Tag Archives: achievement

Assessing without levels

We recently held the first in a series of voluntary curriculum conferences for mid-leaders to share their ideas about what might influence the design of our new post-levels curriculum. Ideas that were shared during our first meeting:

  • Designing a new English curriculum and post-levels assessment system from scratch (which you can read all about here)
  • An Ethic of Excellence (which you can read all about here)
  • Using cognitive science to inform curriculum design (which you can read all about here)
  • Assessing without levels

assessing without levels 1 The chance to break free from using National Curriculum levels for assessment offers us real opportunity:

  • The opportunity to provide our students with formative feedback that means something
  • The opportunity to create an “Ethic of Excellence” – where excellence is expected and everyone can improve and aim for excellence
  • The opportunity to develop a curriculum that instils a growth mindset – no glass ceilings or self-labelling by students, e.g. “I’m a level 5”
  • The opportunity to develop a curriculum that goes “beyond” the traditional programme of study, to provide real stretch and challenge
  • The opportunity to develop more meaningful reporting for students and parents

In February of this year, a number of schools submitted applications to the DfE for Assessment Innovation Funding to develop post-levels assessment systems that could be shared with other schools.  Durrington High School were one of the 9 schools that were successful, and whose ‘Growth and Thresholds’ model is very closely aligned with our own thinking.  Much of the initial ideas on ‘assessing without levels’ shared at our first curriculum conference were informed by this model.


Thresholds and progression

New thresholds based on mastery of core knowledge and skills will need to be determined.  Our English department’s recent work with David Didau saw the development of our initial threshold names.  It also saw the birth of the “Beyond” threshold, which we are keen to adopt in all subjects to ensure we ‘keep the bar high’ and extend our students beyond the traditional confines of their current Key Stage and into the next. Progression to the current and new GCSE thresholds could then look something like this: Slide4


Organising concepts and threshold knowledge & skills

Each subject area will need to determine their own ‘organising concepts’ or ‘big ideas’ as well as the key knowledge and skills for each of the six thresholds.  An example for Science is shown below: Slide6 Assessing only the key knowledge and skills that continue into Key Stage 4 and beyond, will allow our students to develop a deeper understanding of concepts.  It will also provide our teachers with an opportunity to give focused and meaningful formative feedback to students and parents on how to progress further.


Baseline determination

A range of data could be used to determine a baseline for each student, including, for example:

  • KS2 English + Maths test scores
  • KS2 Teacher Assessment and dialogue with feeder schools
  • MidYIS / CAT3 ability testing
  • FFT estimates
  • Internal tests on entry
  • Reading ages

baselines Professor Robert Coe’s blog has also been useful in developing our understanding of what makes a ‘good’ test.


Achievement focused tracking and reporting

Once a baseline has been established for each student, progress could then be measured relative to this.  For example, a student with a baseline of “Excellence” would be making Expected progress if assessed as achieving the “Excellence” threshold, Good progress if they were assessed as “Beyond” and Less than expected progress if assessed as “Confident” etc. Slide8 This model supports our aim that all students can move through the thresholds, aiming for the “Excellence” and “Beyond” thresholds, providing they have demonstrated the required mastery of key knowledge and skills at those thresholds. Tracking could also incorporate numerical values broadly aligned to the new GCSE thresholds. Using the previous example, a student with a baseline of “Excellence” would be allocated a score of 9.  If the same student was assessed as achieving at the “Confident” threshold (allocated a score of 8), their achievement would be -1 for example. Slide9



There was wide support during the meeting for agreeing a set of common thresholds to be used by all subjects.  Ideas were then discussed in subsequent department meetings, prior to pooling them via subject leads using a padlet wall. thresholds consultation We then decided upon the following thresholds to be used in all subjects: agreed thresholds



We have since held the second of our curriculum conferences for mid-leaders.  In the next blog in this series, we will share our ideas on Designing a post-levels curriculum and assessment model from scratch, including more detail on:

  • why we are moving away from levels
  • suggestions on how to move from organising concepts to a lesson by lesson overview
  • curriculum planning tools that could be used to adopt a common planning framework

Bringing out the best in boys

Our keynote session for our January INSET day this year was delivered by our Head of Humanities, who has written this guest blog based on her presentation.

So, I seem to hear everywhere, all through my teaching career that ‘boys aren’t doing so well’, ‘why won’t the boys just do what the girls do’ and so the list go on…. What better way than to consider these gender learning differences than to apply a bit of sociological study and a bit of everyday hands on practice to understanding our boys.

Fast forward 12 years of pondering and research and I’m standing in front of my colleagues in my relatively new school praying that my research and boys learning experiments do not involve me doing anything involving ‘grannies and sucking eggs’.

To start then, warm up the crowd and get them thinking, what do we already know about our students? I have worked in leafy suburbs and the tough inner city (with an onsite police officer I may add) so let’s see what we know and what we expect. Getting staff to order these “students” based solely on gender and race starts the ball rolling regarding what we think, or what we think we think about our students and any stereotypes that we have.


Frantically organising the students, trying not to have any preconceived ideas or second guessing ourselves with our decisions, everyone has now ordered their students with regards to their achievement……. Nobody got it quite right. Some of us more surprised than others about who is statistically more likely to achieve by the end of secondary school. It did the trick though, it got us thinking. By the second task which involved guessing the time difference to predict the gender gap of reading, writing and attention span between boys and girls we were hooked……. There clearly is a difference, yet why and what are we going to do about it?


It’s easy to believe the hype, media do not help the case with our boys, are teachers guilty of the Pygmalion effect? Self-fulfilling prophecy? Possibly, but can we help it? Do we really realise the difference between boys and girls? The real difference?


It’s all well and good hearing all this research from my observations and some top notch sociologists and academics including Becky Francis and Lucinda Neall to name a few but what can we actually do with it? What is actually different about boys and girls, really?


On your feet…… This works well…..I’ve tried it and so have the department….. Routine breeds boredom…….. Just try this next slide and google ‘mission impossible timer‘ whilst you do it…… No words I can write here speak for the urgency and heart palpitations you will feel the need to complete these tasks! Competition, yes we know boys like this, however they also like excitement and purpose….the music adds to these tremendously!


If I had a pound for every time I heard ‘boys do not like writing’ or ‘boys won’t write anything’ I would be able to wear my ‘nice shoes for school’ and have more money to buy nicer ones for the weekends! Boys WILL write, they just need to see the point, try these:



Accelerated learning, we’ve heard it before, it works, try it….. Boys like to see the point, the point is not a secret, share their learning journey with them.


The last slide says it all. Boys were pushed to the front naturally, have we forgot about boys now that girls have become equals and there is an expectation that girls can do anything boys can do? Are our boys looking for their place again?


Good luck with our boys, this is the tip of the iceberg, mere toe dipping in the gender waters of learning…. But it’s a start and it’s something to try….. Have a go and get back to me I would love to hear your success stories and your ideas.