UKEdMag: Assessing Without Levels: …12 Months On by @musingsofmrb

Assessments in England's primary schools

Wind back 12 months, Year 6 SATs, in their old form, were over and we were beginning to plan for a whole new world….assessing without levels. Every discussion threw up problems and positivity about how we moved forward was severely lacking. The initial problems that we discussed were:

  • How are the old levels going to be converted to something new when there is no guidance to do so?
  • How are only 3 categories enough to describe a whole cohort? (Emerging, Expected and Exceeding)
  • What would the thresholds for the above levels be? How do we know that we are making sufficient progress either within a year group or from KS1 to KS2.
  • What was ‘Mastery’ and what did it look like?

This article originally appeared in the July 2016 UKEd Magazine.

Click here to freely read online, or click here to purchase printed editions.

I decided to volunteer to search the internet, surely someone, somewhere had created something to remedy this? There must be some guidance from the government, they wouldn’t be so remiss to set up something new and give no support….would they?

Sadly yes. The internet was an assessing without levels wasteland, there were more tumbleweeds blowing across the World Wide Web than in a Western movie. Another dead end, cue more of the same questions as before but no forward movement; we were stuck, clueless and unsupported but something had to be done.

So we took the plunge; we made a decision as an SLT. We were going to use percentages and we were going to create 5 bands instead of 3, after all, our cohort of children couldn’t be categorised into 3. The expected category was so broad that some children would never move out of it and therefore wouldn’t show progress, hence the percentages, this would show progress, even within a particular category.

The writing assessment was already embedded and written in percentages. It needed some adjustment for the new objectives (and interim framework that followed). Reading was created quickly from the interim assessment framework and curriculum objectives. I had to create the one for Maths, easy I thought, I’m good with spreadsheets and formulas, I was very wrong.

I quickly realised that the National Curriculum objectives for all year groups were very broad, they needed specific prior learning and a number of steps to achieve them. Eg: some children would never be able to order numbers up to 1,000,000 but would be able to order them up to 10,000, but that wasn’t the objective.

With this in mind I created feeder objectives and split the NC into 14 units that consolidated prior learning this meant that progress and attainment was shown for EVERY child, a real key as OFSTED are due this year. After 100’s of man hours and updates the first version was complete by Mid October and was rolled out to staff; initially the reaction was positive and staff thought that it was a useful way of tracking the children (cue a tracking document that runs alongside).

A thought still niggled me, children are not just numbers, not just data on a sheet, it needed to be data that was used effectively to support the learning of the children and was useful for the teacher. Luckily we seemed to have stumbled on this by accident. It seems that there are positives in assessing without levels and what started out as a simple spreadsheet (now on Version 4) has drawn the following feedback from staff.(April 2016).

  • We use it to find the gaps in learning as the colour coding allows this to be easily identifiable.
  • We can clearly see the groups within the class that need further support and interventions.
  • The HA group is clear.
  • The feeder objectives show us the steps needed for the child to fulfil the KPI.
  • We can see progress in the child’s learning which is positive for both us and the child.
  • It’s useful for pupil progress meetings, allowing them to be more focused.
  • It’s easy to use.

As you can see, these positives are due to the fact that we have had to create something to replace levels and we have reason, as teachers, to feel positive about this, as long as the right system is in place.

Big questions still remain though:

  • How do the systems of individual schools correlate?
  • If a child moved to another school would the numbers/ categories be understood?
  • How do these systems help to predict a child’s SATs score as we still don’t know what an expected score will be?
  • How will our assessments translate to Secondary schools for transition? Will it make sense to them?

I’m really proud that, as a profession, teachers manage to find ways of solving the problems thrown at them but support from the DfE is needed; we need guidance and examples of how this is to be done. We, as a school, are confident that our system is robust, manageable and vitally, takes a key role in the learning of progress of the children but what if ours is wrong, what if the thoughts of the DfE are widely different.

12 months on, we still don’t know…..that’s wrong.

Andrew Byrne @musingsofmrb is an Assistant Head, Maths lead and Year 6 teacher at a large Primary School in Central Birmingham. He is passionate about education and regularly blogs about his thoughts at

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The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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