Assessment Without Levels Commission Report – a few of my favourite things

Like many others I was very disappointed to learn that the DfE had delayed publishing this report until the new academic year so I was both surprised and excited (a bit sad, I know) when I got a friendly nudge on Twitter this morning pointing me in the direction of the “leaked” report… via @warwickmansell @GuardianEdu.

My first response was to retweet (obviously) and then email some friends, colleagues and the other members of our PLC. Then I followed Harry Fletcher-Wood’s reading reflection log via @HFletcherWood and then read his summary here Well, I’ve now finally got round to reading the report myself and also felt compelled to put my response in print. So, in the words of Julie Andrews, here are a few of My Favourite Things:
Julie Andrews

  1. First off, I like the tone of this report; I feel like the ethics and beliefs demonstrated by the Commission sit very comfortably with my own principles regarding assessment. I would heartily recommend sharing the report with others and use it to stimulate discussion and explore collective thinking within and across organisations.
  2. An impressively comprehensive, yet concise, demolition of the way that NC levels became the dominant assessment discourse both within schools and across our system in England.
  3. Directly tackling the use of the term “mastery” by so many fledgling assessment approaches and explaining very clearly the need for a shared understanding of what that actually means (something I have blogged about previously). The explicit reference to Bloom, Kulik and Guskey in defining mastery as “something which every child can aspire to and every teacher should promote” is really helpful.
  4. I was reminded of that fab little movie from QCA (when Mick Waters was director) that used the analogy of viewing the Mona Lisa to explain the three “lenses” of assessment whilst reading about the three overarching forms of assessment; day-to-day, local summative and nationally standardised (pg.13). The remainder of this section of the report is structured as purposes (statements) followed by principles (questions) for school leaders and teachers to use to facilitate the development of effective assessment practice. There’s also further guidance on developing a fit for purpose assessment policy.
  5. “The purpose of summative assessment is to evaluate pupils’ learning and progress at the end of a period of teaching. It may have multiple audiences, including pupils themselves, parents, teachers, school leaders and inspectors, and each may have different requirements for the kinds of assessment data that should be collected and how it should be analysed and presented.” (Pg.26) I think this is key for school leaders when designing the structure and form of data-collection; how can we meaningfully share this information in an appropriate and useful way for different stakeholders without creating unnecessary workload? As someone about to join the SLT of my new school this is something that has really resonated with me. I need to think about this.
  6. The specific section addressing the weaknesses in current ITT provision with regards to developing knowledge and confidence around assessment is blunt and honest. The report goes on to acknowledge how the wide-ranging and broad landscape of CPD providers woulds benefit from quality assuring “system leaders” and “leading teachers” to enable effective “collaborative professional learning.” This is an approach we have adopted in Windsor & Maidenhead, with colleagues from a range of schools developing their thinking and practice together (the PLC) and then sharing with others through social media, network meetings and a conference.
  7. Intelligent and eminently do-able Next Steps, including the concept of establishing a “national item bank of assessment questions.” Not a surprise if you’ve been following Daisy Christodoulou’s recent series of blogs about asking the right questions to establish a learner’s security and depth of understanding:

I know this is just half the size of the 13 points that Harry so thoroughly explores (thanks for the model text @HFletcherWood!) but I hope it is of interest to some.

Continuing the hairdressing theme…

I recently took my daughter to the hairdressers as she wanted a “dip-dye.” She’s had this done once before but I was particularly impressed with the results this time. I remarked to Helen (our lovely hairdresser) that the graduated effect was particularly striking and looked almost like a natural blending of colour:


Helen then told me that she had been:

  • Watching other hairdressers as they dip-dyed and asking them questions about the colours and techniques they used
  • Viewing examples on You-Tube
  • Practising with several clients

“You’ve been doing AfL” I said. Helen looks at me blankly. “Getting better at dip-dyeing by watching others and practising.”

I was struck by this example of AfL in everyday life; the practice of reflecting on your performance and improving your skills and knowledge by employing the kind of strategies we often draw on in school. However, this example really makes clear that ‘Assessment for Learning’ was the cognitive process going on in Helen’s head, and it was made possible by her belief that learning is an ongoing process. AfL is a way of being.


Are we re-styling or just trimming the fringe?

I read Michael Tidd’s blog with interest. Following an informal survey amongst fellow Twitter users Michael reported his findings on the periodic assessment systems that schools have adopted in a post-level world. The outcomes resonate with my experience of working with a range of schools.

Yes, there are some leaders that have initially felt the need to create/purchase a system that “works like levels.” I think this is driven by (a) external accountability measures, (b) a desire to support staff in using an approach they are familiar with, and (c) fear of the unknown. However, as these colleagues become more engaged with the daily implementation of the new curriculum it has become increasingly obvious that an approach that is “like levels but with a different label” just won’t cut-it. It isn’t fit for purpose.

