Last reviewed 25 May 2015

Following the abolition of National Curriculum levels, schools have to radically rethink how they monitor the progress of individual pupils. In conjunction with the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), Capita SIMS brought together 25 school leaders in a workshop to ask them how they are tackling life after levels. In this article, Graham Cooper, Head of product strategy at Capita SIMS, rounds up the key points from the day.

Data for assessment — times are changing

The removal of National Curriculum levels has marked a new era in the way that schools monitor their pupils’ progress. The senior leaders we spoke to gave a strong indication that schools are at different points in navigating through the new world of pupil assessment.

Some in the room spoke about how their schools had grasped the opportunity to adopt their own processes for assessing progress.

The majority of attendees, however, indicated that they wanted to wait and see what systems other schools were planning to implement and what methods would prove most effective before changing the way they currently do things.

Smoothing the transition

One major post-levels concern shared by many schools was the challenge of knowing how a pupil is performing as they transfer from primary into secondary education.

In a world where feeder schools could be using an array of different methods to assess their pupils’ achievement, senior leaders highlighted the importance of understanding what stage a pupil was at in their learning when they arrive in their new school.

A number of schools spoke about the important work they were doing with local primaries and academies in their area, to iron out transfer issues and take a more joined-up approach.

In many cases, secondary Heads felt the need to carry out an additional assessment of all new pupils. This was seen as crucial to getting an accurate baseline for effectively tracking progress and demonstrating the value the school had added to their learning.

Keeping parents engaged

A number of school leaders spoke about the importance of ensuring both parents and the pupils themselves understood the school’s new approach to assessment. There was broad agreement that this was crucial to keeping parents engaged and motivating pupils to achieve more.

Many schools were keen to involve parents and pupils in the decision-making process so they could play a role in shaping new methods.

Others invested a lot of time into ensuring pupils and their families had a clear understanding of the system being used and what it meant to them.

The discussion highlighted another advantage of having a standardised approach within a geographical area, as families with children in different schools would find it much easier to ascertain how they are progressing.

Increased workload

There was concern among attendees about the increased workload that could result from life without levels. School leaders were worried that more data inputting might be required, which may not necessarily result in a clearer picture of how pupils are actually doing.

With the continuing requirement to ensure different stakeholders have access to the information they need — from teachers to heads of year, governors and parents — there was some apprehension around how this could be managed simply.

Senior staff talked about their desire to ensure that the tools available in their management information systems (MIS) were being used to full effect to support greater efficiency in managing assessment.

It was recognised that time could be saved for staff if systems enabled assessment data to be brought in electronically from primary schools, for example.

More effective tracking of achievement would also be possible if data could be displayed simply, on systems that were easy to use.

Demanding more from technology

Overall, Heads wanted an MIS to be flexible enough to meet their school’s individual requirements. A geography teacher talked about using terms such as “foothills, base camp and summit” to describe pupils’ progress, for example. It was important for him that this terminology could be reflected in the MIS.

There was some discussion around what type of data would be valuable to record. A number of leaders indicated that Attainment/Progress 8 comparisons would be important indicators of achievement for their schools.

Attendees felt that regardless of the assessment approach schools take, it was vital to drive higher expectations in Year 7 and 8. For some schools, Fischer Family Trust data was important for achieving this. Others were using grade descriptors for specific subject areas. But many schools felt there was a need for a “level”/ equivalent GCSE grade by the end of Year 8.

Conclusion

There was widespread recognition that it will not be until 2023 that the first pupils without levels complete their secondary school education and the first comparable data will become available. This highlighted the need for assessment methods to be introduced that are fit for purpose, meet pupils’ needs and provide an accurate reflection of the progress they are making.

In this new era, senior leaders agreed that data was becoming increasingly important in the drive to boost pupils’ achievement in school. Understanding what stage they are at in their learning as they move from primary into secondary school was seen as mission-critical. School leaders wanted to ensure the technology they use supports staff in accurately tracking progress, both efficiently and effectively.

All attendees at the workshop recognised that a one-size-fits-all approach to assessment simply will not do. They were emphatic about technology needing to be flexible enough to meet the changing needs of their pupils, parents and staff, rather than having to adjust the way they do things to suit the IT.

Regardless of the changes that have already been introduced in schools — or those yet to come — that message will remain at the heart of education.

We would like to thank our partners, ASCL, for supporting this event and extend our thanks to the school leaders who took the time out to contribute to the discussions.