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Schools win funds to develop and share new ways of assessing pupils

Schools design new assessment packages to replace the complicated levels system. 

A new package of pupil assessment methods, developed by teachers for teachers, was yesterday (1 May 2014) unveiled by the government.

The new methods, one of which will use in-class apps, will help schools easily and accurately chart pupils’ attainment and progress so they can provide effective, targeted support where it is needed, and will give parents clearer information about their child’s performance and progress.

The 9 packages were chosen by an independent panel after the Department for Education launched a competition in December encouraging schools to develop and share innovative new assessment methods for other schools to use.

Each of the 9 successful schools, which are in London, Hampshire, Yorkshire, Sussex, Devon and Oxfordshire, will now receive up to £10,000 of funding from the Department for Education to turn their model into free, easy-to-use packages for other schools to use.

The new methods have been designed to replace the current over-complicated, vague and unambitious levels system, which will be scrapped in September.

A Department for Education spokesperson said:

Our reforms are giving teachers the freedom to do what they know is best for their pupils - not Whitehall bureaucrats. That’s why we want schools taking control and creating models of assessment which they know will work and which will suit them.

These packages will give far more useful information to parents about how their child is performing, and will provide valuable information to schools.

The winning packages include Westminster Academy, a secondary school in London, where teachers have broken down the curriculum into 15 topics which are each independently assessed via an in-class quiz, homework and an end-of-term exam. A score is produced for each topic and then used to provide an average score. Teachers then use topic scores to provide support where needed.

David Thomas, the joint maths curriculum lead at Westminster Academy, said:

Our system tells teachers, students and parents exactly how well a child is learning and exactly what they need to do to get better. By tracking what each student has learned we build one coherent picture of their knowledge from which to guide teaching and learning.

There are no vague levels - just clear guidance on how to make even more progress.

Hillyfield Primary Academy, in Waltham Forest, east London, has developed a new ‘skills passport’. All pupils will receive a stamp in their passport when they have reached the required standard, helping to build a clear picture of their achievement.

The school is also working on developing a free app that can be used to record progress in class by teachers.

Teacher resources will now be developed for each package and rolled out ahead of the summer term. They will then be free for any school to download and use.

Andrew Carter, the headteacher at South Farnham Primary School, sat on the independent panel that judged the entries.

He said:

The tremendous quality and quantity of entries reflected high-calibre thinking on assessment procedures and confirmed the fundamental importance of schools leading others in the new world without levels.

Successful entries demonstrated decidedly innovative and creative ideas which will be an enormous and transferable aid for schools going forward.

Notes to editors

  • The winning schools are:

Hillyfield Primary Academy, Woodford, East London (primary)

The ‘skills passport’ is used to determine pupils’ progress in key skills in all foundation subjects. It is used to ensure coverage and development of skills and as a record of achievement for pupils. On demonstrating mastery of a skill, children stamp the skill in the passport. The passport is maintained throughout key stage 1 and key stage 2, and builds a clear picture of the pupils’ achievement across all foundation subjects. The system means that pupils are able to develop a clear understanding of their own abilities and what they need to do to progress. In the long term, the school will develop a free app that can be used in class by teachers.

Hiltingbury Junior School, Eastleigh, Hampshire (primary)

Using a ‘ladder’ approach to maths, reading and writing, the school agrees expectations for each year group, dividing each subject into key skill areas. Children use a ‘ladder booklet’, which enables them to identify their next steps for each new unit of work. Children can identify their progression targets in more detail, allowing them recognise the areas for improvement and what next steps look like. These steps are divided in to the areas of:

  • exploring
  • achieving
  • exceeding

Judges felt this was clear, engaging and accessible for both children and parents. They were also impressed by the positive feedback received from parents.

Headteacher Sam Hunter said:

Our system is designed to ensure that pupils can readily see their next steps in key reading, writing and maths skills, as well as being able to keep track of the progress that they have made so far. This is easy to share with parents too. For teachers, tracking and target setting is all in one place.

Westminster Academy, London (secondary)

The academy uses a percentage score system to reflect a student’s mastery of the curriculum. Granular data on topics within the curriculum allows for high-quality formative feedback, which drives both teaching and independent learning. The school has found this easy for parents and pupils to understand. The curriculum is divided into discrete topics (approximately 15 per year), each of which are independently assessed by an in-class quiz, homework, and an end-of-term exam. An overall score is derived from performance for each topic, with an average produced to cover all topics. Teachers use formative assessment data to coordinate interventions and guide their planning.

David Thomas, the school’s joint maths curriculum lead, said:

Our system tells teachers, students and parents exactly how well a child is learning and exactly what they need to do to get better. By tracking what each student has learned we build one coherent picture of their knowledge from which to guide teaching and learning. There are no vague levels, just clear guidance on how to make even more progress.

Trinity Academy Halifax, Yorkshire (secondary)

The new national curriculum is broken down into units (categorising difficulty as foundation, elementary, intermediate or advanced) which translate to planned teaching programmes of study for lessons and subsequent category tests. The content of the units has been devised with substantial expertise from the maths and English teaching communities and based on leading curriculum models (eg Shanghai and Singapore).

Students complete a test to ascertain their degree of mastery. Their level of success places them at a particular point within a category:

  • “no progress”
  • “expected progress”
  • “exceptional progress”

Students must master particular unit content before being in a position to master the next stage. This means that students who plateau at a given level can be given focused support to unlock understanding and progress further.

