Published on: 23 Sep 2015

The report quite deliberately does not provide schools with a template for assessment without levels

Report of the Commission on Assessment without Levels

Julie McCulloch, Primary Leadership Specialist, Association of School and College Leaders

Last week the government released the long-anticipated report of the Commission on Assessment without Levels, set up to provide schools with guidance and support on designing their own assessment polices and approaches after the abolition of National Curriculum levels.

The report has been a long time coming, with many teachers and school leaders understandably frustrated that such support wasn’t provided a year or two ago, when they first learned that National Curriculum levels were on their way out. And if people were hoping the commission would do the job of designing a new assessment system for them, they’ll be disappointed. The report quite deliberately does not provide schools with a template for assessment without levels, stating that ‘in the context of curriculum freedoms and increasing autonomy for schools, it would make no sense to prescribe any one model for assessment’.

This may not be what some teachers and school leaders were hoping for. But if they take the time to read the report, they’ll find a wealth of evidence-informed guidance on how to develop an approach to assessment that aligns with their curriculum and works for their pupils and staff. Are you looking for a detailed and compelling explanation of the problems with levels, and the benefits of assessment without levels? Do you need to clarify your thinking about the purposes of the different types of assessment you use in school? Would a set of clear principles against which you can judge your assessment policy and approach be useful? Do you need to think more carefully about the type of data you collect and why? You’ll find thoughtful advice on all of these issues in the report.

Although most of the report consists of practical advice for teachers and school leaders, it ends with a set of recommendations for ways in which the government could help:

1.    A standing committee on assessment should be appointed, supported by a panel of experts.

2.    Assessment should be included in the core content for initial teacher training, and should be informed by the principles outlined in the report. The government should also fund one person in every teaching school alliance to become an SLE on assessment.

3.    A national item bank of assessment questions should be established, that teachers could use to build bespoke formative and summative assessments. A dedicated online forum should also be created where teachers can share their ideas on assessment without levels.

4.    A training module should be developed which could be used by both senior leaders in schools and Ofsted inspectors to ensure a shared understanding of the principles and purposes of assessment, what good practice looks like and how it can be demonstrated in schools.

5.    The DfE working group on school data management should help to build the evidence base to understand how schools are using assessment data and what drives their data management practices.

6.    The DfE working group on assessment for pupils working below the level of the NC tests should include a review of P-Scales.

The government’s response to these recommendations can perhaps best be described as warm but vague. Whatever happens with these specific suggestions, though, the report is undoubtedly a helpful contribution to the ongoing debate around how to assess children’s progress and attainment. It may not do the job for teachers, but it’s all the better for that.

Follow Julie on Twitter @juliecmcculloch

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