Published on: 25 Sep 2015

This is the Government living up to its own promise to put control back in the hands of schools

What should we take away from the Assessment without Levels Commission report?

Greg Watson, Chief Executive, GL Assessment

As the dust settles on the Assessment without Levels Commission, I’ve been mulling over the main things we can take away from the report and the Government’s response.

There’s no going back

The big news is that we’re not getting levels back. The Commission has backed the original argument for getting rid of levels – too broad a categorisation to help every pupil and too easily misinterpreted. Anyone who has been waiting for levels to be restored now knows they have to tackle the challenge of ensuring pupil progress in a different way.

Similarly, those who have been using levels in all but name – Red/Amber/Green or similar – now also know that this doesn’t cut the mustard. The Commission has been pretty clear in its views on some of the ’Levels by Another Name’ solutions they have seen.

No Government prescription

If anyone thought that the DfE was going to step back in and publish its own framework or bless one particular approach as The Chosen One, that’s not going to happen either. But as ASCL’s Julie McCulloch says, “[The report] may not do the job for teachers, but it’s all the better for that.”

This is the Government living up to its own promise to put control back in the hands of schools. They have let the Commission set the principles and expectations, and the Commission has proposed additional support for schools, but they’re not diving back in and issuing a Big Book of Assessment that tells teachers what to do on the third Wednesday in September. It’s a big decision politically not to dive back in because of the initial uncertainty.

Giving schools a choice

The report acknowledges that there are a range of providers who are giving schools a choice and it provides some case studies of good practice. (You can see a few more here.) A range of suppliers – whether not-for-profit or for-profit –  are providing a whole range of tools for schools to choose from and schools can integrate tools from different sources to get the right answer for them.

The right conclusion - support

If you take it in the round, the report has come to the right overall conclusion. For this approach to work, and for schools to use the freedom they’ve got well, pretty much everyone in the system has to get more knowledgeable about – and skilful in – assessment. 

Assessment is a specialised area. Different kinds of assessment do different things and integrating them takes time. It’s as easy to do too much as too little, and assessment is only ever as useful as the action taken based on the information generated.

The report provides some good suggestions on how schools should define their strategy. One of the great positives of the report is the promise of training programmes, CPD, and a greater emphasis on assessment in Initial Teacher Training.

If you have a diversity of options and schools who are really skilled at asking the right questions, we will get everything that life after levels should be delivering:  the best approaches will win out, no-one will have a monopoly on The Right Answer (certainly not the DfE), and schools will have the information they need to achieve progress for every child.

You can follow Greg on Twitter @Greg_GL_Assess

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