Designing an assessment model the right way – Michael Tidd blog post

Whether you are based in the primary or secondary phase – or both, you lucky Middle School colleagues – this is a really good read!



Senior Leaders Conference Nov. 2014

What did the Romans ever do for us?

Two days in the beautiful city of Bath with senior leaders from across RBWM – a highlight of the year so far!
We were delighted to be joined by Jane Girle (Headteacher) and Nick Hart (Assistant HT) from Penn Wood Primary School in Slough. Jane and Nick shared the key milestones in their school’s journey from ‘Satisfactory’ to ‘Good with Outstanding Features’. This was structured around the four cornerstones of Teaching & Learning, Assessment, Curriculum & Professional Learning (echoing the presentation shared with RBWM colleagues at the Education Leadership Forum in September). I am so pleased that Jane & Nick are working with us and have agreed to share some of the key policies they have developed to underpin the next stage of their journey.

Creating a shared definition of mastery…or some early thoughts about the draft performance descriptors

I smiled on reading some of the principles explicitly articulated in the rationale for the draft performance descriptors; “setting high standards” is all about being aspirational and I’m a big fan of using a “range of evidence” to inform summative assessment judgements.  I was pleasantly surprised by the breadth and quality of the draft performance descriptors. I basked in a particularly warm glow at “reading for pleasure” being top of the bullet-points at every level, oops, sorry, I mean step/stage/phase.


There are some things I’m not sure about. Questions I need to ponder. Here’s one of them. Whilst I applaud the notion that achievement beyong age-related expectations should be about exploring “the curriculum in greater depth…building on the breadth of their knowledge and skills within that key stage” rather than simply moving onto the next chunk of content from the year/key stage beyond, I’m not sure about calling this “Mastery.”


Did you watch Dr Who on Saturday? The Master has returned, except it’s not the Master, it’s the Mistress, but they are the same character. How do we know? Because we recognise the traits, we know the history and the context; we have a shared understanding of who the Master is.  My worry is that many schools are exploring their thinking around periodic assessment within key stages right now; researching, sharing ideas and experimenting with new approaches – many of which are using the term “mastery” and it doesn’t always mean the same thing. There’s a whole lot of stuff going on out there around “mastery” and in several cases, the term is being used to signify that learners have met age-related expectations by mastering the skills and knowledge set out in the National Curriculum, rather than exceeded them. I’ve learned how to tie my laces. I can do it independently. I’ve mastered it. I’m learning how to blog. I can do it independently. I certainly haven’t mastered it.


It’s good that the first consultation question asks us about the suitability of current names for the  Performance Descriptors. It’s important that we agree on some terms that feel right and for which we can create a shared understanding because we need to be clear about what we mean. Otherwise we could be back to levels again. Just a thought.

Climbing Frames – Sue Hackman

Many colleagues will be familiar with Sue’s name and reputation; formerly National Director of the National Strategies and Chief Adviser at the DfE, and an English teacher at heart. Sue was an APP author and pioneer and has created a model for tracking progress in the new curriculum using the principles behind APP. Details from the publisher:

Sue Hackman, a Former Chief Adviser on School Standards at the DfE, has used her extensive experience and a close, analytical reading of the new curriculum to create the framework.

Climbing Frames covers the complete new National Curriculum in both

primary and secondary phases and will enable your school to:

Apply an approach that is familiar and intuitive to use

Ensure assessments are meeting the new curriculum

Simplify managing pupils’ transition between key stages

Ensure consistent, evidence-based pupil assessments

Quickly identify who is on, below or above trajectory to succeed

Support pupils who are slipping off course

Stretch students who are exceeding expectations

Plan future lessons to meet all pupils’ needs more precisely

It is also simplicity itself to implement.

This is because it uses a format that is familiar to teachers, pupils and parents, while improving upon how individual pupil’s progress is measured. This means that it will take very little training to get teachers up to speed using Climbing Frames, and you will quickly build a full picture of pupil progress at your school.

