The removal of National Curriculum levels provides an opportunity the profession cannot afford to miss. We need to build teachers’ confidence in developing their own approaches to assessment that are focused on the needs of their pupils, tailored to the school’s curriculum and support really effective teaching.
While moving away from a system of assessment that has been so conditioned by levels will be challenging, it is a chance for all of us to refocus attention on sound classroom practice. High-quality formative assessment is at the very heart of good teaching and is the key to raising standards. It should enrich learning and pupil motivation, enable teachers to grow professionally and make better use of their time, knowledge and skills.
As with the adage, “look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves”, if teachers look after formative assessment, the summative assessment should look after itself. Effective formative assessment allows teachers to tailor their assessments to the underpinning knowledge and skills being taught. The best assessment is often about the discourse that takes place in the classroom between teacher and pupils. It is a highly effective way for teachers to identify what pupils know, where gaps or misconceptions lie and how they should plan future teaching accordingly. Importantly, it also enables teachers to continuously assess the effectiveness of their own teaching.
Although developing new approaches to assessment may initially increase the demands on schools, assessment without levels offers the potential for more appropriate, but less burdensome, assessment and reporting arrangements. It is essential that as leaders we support teaching staff with the transition to pastures new rather than to try to reinvent the old system. It is never easy to change a system, especially when we have lived with levels for such a long time, but we must resist the temptation to reinvent levels by turning the National Curriculum 2014 programmes of study into attainment targets. Instead we need to focus on high-quality formative assessment, confident that in doing so pupils will be more than adequately prepared to meet the challenges of summative tests.
This blog post is the foreword from ‘A Guide to Assessment: Tools and support for primary schools in England’. The guide is for primary teachers, but will be of particular interest to Senior Leadership Teams (SLTs), including headteachers and middle leaders with responsibility for school assessment arrangements, tracking progress and accountability measures.
John McIntosh CBE was headmaster of The London Oratory School for nearly 30 years, served as a member of the Teachers’ Standards Review, the Teaching Agency advisory group, the National College for School Leadership advisory board and the DfE advisory committee for the National Curriculum review, and was Chairman of the Commission on Assessment Without Levels.