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Life after levels - what next?

Robin Hunt looks at the results of Scholastic's report on assessment and progress

Posted by Stephanie Broad | September 26, 2016 | Teaching

Our ‘Life after levels – what next?’ report provides new and welcome insight into how schools are delivering effective assessment and tracking pupil progress at Key Stage 3 following the end of attainment levels. 

The report, which is based on in-depth interviews with multi-academy trust and school leaders and a survey of 122 secondary schools by Scholastic, explores how the teaching profession has responded to the challenge of developing its own methods for measuring attainment and progress in years seven to nine, the crucial pre-GCSE years. 

We found that whilst schools are generally united in their view that what levels had become was not fit for purpose and change was needed, there has been little guidance for schools in identifying alternatives to levels and on what they report to pupils, parents and regulators.

There is currently no definitive approach that schools are taking in response – some have developed their own systems, many are continuing with levels under other names, whilst others are still unsure of their plan. 

As a result, the lack of a standard system within schools and between schools is expected to create problems around national benchmarking and for pupils and teachers moving between schools operating different systems.

The issues of effective entry baseline assessment into year seven and lack of clarity around new GCSE grades are cited as major related concerns for secondary schools which are hampering their efforts to find a definitive solution. 

Worryingly our survey found that, as recently as March 2016, 49% of schools were still unsure about their plan for tracking progress in KS3. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you are a multi-academy trust, a standalone academy, or a state school. The issues being experienced appear common to the sector as a whole.

These problems are not being reported, and because of the perceived lack of guidance schools are spending an awful lot of time and money on trying to find a solution, which is causing a great deal of frustration among teachers. 

The report does highlight some good practice to build on – but there is still work to be done as a sector. It varies greatly how effective secondary schools are in benchmarking new pupils in year seven and measuring progress in years seven to nine. 

We have developed a potential solution in partnership with Darrick Wood School in Orpington. STEPS (Strategic Targets for Educational Progress and Success) is a standard key stage three assessment and progress monitoring, tracking and reporting programme which is now available for other secondary schools to use.

STEPS is a simple grid and a progressive set of attainment targets that present challenge at all levels of ability throughout Key Stage 3. The grids are broken down into subject ‘Strands’ and then ‘Steps’ which means pupils can make fine levels of progress and teachers can create incremental, personalised targets based on assessment throughout Key Stage 3. It also provides crucial baseline assessment tests. 

The real value of our insight report is it draws attention to the issues that schools have faced, and in many cases are still facing, in the transition from levels to a new framework and provides clear guidance on where schools need support in delivery going forward. Now we must deliver that support. 

The reality is that whatever the ultimate answer is to ‘life after levels’, including our own solution at Scholastic, we will not have a true picture about whether any of these are truly successful until pupils have a gone through the new system and completed their GCSEs. 

But what schools are looking for is confidence that any new system will not disappear overnight and have shown that our system is effective – it measures progress and assessment simultaneously, and creates easily understandable data and a structure for teaching.

Robin Hunt is Publishing Director at Scholastic. Read Life after levels – what next? at www.scholastic.co.uk/ks3

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