Judges thought this was a very strong application that placed good consideration on progress from key stage 1 to key stage 3, particularly bearing in mind that it is a secondary school.

Vice Principal Rob Marsh said:

The opportunity for us to take control of assessment and develop a system based on the needs of our students has been transformational. It has been developed with the expertise of many teachers and leaders with passion and enthusiasm. The result is that we now have the ability to assess students’ progress accurately, identifying their successes and, crucially, pinpointing areas of misunderstanding. This leads to effectively targeted support and ultimately successful intervention at an early stage.

Durrington High School, Worthing, West Sussex (secondary)

The school describes its approach as a “growth mindset” that encourages pupils to improve their knowledge and skills using effort, feedback and resilience to aspire to excellence. In the first instance, the school uses key stage 2 data and other supporting assessments early in year 7 (eg CATs, reading tests, internal tests), to group students into 4 ‘thresholds’ based on their prior assessments - excellence, secure, developing and foundation. These banded thresholds of knowledge and skills can then be used to give students ongoing formative feedback, based on their day-to-day work, about how to improve and move through the thresholds, towards excellence. Summative assessments (half termly/termly) are used to further assess how well students are doing towards the end of the unit of work against each threshold.

Deputy headteacher Shaun Allison said:

The key goals of any assessment system should be simple. It should celebrate what students already know, whilst building their aspirations towards excellence and supporting them to achieve this, through high expectations and quality feedback. This is what our growth and thresholds model of assessment aims to do.

West Exe Technology College, Exeter, Devon (primary and secondary)

Also using a ‘ladder’ approach, the school uses objectives driven by curriculum content. Each objective is a short, discrete, qualitative and concrete description of what a student is expected to know and be able to do within a specific subject area and topic. In the interim, formative assessments act as periodic reviews of learning and in summative (end of topic) assessments. Accuracy of assessment judgments are moderated by experienced professionals to ensure consistency in their approach. The school feels that the ladders work extremely well as a practical checklist to inform students, parents and teachers of next steps in learning.

The judges were particularly impressed by the local collaboration that school has driven and the ‘all-through’ nature of their approach to assessment.

Kevin Hadley, Assistant Headteacher said:

We’re delighted to have secured funding through the Assessment Innovation Fund which will allow us to share with other schools the great work we’re doing on assessment. As a school and member of the Exeter Learning Trust, we are always keen to share quality information with our parents and carers about the progress of their children.

Assessment Learning Ladders are helping us to further build a working partnership with parents and carers by making clear the next steps needed in learning so that the very best possible progress is made.

Sirius Academy, Hull, Yorkshire (secondary)

The Sirius design and technology assessment system encourages the development of creativity, innovation, practical skills and student progress within the new design and technology curriculum. The system caters for preparing students for the range of options available within the subject whilst keeping a balanced focus on assessment of both the rigorous academic and practical abilities of students. The school is clear to pupils that by taking risks and working through many iterative cycles in various areas, their progress will not always be linear. The school has had positive feedback from pupils. They feel that it allows for a smooth transition between assessment in design and technology up to the end of key stage 3 to key stage 4 and beyond.

Swiss Cottage School, Camden, North London (special school)

The school has developed a series of ‘progression planners’, which focus on the assessment for those learners whose attainment falls significantly below the expectations outlined in the new ‘Year 1 programmes of study’. They are themed around priority areas for individuals with severe learning difficulties and are consistent with the principles and ethos of the new national curriculum. It is based on precise outcomes and provides a clear basis for tracking progress and reporting to parents.

Judges viewed their approach as particularly innovative, practical and based on sound SEN educational thinking. They thought their approach would have relevant application in both mainstream and special education.

Tracy Edwards, the school’s leader for curriculum and assessment, said:

Over the past year, we have been developing a series of progression planners to complement our level-based assessment. These are used by teachers to set personal learning intentions for each pupil, which address priority individual needs, develop key skills, and promote positive health and wellbeing.

Our progression planners have started to promote a professional culture, which views progress, in new and more exciting ways. Through using our progression planners, for example, we are able to evaluate those significant achievements, which fall outside of the national curriculum level descriptors, and identify any misunderstandings which need to be addressed to offer learners increased challenge.

The progression planners we have developed also enable us to have more meaningful dialogues with parents, which move away from being an abstract conversation about levels, to a much deeper exploration of what their child is more intrinsically learning.

Frank Wise School, Banbury, Oxfordshire (special school):

This school has developed and refined a series of assessments that screen the level of development of basic cognitive skills. Their developmentally progressive assessments enable teachers to establish a baseline understanding of a child’s stage of development, allowing them to plan appropriately challenging targets for future learning. This enables them to understand appropriate progression for children with atypical developmental patterns as well as to identify and address gaps in development which may result in delayed progress. The school has worked closely with local mainstream schools, a number of whom have taken on aspects of assessment to use in their own setting.

Deputy headteacher Simon Knight said:

As a special school we are particularly pleased to be involved in this exciting project and to be able to share our approach to identifying gaps in expected cognitive development. This will provide an opportunity for more children to have their individual needs identified more quickly, without necessarily waiting for the symptomatic indicators of delayed development to become apparent.

  • The winning assessment models are part of a package of support which the Department for Education is making available to help schools assess pupils once the levels system has been removed from the curriculum in September 2014. In addition, we have recently published a set of core assessment principles, developed by an independent expert panel on assessment, which are designed to help all schools as they implement arrangements for assessing pupils’ progress against their school curriculum.


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