Schools can’t seem to be able to give up levels, leaked report finds

Schools are recreating the old system of assessing pupils by national curriculum levels, a leaked draft of a government-commissioned report on assessment has found.

The document from the Commission on Assessment without Levels has found that a “culture” of levels is still in place in many schools. John McIntosh, chair of the commission and former headteacher of the London Oratory School, writes in the foreword that the old system is effectively continuing under a new name.

“We have been concerned by evidence that some schools are trying to recreate levels based on the new national curriculum,” he says, arguing that there is “overwhelming evidence” that levels need to go and that changing the culture would not only lead to better learning for pupils but help teachers to make better use of their time and skills.

“This is an opportunity the profession cannot afford to miss,” Mr McIntosh adds.

Levels were devised as a national system to assess children’s attainment. Each level had a broad range of criteria, linked to the national curriculum, against which pupils were assessed. Students were expected to progress by roughly one level every two years; the expected standard at age 7 was level 2 and at age 11 it was level 4.

The leaked report outlines some of the problems with the system. It points out that it uses a “best fit” model, meaning pupils can be graded at a certain level despite having “serious gaps” in their knowledge. There is also concern that the old system led to pupils feeling their ability was fixed at a certain standard.

The old system was scrapped in June 2013. The Commission on Assessment without Levels was announced by schools minister Nick Gibb in February 2015 after evidence emerged that most schools were still using levels while working out a new method of assessment.

Mr Gibb said that national standards would be measured only at the end of key stages and it was up to schools to choose their own steps towards meeting them in the intervening years. But a Department for Education survey, published earlier this month, shows that more than a third of schools were still using the national curriculum levels in November 2014.

The commission was due to report at the end of July but publication has now been delayed until September. The DfE said it would not comment on leaked reports.

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