Isn’t ‘Assessing Without Levels’ just ‘Good Teaching’? by @Ben_Erskine

The assessment world is changing and I think it’s for the better. Are we relying on levels too much? Do we think too often about what children ‘need’ to achieve? How often do you think what ‘can’ they achieve?

This is a re-blog post originally posted by Ben Erskine and published with kind permission.

The original post can be found here.

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The assessment world is changing and I think it’s for the better. Are we relying on levels too much? Do we think too often about what children ‘need’ to achieve? How often do you think what ‘can’ they achieve?

I really believe that taking away levels will improve the day to day teaching in lessons. It’s called Quality First Teaching. This term originates in the then DCSF’s guide to personalised learning published in 2008 which summarises its key characteristics as:

  • highly focused lesson design with sharp objective
  • high demands of pupil involvement and engagement with their learning
  • high levels of interaction for all pupils
  • appropriate use of teacher questioning, modelling and explaining
  • an emphasis on learning through dialogue, with regular opportunities for pupils to talk both individually and in groups
  • an expectation that pupils will accept responsibility for their own learning and work independently
  • regular use of encouragement and authentic praise to engage and motivate pupils.

(DCSF, 2008) Personalised learning – a practical guide 00844-2008DOM-EN

Is there any reference to levels? No. Does the absence of levels mean more interaction with the children? I think so. Will teachers need to focus on and use more effective questioning, modelling and explanations? Definitely!

I believe a teacher who teaches good and outstanding lessons day in day out doesn’t need levels to know where a child is academically. Does a good teacher sit there thinking, “This child is at a 3c, what do I need to do to get him a 3b”? I don’t think they do. In every lesson they are looking at how the child is doing and what they can be pushed onto next; how they can be challenged further; what their next steps in their learning are. Will a lack of levels encourage more of this and therefore produce better teaching in classrooms? I think so.

There is definitely a culture of, how many children do we need to get to a 2b in year 2? And, how many children do we need to get to a level 4 in year six? This surely is capping so many children to what they ‘need’ to achieve, rather than what they ‘can’ achieve. The levels system labels children: but are they the level you say they are. A child who is a 3b in maths… Are they really? A child could be a 2a in number, a 3a in shape, a 4c in data handling and a 3c in measures… And from this we label them a 3b, when in actual fact they are not a 3b in any area of maths. It’s just a best fit. It’s a good job doctors don’t look at our symptoms and give a ‘best fit’ judgement and prescribe medicine based on that. A great teacher assesses the whole child in all areas of each and every subject. They do this constantly, not needing to record everything: most of the time it’s in the teachers head.

I remember a teacher I had at my primary school, Mrs Maggie McGowan, she knew every child inside out; she didn’t need levels to know what we needed to do next. Every lesson she would be monitoring our learning, stepping in when we needed challenging and holding off when we were immersed in our learning. Knowing how each child learns and the approach they needed and encouragement they needed were key to the success. It just shows how you remember a good teacher, someone who didn’t follow, and do as everyone else does. They stand out!

Assessing the children against your schools curriculum is definitely the way forward. The fact we assess the whole child in EYFS and again at GCSE’s, but in the 9 years in between it narrows to Maths, Reading and Writing. I don’t think this happens with a good teacher: they assess the whole child, what ever the subject. But seriously, what does this say to children, parents, governors? That we don’t think foundation subjects are important in the years between EYFS and GCSE.

The Cambridge Primary Review Trust, which is embedded in sound educational research, has designed a way of looking at your curriculum through 7 priorities (Including assessment, pupil voice, community) and 8 domains (Including mathematics, place and time, arts and creativity). It promotes a broad and balanced curriculum that assesses the whole child. The way forward.. Assessing without levels, it’s just good teaching!

Ben Erskine is an Assistant Head at The Fulbridge Academy (National School of Creativity) and a HUGE Man United fan! Follow him on Twitter via

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