Assessing without levels in secondary schools
‘Who’s in panic?’ The raised hands that greeted this opening question from Jason Tudor showed exactly why teachers chose to attend our conference on Secondary Assessment after Levels on the 16th October. In Ofsted’s words, assessment is now a school-led system: without levels, schools’ assessment methods are more than ever their own responsibilities. A frightening prospect – but also, as speakers throughout the day showed, an exhilarating opportunity. Curriculum reforms and Progress 8 will radically change the decisions teachers make. In the second keynote of the day, Harriet Becher of the DfE got down to business, talking through the practicalities of the new arrangements. Clarifying that a ‘4’ in the new GCSE is roughly equivalent to the old ‘C’, while the phasing of changes means that the new English and Maths will be taught first, she reminded us of the importance of keeping the key changes in mind amidst reforms. Speaking next, Chris Hildrew of Chew Valley injected a real sense of excitement about what the lack of levels might mean. Drawing on Dweck’s excellent research on growth mindsets, Chew Valley’s new assessment model encourages student aspiration and deliberately avoids setting limits on attainment. Chris demonstrated that assessment reform can be a real chance to innovate.
Streamed sessions offered a fantastic opportunity to see some of these ideas in practice. At Jason Tudor’s Archway School grades are progress-focused and linked to specific written criteria so that students and parents know exactly what they need to improve. Ben Solly took us through the ins and outs of calculating Progress 8, while Jo Smith showed us how to plan for those changes. Assessing without levels is a daunting prospect for many schools. Ofsted, however, will be looking for schools to have thought creatively and comprehensively about how they assess. This conference offered some excellent starting points to help teachers view that as an opportunity as well as a challenge.