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Profession takes lead on assessment after the end of levels

School leaders’ union NAHT has released the findings of its commission into school assessment today (Thursday 13 February).

The commission aimed to establish some national principles for assessment in schools to preserve consistency in the absence of a government-approved system of levels. 

NAHT has always acknowledged that levels had weaknesses but believes they were useful in providing a shared professional language for measuring pupil achievement and in promoting consistency between schools. They enabled schools to rate pupils against objective criteria rather than ranking them against each other. However, the association also believes that their demise creates an opportunity as well as a challenge. 

 The NAHT Commission into Assessment without Levels chaired by Lord Sutherland of Houndwood (a former chief inspector of schools) brought together head teachers, academics and representatives from relevant agencies including the schools’ inspectorate, Ofsted, the Department for Education, and the exam regulator, Ofqual.

 The commission and its panel sat several times in autumn last year (2013). Its remit was to:

  • Establish a key set of principles for good assessment;
  • Find examples of current best practice that met these principles;
  • Secure confidence in these principles in those who hold schools to account.

Key recommendations announced by Lord Sutherland today included: 

  • Schools should adopt a consistent approach to assessment across the country. The commission also produced a 'design checklist' to underpin this;
  • Schools should retain the use of levels while designing a new system;
  • Pupils should be judged against objective criteria rather than ranked against each other;
  • All assessments need external moderation and that this moderation needs real teeth;
  • Assessment should be driven from the curriculum. 

Russell Hobby, general secretary of NAHT, said: “We must take the Secretary of State at his word and take ownership of assessment. Just because the government ceases to regulate something does not mean the profession must accept fragmentation. We can keep what was good about our previous system of assessment and address its flaws. 

"The commission has taken a great deal of evidence, thought deeply about what might work and proposed a set of principles that can ensure consistency without straight-jacketing schools. As the body representing the majority of head teachers, NAHT is in a strong position to encourage and support schools in this approach. 

 "We call on those who hold schools to account, both locally and nationally, to send a clear signal that schools working within these principles will be doing the right thing. This will provide the confidence for a flourishing of assessment practice and creativity. Assessment, after all, belongs at the heart of teaching and learning."

 Lord Sutherland said: “It is essential that everyone involved in education – not least pupils and their families - has confidence in the methods used to assess pupil performance. While there is much more still to do, the NAHT commission will have made a critical start in shaping a robust assessment system in the future.” 

 Education Secretary Michael Gove said: “The NAHT’s report gives practical, helpful ideas to schools preparing for the removal of levels.

 “It also encourages them to make the most of the freedom they now have to develop innovative approaches to assessment that meet the needs of pupils and give far more useful information to parents.”

First published 08 February 2018