by Michael Dillon, Headteacher of Kew Riverside Primary School in Richmond, London.

On the face of it, the government’s rationale for change [i] is difficult to disagree with:

  • ongoing, teacher-led assessment is a crucial part of effective teaching,
  • schools should have the freedom to decide how to teach their curriculum and how to track the progress that pupils make,
  • both summative teacher assessment and external testing are important,
  • accountability is key to a successful school system, and therefore must be fair and transparent,
  • measures of both progress and attainment are important for understanding school performance, and,
  • a broad range of information should be published to help parents and the wider public know how well schools are performing.

As a Headteacher I would always support high expectations, setting targets, being accountable, having transparency and improving communication with parents. And it goes without saying that I always want to improve teaching and learning – for both teachers and children.

In my opinion, simply removing the National Curriculum levels will not necessarily achieve the desired goals listed above. There is a real danger that we will simply be replacing one arbitrary measure of achievement with another. And more importantly, unless we work together as a profession, valuable resources (time and money) will be wasted on inventing hundreds of different assessment frameworks that will not be valid or reliable.

The main issues I see at the moment are the sheer pace of change and the lack of information and advice available. The idea that Headteachers can introduce a new ‘reliable and valid’ assessment framework that will achieve the above outcomes, ready for September, from a practical perspective, is unachievable. The government only published its response to the consultation in March and therefore organisations such as the NAHT and CIEA are only just beginning to publish their advice and guidance now. Even the winners of the Assessment Innovation Fund have only just been announced with no indication of when their resources will  be published. And although Ofsted has not as yet formally responded to the consultation, we know that it has said [ii] it ‘will not endorse a particular model of assessment’ and that good schools:

  • always track progress
  • set targets
  • use formative and summative assessments

and assessment informs the quality of teaching and learning and progress of children.

As well as being Headteacher of a Primary School, I am also a Chartered Educational Assessor (CEA) and Chair my Local Authority’s working group on Assessment Beyond 2014.  Our advice to all local schools is clear – stay calm, share your ideas and strategies with us, wait for more information, and in the short term, keep levels!

In the meantime, the working group is investigating a range of best practice and different assessment frameworks and will recommend one system for all schools – which we hope they will all adopt. Colleagues have visited various ‘recommended’, leading schools, particularly South Farnham School and the Wroxham School.

Having met with the Executive Headteacher of The Wroxham School, Dame Alison Peacock (along with 15 other colleagues from Richmond and Kingston), I found her work on ‘Learning without Limits, No Levels’ very interesting and I saw some excellent examples of AfL practice.

As a working group we have been recommending that schools read the NAHT Assessment Commission Report as it offers a valuable insight to the changes afoot and provides some excellent advice and guidance, both in the UK and internationally.

We are keen as a group to ensure that we are taking the initiative and providing the whole community (schools and governors) with good quality, clear information. We are also keen that this will lead to a joined up approach going forward and all schools will adopt the same assessment framework. This will ensure standardisation and moderation and will result in reliable and valid data which can be used to support schools.

In my own school, I will be reviewing our Assessment Policy, following the NAHT principles, and again, focusing on good quality AfL strategies that support teaching and learning in the classroom, improve Leadership and Management and help to inform parents.  Here I will be going back (again!) to the work of Dylan Wiliam and Paul Black, but also using some of the ideas I have seen from Tim Oates (Cambridge Assessment), Dame Alison Peacock (The Wroxham School) and Andrew Carter, OBE (South Farnham School).

So what challenges do I envisage over the next 12 months? In school, the main challenge will be finding the time to implement the new regime, whilst also updating the curriculum, as well as doing the day job! These changes will also need to be clearly communicated to children, governors and parents.

With regards to the working group, our priority will be to publish our advice and ‘recommended’ assessment framework, with the hope that it will be adopted by colleagues and result in a unified roll out. Then it’s a simple matter of standardisation and moderation training!

Whilst it might seem difficult to see many opportunities arising from the changes, we are being given the opportunity to play a part in shaping an important aspect of the revised curriculum. Therefore, as a profession we need to take the lead and be prepared. My advice would be to stay calm, share your ideas and strategies with colleagues, wait for more information, and keep using levels (for the short term at least!).

Useful sources of information

[i] NAHT Course material – Meeting the Challenge of the new national curriculum and school accountability measures from September 2014.
Russell Clark & Mick Walker, May 2014.

[ii] Michael Wilshaw spoke about assessment in Jan 2014

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