Session 301: Assessments – How has your school adapted to changes/freedoms given?

Thursday 5th May 2016 - Hosted by @UKEdChat

301_PollFollowing a closely fought online poll, the winning topic choice for this #UKEdChat session was, “Assessments – How has your school adapted to changes/freedoms given?”

The session focus will explore the following questions:

  1. What do levels now look like in your school? How is progress tracked?
  2. What are the main positives that you have found with assessment changes in your school?
  3. What (if anything) have been the main challenges in changing your assessment procedures?
  4. How do you report assessment progress to parents / inspectors / governors?
  5. How does formative assessment fit into your practice, as well as your school as a whole?
  6. Moderation – how are disagreements in assessment judgements resolved?


With different education systems tinkering with their education systems, the ways of assessing progress has all become a lot more serious, with schools and teachers now needing to account for their pupils achievements. Within England, standarised scores were scrapped, but with little guidance on how assessing should look, the system was thrown open, with schools allowed to create their own reporting systems, which would be accessible to parents and inspectors. There is little doubt that achievements and assessments are crucial within a well-respected educational system, so this session explored how schools had adapted to changes/freedoms given.

Question 1 asked, “What do levels now look like in your school? How is progress tracked?Rob kicked of declaring, “emerging, developing, secure applied, mastered – I have seen”, which was supported by Mark Boylan who explained, “we use ARE system with Emergent Developing & Secure and a mastery hashtag & use learning walls to inform judgements”. More on this later.

Shrub Street PhizLab shared that schools in Sheffield were using Sheffield STAT for tracking, and you can find out more here – this “…has helped us establish a common language of assessment – really helped planning for learning and interventions” (Shrub Street PhizLab). Mr Science teach stated that the, “biggest issue has been levels without levels yet we are forced to give numbers or levels on reports to parents. Seems pointless” So, removing formalised levels with something that spookily resembles the old system, does seem a waste of time and pointless exercise.

For those responding from an England perspective, it was clear that many report that confusion is still evident, with statements like “Beginning, working within and secure” actually mirroring the old level system. It became clear that a number of schools building assessment around the new GCSEs, with pupils in Key Stage 3 being given progression ladders in Year 7, showing how this all fits into the great GCSE finale. Julie Hunter declared that this was, “…much better for KS3 as previously often low ks3 levels then jumped massively in y10.” It’s fantastic to see the profession taking the lead in this, which should have a positive impact on KS3 learning, and help pupils plan for which GCSEs they can successfully aspire towards. We raised the issue of the amount of information which pupils are expected to retain, and introducing this from Year 7 could be an issue when they are tested at the end of GCSE. David Chalk agreed, and their resolution to this is, “with well structured revision & HW, regular low stakes testing and a spiralled curriculum I hope it works”.

The positive impact mentioned here took the conversation nicely to question 2, which asked, “What are the main positives that you have found with assessment changes in your school?” So, we had ‘progression ladder’, and Mark Enser teased us with his ‘flight path model’, which again starts a process for pupils in Year 7, aiming towards their GCSE’s. But, away from GCSE’s, Sharon Smith argued, “Moving away from levels can create greater clarity in assessment criteria and less labelling of Ss as Nos”, and N added, “Increased professional dialogue about what children can already do and what they need next. Focus on AfL not numbers.”

Suzanna C observed that the freedoms had, “shake[n] up ideas, makes people consider assessment from new perspectives”, and another pertinent challenge is that, “It can be difficult to communicate between organisations, e.g. primary to secondary” (Sharon Smith).

The session progressed on to ask, “What (if anything) have been the main challenges in changing your assessment procedures?Julie Hunter shared, “1st year everyone was equating back to levels. Second year much clearer as new GCSE detail for more subjects are live”, and “everyone understands it. It has really helped seamless KS3-KS4 transition. Year 7s get the 5 year journey too”. Mark Enser iterated that the, “lack clarity on GCSE criteria to map KS3 to KS4. What does Year 7 look like on target to A? What will an A be at GCSE?” remains a challenge. “Keeping track of dif systems e.g. post-levels Y7, levels Y8/9, 1-9 Y10, A*-C Y11, New AS and legacy A2” (Jennifer Wilson) – This just blew our mind, and epitomised the current transition in many schools as they are trying to find their feet with new assessment arrangements.

One integral aspect of assessment is the moderation of work to agree attainment levels among colleagues, to ensure consistency and the removal of any personal bias, therefore Question 4 asked, “Moderation – how are disagreements in assessment judgements resolved?” This can be a challenge for new teachers, as demonstrated by Mr Walker who mentioned how, “sometimes you need to have faith in your own judgement far 2 often as an nqt you doubt yourself compared to more xperienced tchrs”, but the heart of the process was shared by Mark Boylan who commented that the process should be done, “Largely through conversation. Have a balance of formal & informal judgements e.g.maths papers & application to problem solving…to back up and justify judgements made.”

In general, “Open, frequent discussion, dialogue between teachers, use of exemplars, clear guidance and communication” (Sharon Smith) seems a sensible habit to follow. The subjective nature of some subjects can lead to many different views, and this is the same with examiners as well, but maintaining a level of professionalism is key, and not take any discussions as a personal attack on views. As Mark Enser summarised, “Moderation through reference to criteria. Disagreement always useful discussion and always resolved. Good practice”

Question 5 asked, “How does formative assessment fit into your practice, as well as your school as a whole?Nicole Brown argued that, “In my view it should only be about formative in primary and early secondary. Children develop differently & at different times”, and this was supported by this comment by ProActiveTeacher who added, “plays a part in innovating forward & planning. I love data but can’t beat knowing your students individually to help progress.”

DIRT time was mentioned as a means of supporting formative assessment, and this is still valued and valid in many schools, helping pupils work towards targets, but as progression ladders (or journies) are developed in schools, this will become more pertinent. As Jennifer Wilson reminded, “Students need to know what they’re looking for….I like DIRT. But I worry about a shift towards playing the ‘books’ game. Style over substance at times”

We shared this article by Dylan Wiliam, which notes “The Correct Way To Use Formative Assessment”

Question 6 asked, “How do you report assessment progress to parents / inspectors / governors?” It all went a bit quiet from here. Perhaps it’s still a difficult area for many schools? Perhaps everyone was tired from thinking about the previous questions, or perhaps it was best summed up by Suzanna C who explained, “currently as working towards, at or above expectations. Its a minefield.We have explained the changes to parents.” Sigalit Arditi added, “Reporting to parents is sometimes tricky. Grades show that but also projects demonstrate the ongoing learning that took place.”

A couple of notable tweets from the session:

  • I am really positive about giving pupils clear ways of how to improve rather than labelling with a level. – Mr Science teach
  • I was educated pre levels & everything assessed. Don’t even remember being given a predicted grade for GCSE!! Is so much necessary? – Tute
  • exactly and we’ve come full circle -assess for real need not a darn state test. Can they shop, work, share, lead? – Rachel McCann

Read highlights on Twitter here


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