Climbing Frames combines print and digital elements in the framework. This will help you build a 360 degree view of your pupils’ attainment, building a clear, consistent picture about the performance of individual pupils, classes, years, subjects, cohorts and teachers

Here is a sample from the Climbing Frames materials:

Climbing Frames

I’d be really interested in your feedback…

Learning ladders experience

Hilltingbury Primary School are hosting open mornings to experience their learning ladders system in action……
We’ve arranged three more Open Mornings at Hiltingbury School.
These are for Primary SMT and Assessment /Curriculum leaders, they’re free, and can be booked online on our events page.
The Open Mornings give a chance for colleagues to see the Learning Ladders system in action, and talk to pupils and staff about their experiences of using Learning Ladders. 
Demand for places last time was huge so we’ve had to limit tickets to one per school – be quick!
We look forward to welcoming you to Hiltingbury

Updated resources

Hi everyone,

I’ve added to the resources section so that a number of the articles we have looked at via email and at the first meeting are included. I’ve also added a brand new resource from Bilton Academy – found by Richard.

My thanks to Richard for his technical wizardry in helping to set up the blog and website. I will do my best not to break it!

Please use the site to download anything useful, share comments and feedback and upload stuff that you want to share with others in the PLC. Once we get into the swing of things I will publicise the address to all schools.

I’m off to Bournemouth tomorrow for the AAIA 2-day conference – “Assessing Learning not Levels” with input from the DfE, OFQUAL and Shirley Clarke, and I promise to write my first proper blog while I’m there! I will also be tweeting (discreetly)…


A blog post from

Life beyond levels? Life after levels? Life without levels?  Lots of teachers, senior leaders and academics have come up with some interesting ideas for what should replace national curriculum levels. Here’s a summary of some of those ideas.

  • Michael Fordham is a former history teacher and now works at Cambridge’s education department. He has written three articles which put forward a possible system for assessing history – one, two, three.
  • Alison Peacock is the head of Wroxham Primary School, who moved away from levels a while ago. In this post she expresses a worry that any list of aims she writes up will become APP under another name.
  • Alison Peacock was also a part of the NAHT commission who recently released a report on this.
  • The NAHT report attracted quite a few comments.  I’m in broad agreement with David Thomas’s post here, particularly the point he makes about how easy it to say you should assess pupils according to objective criteria, and how hard it is to actually achieve this. (See below for Paul Bambrick-Santoyo’s work on this). Gifted Phoenix also commented on it here.
  • Tom Sherrington is a secondary head. I like the focus here on taking actual samples of pupil work as definitions of standards.
  • Phil Stock is an English teacher who has shared his department’s plans. They involve new rubrics for assessing reading and writing, and the use of multiple choice questions.
  • David Thomas is a head of maths and in this proposal he notes that there is a tension between providing teachers and students with useful feedback and providing teachers and students with a system that is easy to understand.
  • Joe Kirby is an English teacher at a London secondary. A lot of the ideas in this post are ones Joe and I have discussed together. This post and this one expand on the issues.
  • Michael Tidd has put forward a proposal for primary assessment here, and has made more specific proposals about a mastery approach to assessment here, with an interesting comparison to a game of Jenga.
  • Alex Quigley has a draft model for assessing English here.
  • Chris Waterworth has written about a possible approach for primary assessment. I’m less of a fan of this approach, as it suggests simply using the current level descriptors and APP grids, just without the levels. The problem with level descriptors is well described by …
  • …Paul Bambrick Santoyo, who has written some fascinating things about the difficulty of using prose descriptions of standards as a guide for assessments. Pages 6-8 of Driven by Data explain exactly what the flaws are.
  • Rob Coe has come up with a list of 47 criteria you should consider before you let a test into your classroom.
  • GL Assessments have two excellent articles on their website about assessing without levels. The first one, here, explains the purpose of standardised tests and how they could feature in a world without levels. The second article, here, offers a case study of St Peter’s Collegiate School in Wolverhampton which abolished levels in 2009.