39.National curriculum levels were removed following the recommendations from the Expert Panel for the National Curriculum review and from the Commission on Assessment without Levels. Schools have faced the considerable challenge of replacing this system, which has been in place in some form since 1991, with new assessment systems to suit their school and their curriculum. Statutory assessments are only able to sample a small range of the curriculum and it is important that schools are supported to develop effective ongoing assessment systems.
40.Many teachers who gave evidence to our inquiry supported the removal of levels due to the negative impact of levels on teaching and learning. The Department decided to remove levels because “[levels] had been too often viewed as thresholds, with teaching focused on getting pupils across the next threshold with undue pace and progression”.
41.However, many teachers and senior leaders feel that the aims of removing levels have not been realised, as stated by Alex Gingell, a deputy headteacher:
Life without levels was an exciting opportunity to do something different [ … ] we had an amazing opportunity to innovate in terms of learning and in terms of assessment. What did not happen is I don’t think there was enough support given from above, from DfE, and it was up to schools to go and identify what they wanted to do.
42.Dr Becky Allen told us that “we do not have a system of training for teachers that makes them in any way experts in assessment”. Ofsted found that this has led to a very mixed picture across the country with one in three schools only at the early stage of developing a system for ‘life after levels’. Some schools resorted to buying commercial options of varying quality, as described by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers:
ATL is concerned about several dubious “solutions” commercially available to schools which do not offer value for money or a high-quality assessment framework.
43.The Government does not seem to have appreciated the scale of the change that removing levels represented for most primary schools, and needed to offer much more continuous support and training. School autonomy and increased flexibility is one aim of the removal of levels, but research shows that when the results of statutory assessment are still closely linked to accountability measures, teachers need support and training alongside autonomy.
44.We have heard of a range of suggestions to improve the support and training offered to schools. Michael Tidd, a deputy headteacher, suggested a more comprehensive ‘item bank’ of assessment tools for internal, formative assessment. Professor Rob Coe, Durham University, suggested ongoing assessment training should take place through continuing professional development (CPD) as Initial Teacher Education (ITE) already had limited available time.
45.In its consultation on the Rochford review recommendations, the Department proposes introducing interim teacher assessment frameworks for pupils working below the standard of national curriculum tests. This may require further changes to a school’s assessment procedures, and further training for teachers. The Rochford review called for:
Initial Teacher Training (ITT) and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for staff in educational settings [to] reflect the need for teachers to have a greater understanding of assessing pupils working below the standard of national curriculum tests, including those pupils with SEND who are not engaged in subject-specific learning.
46.The Minister and the STA told us that they were concerned by poor quality commercial solutions, and were currently working on an item bank for schools. In our report on the recruitment and retention of teachers, we called on the Government to support all teachers to have an entitlement to continuing professional development, and this should include assessment training.
47.National curriculum levels were removed without enough support in place for schools to implement their own assessment systems successfully. Many schools have now adopted ineffective assessment systems.
48.Professional development training on effective assessment procedures should be carried out by senior leaders and classroom teachers after ITE. This should include assessment for pupils working below the standard of national curriculum assessments. The Government should provide adequate resource for this training as part of its commitment to continuing professional development.
49.The availability of more high quality advice and guidance would mitigate the risk of schools purchasing low-quality assessment systems from commercial providers. The Government must make that advice and guidance available. This could include a more developed ‘item bank’ of case studies, professional development training, guidance on good assessment and links to research into effective assessment.
42 Department for Education () para 35
46 Association of Teachers and Lecturers () para 26
47 Christopher DeLuca and Sandra Johnson, “Developing assessment capable teachers in this age of accountability”, Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, vol. 24 (2017), pp 121–126
50 Department for Education and Standards & Testing Agency, , launch date 30 March 2017, closing date 22 June 2017, p 8
52 Qq 183, 184, 218
28 April 2017