you the detail that you need.

If you need a helping hand, the NAHT has designed a framework (see naht.org.uk).

Standardise, moderate and evaluate

Once you have an assessment framework in place, it is key that you have a robust standardisation process to complement it. This will help to ensure accuracy and consistency, which are crucial to maintaining the quality of the marking.

To support the standardisation process, it would be useful to appoint a moderator. This post could be rotated so that everyone in the assessment team takes responsibility for the role at some point. By taking samples of marking and feeding back on each assessor’s work, assessment should become standardised across the team, and highlight any training needs.

Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate

Finally, it pays to evaluate your framework; again the NAHT design checklist can help with this.

More generally, it can really help to build a common understanding through participating in external moderation, and working with your cluster schools.

You should also think about how to use IT. Used correctly, education technology can provide your assessment tool, communicate your outcomes, help you to track progress, and collect and report assessment information.

Ultimately, you need to build trust in the new way of doing things. Teachers’ trust is essential; once they are on board, pupils, parents, governors and the wider community will all need to access and understand the new system.

Mick Walker wrote Life After Levels, an e-book brought together between NAHT Edge and Frog Education

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  1. With 25,000 schools in the country we are going to have 25,000 different systems. When a student moves from one school to another who is going to bother reading about the previous school’s system to work out where that student is performing? When a secondary school has 30 feeder primaries how is the data from the primaries going to make sense?

    Complete madness.

    I feel ashamed of the teaching profession for allowing politicians to visit this chaos upon them. What is the point of NAHT and ASCL if they cannot prevent stupidity like this? How many thousands of working man-hours will be wasted with every school having to invent their own system?

    • Mick Walker

      Thank you for your comment. I can understand your frustration. But;levels did not provide the type of information required to plan the next phase of teaching. In reality, levels were about the bluntest measurement possible as a means of informing teaching and learning. Even then, how many secondary schools really looked at assessment information provided by primary schools? Secondly, I know many schools raise the issue of large numbers of feeder schools, but most children tend to come from a hand full of local schools. I taught in secondary schools with the number of feeders exceeding 30, but in practice most children came from a handful of primary schools. These schools at least should be working together as professionals to ensure continuity. Third, my biggest disappointment is that the teaching profession is not in a position to readily grab the opportunity provided by this change of policy and demonstrate its capacity status in the field of assessment. However, the teaching force has coped with an astonishing amount of change since 1988 and it will come through this in one way or another. My hope is that the reaction of teachers will be to build expertise and demonstrate professionalism so that we can have more trust in teachers’ assessments and less reliance on external tests.