I’m delighted that so many Senior Leaders I’ve worked with this year have really embraced the desire to do things differently; to design an approach to periodic assessment tracking and monitoring that reflects the school’s research-informed ethos and principles around effective formative assessment. We’ve really invested time and energy in supporting school leaders to get the foundations right. And for those colleagues who are sticking with steps for the time being – I hope they will be evaluating and adapting their approach whilst they are using it, because AfL is a way of being.

Assessment Commission, FLiC software and making growth mindset real…some recent reading

The DfE announcement of a new ‘Commission on Assessment Without Levels’ came hot on the heels of the response to the consultation to the draft performance descriptors The remit of the commission seems very similar to the role that the Assessment Fund Innovation Award winners were given about a year ago, but perhaps more far-reaching. The Commission is due to report in July.

Durrington is one of the AIF winning schools, and many of you will be familiar with the ‘Growth & Thresholds’ model developed by the school. Most recently the Headteacher, Shaun Allison, has been writing about strategies to develop learning behaviours that realise the growth mindset attitude: and subsequently This is an area that many of our schools are exploring and I’ve worked with a number of colleagues over the last two years or so to facilitate professional learning around growth mindset. Shaun Allison got me thinking about how we need to keep reminding ourselves about our ethos and values, enacting what we believe in and helping our young learners to find ways to demonstrate strong behaviours for learning.

Shaun Allison Headteacher Durrington School

Shaun Allison
Headteacher Durrington School

Those of you who follow Michael Tidd (or indeed use his assessment key objectives) will know about his endorsement of FLiC software. This has been produced by the Riding Forward Teaching School Alliance, and the homepage is here:

Finally, as a network member of the National Literacy Trust I came across a suite of assessment resources created by West Sussex LA in partnership with several local schools. I would recommend reading through their rationale and principles before accessing the road-maps for progression in reading and writing. The resources are very explicitly focused on key criteria taken from the NC PoS whilst also incorporating some of the best bits about APP, e.g. the structure. As I worked for an APP pilot LA (like West Sussex) I am also to use what we learned from that experience to inform future practice. Thanks to the team at West Sussex for sharing their materials: West Sussex assessment resources.


A month since our conference…

Having invested a lot of our efforts on supporting schools to establish their core beliefs and principles around assessment the PLC felt it was the right time to focus on whole-school accountability and strategies for monitoring standards. On Thursday 12th March the ‘Assessment Beyond Levels’ PLC  hosted a conference for 75 school leaders at Moor Hall in Cookham.

Moor Hall

Following a ‘Breakfast Briefing’ on the Reception Baseline Assessments from Fiona Carter at Early Excellence we started the day with a keynote presentation from Steve Anwyll (formerly Head of National Assessment at Ofqual). Steve enabled colleagues to secure their knowledge and understanding about national standards and expectations and how the changes to national assessment procedures will impact upon schools.

Steve Anwyll

Steve Anwyll

The second keynote presentation, led by Darren Ellsum, explored the importance of designing an assessment system that is based on the school’s curriculum and the principle of securing age-related competencies for all learners. Delegates considered how progression in mathematical concepts could be signposted using key objectives. We investigated our definition of “exceeding” expectations in the context of a mastery curriculum; thinking carefully about what “deep learning” might involve.

Darren Ellsum

Darren Ellsum

Workshops in the afternoon were facilitated by members of the PLC and other school leaders, as well as representatives from OUP (working with two of our schools) and the University of Reading.

Feedback from the day has been overwhelmingly positive and subsequently many school-based colleagues have remarked how useful the event was for developing their thinking and crystallizing a way forward for them. If you were unable to attend the conference but would like to access the presentations, please follow this link: RBWM Assessment Beyond Levels Conference 12.3.15

We would be grateful that if you do access the materials you respect their authorship and credit the source when sharing with others.

Case Studies update

Our suite of school case studies has now been grouped together on a new page (see the tabs above) and includes a brand new one from Furze Platt Juniors. My thanks to Mike Wallace (Headteacher) and the staff for being kind enough to share!

Marking and Feedback – refreshing a whole-school approach

Many schools are looking to refresh their marking and feedback policy as a  key element of renewing their approach to assessment in a world without levels. How often children’s books are marked, the nature of the feedback provided and the response of the learner to the feedback are all coming under investigation. OFSTED’s  increased use of work scrutiny to inform judgements around pupil progress and achievement has added significant pressure on school leaders to get the policy and practice right. This has sometimes resulted in increased workload, disgruntled teachers and lengthy scripts of double-act dialogue appearing in children’s books! It has led to OFSTED publishing the paper ‘Clarification for Schools’ in October 2014 to “dispel myths” about expectations an inspection team might have, such as:

“Ofsted does not expect to see unnecessary or extensive written dialogue between teachers and pupils in exercise books and folders. Ofsted recognises the importance of different forms of feedback and inspectors will look at how these are used to promote learning.”

