Life after levels report calls for greater understanding between Ofsted and teachers

The long-awaited report from the government’s Commission on Assessment without Levels was published today, setting out key principles that schools should use when setting up their own assessment systems.

It is a key marker for teachers, schools and ministers as they attempt to navigate assessment after the abolition of levels last year.

Responding to reports that approaches to assessment are increasingly driven by expectations of what Ofsted inspectors are looking for, the government has agreed to the commission’s recommendation that headteachers and Ofsted inspectors should be jointly trained on what good systems look like and how schools can show they have them.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of headteachers’ union NAHT, said it was essential that heads and inspectors looked for the same things.

“Many heads and teachers can design really good assessment systems that give them the information they need to know,” said Mr Hobby. “But the worry is they do not have confidence that any particular inspection team will respect that approach and so ask for something different.

“I don’t think they want Ofsted to define the system but they want to know the boundaries. People say they like what they are doing with assessment, but they are constantly having to look over their shoulder because they are worried that someone will come and say they don’t think it is good enough. It undermines autonomy.”

Ministers have also agreed to set up a national bank of assessment questions and that assessment should be included in all initial teacher training courses. However, they rejected a recommendation that a standing committee of experts on assessment should be set up.

In its response to the Commission, the government also said that it supported the view that day-to-day assessment of children should not rely heavily on data, adding that it hoped “this will lead to reductions in teacher workload”.

But the report comes after a joint TES/NAHT survey found that nearly half (49 per cent) of respondents thought that setting up new assessment systems would increase teacher workload – while only two per cent thought it would reduce it. The survey also revealed that 55 per cent of school leaders thought that the move away from levels would not benefit pupils.

The Commission was set up in February to provide advice to schools on how to best assess pupils following the abolition of national curriculum levels. A leaked version of the report, which was due to be published in July, revealed that there was still a “culture of levels” in many schools.

The final report says that there was “overwhelming evidence” that levels – a national system of assessing how children were performing in relation to the national curriculum – should be scrapped. The levels had become viewed as thresholds, with the focus on getting pupils across the next threshold, it said.

The report points out that recording children’s progress every few weeks is “unlikely to provide useful information” and that data systems are often complicated and demand a large amount of teachers’ time to design and use them.

It points out that schools should ask themselves what use any new assessment system will be put to and how much time it would take teachers to record the information generated.

“In developing new approaches to assessment, schools have the opportunity to make ‘mastery for all’ a genuine goal,” says the report.

The commission was chaired by John McIntosh, former head of the London Oratory School.

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