I’ve been working with a number of schools this year on updating their approach to marking and feedback and without doubt the most successful strategy has been to engage all stakeholders in the dialogue; to work with teachers, children and parents to design a bespoke policy that reflects the community’s key beliefs and principles in relation to effective learning. We have a range of evidence that highlights how important high-quality feedback is on improving progress and standards, so sharing findings from the likes of the Sutton Trust, John Hattie, Dylan Wiliam etc. and talking about how this applies to your school and your context paves the way for a research-informed methodology. In his recent blog, Power From the Floor, Teacher Toolkit outlined the rationale behind his planning for a professional learning session, which focused on capturing the collective energy and expertise of all the staff at his school. It’s a good read and includes Ross’ presentation from the session he led with his staff.


 I’ve supported a local school in collaboratively developing a marking and feedback policy which they are happy for me to share (interestingly acknowledged by the visiting HMI as an “exemplar”). Thanks to the staff at Datchet St Mary’s.

The follow-up blog from Teacher Toolkit, Taking a Look at Books, explores the ways that the Senior Leadership Team at Quintin Kynaeston are developing their approach to work scrutiny. This is set in the context of seeking evidence of “progress over time” in an environment where Ofsted gradings of teacher performance have been removed. Again, it’s a good read and demonstrates the desire to create a system of quality assurance that is fair and robust. The template the school has designed to record the outcomes from work scrutiny is also available to download from the blog-post and might prove a useful stimulus for discussion in your own school.

Sharing ideas and practice – school case studies

It’s been great working on assessment with so many schools across the LA (and beyond) over the last year or so. Being part of the PLC has meant I get to be engaged with the dialogue about the requirements, principles and issues that these schools are tussling with. I’ve also had the pleasure of being invited to meet with school leaders who have been busy developing their approaches to assessment beyond levels (many of them influenced by the ideas and materials signposted by the PLC through this website) and who want to talk through what they’ve come up with and how they are introducing new systems.

John Quincy Adams

 I’m delighted to be able to share case studies from three RBWM schools. The authors have very kindly summarised their research and development work and are happy for local colleagues to contact them for further discussion if you’d like to know more. All three schools will be attending the ‘Assessment Beyond Levels’ conference next month.

The Queen Anne First School is a member of the PLC and has been developing an approach that was originally inspired by a visit to Wroxham School and incorporates use of facilitating technology to capture evidence and the Hiltingbury Learning Ladders to support the identification of next steps. Judith Street and Jo Gill have provided an overview.

Geodel Wright, Head of English at St Edward’s Royal Free Middle School (another PLC member), has created a series of ‘Progression Pathways’ for reading and writing that follow a ‘Growth & Thresholds’ structure. She outlines her approach and rationale here, with some examples of ‘Progression Pathways.’

Alison Penny, Headteacher at Woodlands  Park Primary, has developed a school-wide tracking system for reading, writing and maths alongside a greater focus on developing high-quality learning behaviours that transcend across subject areas. She has compiled an engaging and thoughtful account of the school’s journey so far, with some sample resources in her case study.

My thanks to these colleagues who are happy to share their thinking and the approaches in development at their schools, in the spirit of collaborative professional learning. More to come soon!

Assessment Beyond Levels Conference – coming soon!


The wait is almost over…the RBWM ‘Assessment Beyond Levels Conference’ takes place at Moor Hall in Cookham on Thursday 12th March 2015. Full details are available here:

Taking feedback from school leaders and members of the Assessment Beyond Levels Professional Learning Community, the conference is designed to support delegates in developing whole-school and/or subject-based systems for monitoring progress and recording standards achieved by learners. This is a conference about periodic assessment, building upon the principles and practice of effective, day-to-day formative assessment.

We look forward to seeing you next month!

Getting started with Twitter

For anyone thinking of taking up Twitter but not sure how to get started, a great blog from Michael Tidd.

Ramblings of a Teacher

Whenever I speak at conferences or Inset sessions, I always drop in a recommendation that teachers and school leaders should sign up to Twitter. Naturally, it’s not the main thrust of my presentation, and so I move on, but I thought it would be useful to have a post to direct people to, with suggestions for getting started.

Because of the work I do, the suggestions are probably more useful for school leaders, but for classroom teachers getting started I’d also recommend Mrs P Teach’s blog on inspirational teachers to follow.

Firstly, some words to reassure:

  • You can register completely anonymously
  • You don’t have to ‘say’ or ‘tweet’ anything if you don’t want
  • It’s nothing like Facebook

The main reason I recommend school leaders in particular to sign up for Twitter, is the ability to keep track of changes in education, which no-one can deny are frequent and rapid. Often now…

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