Why you need to read the final report of the commission for assessment without levels


Only a few days ago the Commission for assessment without levels published its final report.  I’ve written recently about assessment without levels and I know schools are struggling to come to terms with the next steps.

I would suggest that teachers at all levels read the report, because replacing levels is going to require a system that works from teachers at the chalkface, through middle leaders and up to school leaders.  There is much in the report to take on board.

At the heart of the report is the notion that whatever replaces NC levels is a new system and not just a replacement for levels in all but name.  It is a little disingenuous to suggest that despite being intended only for use in statutory national assessment that too frequently they were used for in-school assessment. I daresay that every teacher who reads this post could tell you a story of Ofsted coming in and expecting to see this, and despite the report assuring us that Ofsted is only one part of the national accountability framework, we know they are the one that wields the most power.

The report goes on to say that too often levels became focussed on thresholds and getting students through them.  With government policies like the catchup premium it isn’t fair to pin this blame on schools – and this legacy will live on through the inspection of impact of this money.

There are lots of points in the report that teachers will agree with:

  • The use of formative assessment and the clarification that formative assessment as a teacher intervention does not necessarily have to be recorded.
  • That your assessment policy should be clear that data should only be collected where necessary and ensuring effective communication of outcomes to stakeholders.
  • The commission observed that most teachers found data entry and management burdensome and time spent that could otherwise have been used in the classroom.
  • Schools should not devise a system that they think inspectors will want to see but instead should have one that works to support the achievement of pupils.
  • Assessment should be inclusive of all abilities (it’s a pity that Ofqual didn’t hear this advice when they came up with the new 1-9 GCSE grading system)
  • Levelled pieces of work are not good practice and the award of these levels subjective and open to interpretation.
  • Levels should not have dominated lesson planning and their use in discussion with pupils/parents/carers could lead to a mind-set of fixed ability.
  • The report includes a page [p17]on mastery (which is proving to be a definition many are having to get to grips with for their assessment systems) and is worth a read.
  • The report is clear about the distinction between assessment for formative purposes and in-school summative assessment and the need to make sure that the primary purpose of assessment is not distorted by using it for multiple purposes.
  • “Measuring pupils’ progress over a short period is unlikely to be helpful or reliable and it should, therefore, not be necessary to conduct and record in-school summative assessment for monitoring progress more than once a term. Ofsted does not require progress to be recorded with any particular frequency”

I would be interested to hear about examples from schools who are ahead of the game and have a system that meets (or perhaps doesn’t meet) the aims of the commission.  Please feel free to leave comments below (you don’t have to sign in or register to post)


Assessment without levels – where are you now?

Along with the new National Curriculum came the news that the levels were to be no more.  Of course we know that they were far from perfect, but many teachers have known nothing else and the thought of replacing them with something unknown strike fear into the hearts of the most experienced teacher.

Last year we decided to stick with national curriculum levels while we investigated a replacement.  I had a good idea what I wanted my assessment structure to look like (based on ideas from Activate in science) but life is rarely that simple.

We wanted a system that looked similar across the school, and then we had an additional consideration – we needed a structure that worked across the whole of the trust.  That is a system that worked across a mainstream secondary and secondary special school, with the possibility of working with a mainstream primary school as well.  On top of this we need a system that allows progress to be rigorously tracked and analysis of data to be done.

I recently received an email from Capita with the following infographic.


The infographic paints a depressing picture and it shows that schools have had difficulty making use of the new freedoms given to them by the government.   I’d guess that other schools have been faced with many of the same considerations that we have (the phrasing of the questions suggest that this data doesn’t include academies)

During the summer term we decided to buy into the system that Capita had developed to run in SIMS.  We played with the primary version but were waiting for the secondary version to be released to see what that looks like.

I paid more attention to the science system than maths and English since that affects me directly as a science teacher.  The primary science system has a bank of statements that teachers made a judgement against, with 4 different grades.  It will be interesting to see what the secondary science system looks like where the content is less tightly prescribed by year group.  What seems evident at the moment is that assessment windows will have to be looser with teachers inputting data when appropriate rather than at tracking windows, and that a lot more data will be collected (rather than a single level and a prediction).  Of course SIMS will do some computational magic and turn our statements into a numerical value that we can do whole school analyses with.

I’d be interested to see where other schools are up to at implementing a system to replace national curriculum levels.  Please leave a comment below

Nicky Morgan wants to ban work emails after 5pm

In an article in the Telegraph today the education secretary Nicky Morgan referred to the excessive workload that is starting to affect recruitment and retention of teachers.  The message the newspaper chose to focus on was the suggestion that teachers should not be answering emails or marking work after 5pm.


Unfortunately cutting out emails isn’t going to make much difference but she touched upon something that could.  Nicky referred to sharing planning as a way to reduce workload.  Of course teachers will always have to adapt plans to suit the needs of an individual group but it is the idea of working smart where she hits the mark.

Working smart

Be organised.  This sounds like a given but I spent years as an AST working with failing teachers and one of the traits they had in common was an inability to manage their time and workloads.

Bin paperwork – be paperless as far as possible. Store worksheets and marks electronically. Share these with colleagues and use them as a starting point for future lessons.

Plan smart – use peer assessment, self marking and computer marking to help reduce your workload.  Create a departmental marking policy that works to maximise impact rather than trying to tick boxes for Ofsted.  Unfortunately marking is coming under more scrutiny as Ofsted look for effectiveness of teaching over time.  Keep comments brief and give students opportunity to respond to marking – and mark this on the next cycle.  It might sound onerous but it can work to reduce workload once students are trained.

To do lists are closely related to planning.  I keep mine in Outlook – I use tasks and I flag emails for follow-up.  I can access this list wherever I am.  Different people use different systems but find something that works for you.

Have a structure – whether it be for paperwork (I’m probably about 90% paper-free now) or for the files on your computer.  Don’t just drop files on the desktop – it’s easy at the time but you will want them later.

Embrace technology – most teachers use technology now to create worksheets and resources, but create lesson plans electronically. Reuse and share them. I plan on my Outlook calendar – easy to share if I’m out of school as well. Create your diary online and calendar your planning and marking.  Rota in which class books you will mark and when.  SIMS (or your MIS) is your friend – use it to your advantage to log positive and negative behaviour, communication with parents etc.

Be disciplined.  I dread to think of how many hours over the year I’ve spent in the prep room or the staff room chatting.  This has a valuable function in keeping stress levels down, but an hour of PPA time spent marking is an hour earlier you can stop work that evening.

Work as a team.  Primary schools embraced joint planning years ago, secondary schools are starting to catch up with this now.  Divide the workload and spread it out.  Make sure all members of the team are clear in their expectations and responsibilities – for example knowing the deadlines for writing a unit of work and where to save it on the server when done.

Delegate tasks and responsibilities.  Ask the TA with the group to phone a parent and log the call, or ask trusted students to straighten the room at the end of the lesson.  Ask your team members for help with generating ideas, but don’t take on work that isn’t yours.

Learn when to say no and be assertive.  Don’t be afraid to say “I’m sorry I can’t do this tonight – I don’t have time”.  You could follow that up with a comment like “but I’ll have it done before the weekend”.  This also applies to needless paperwork and planning.

Work life balance.  It has been said that you should work to live, not live to work. Whilst teachers love their jobs (or the ones that stay in the profession do!) there is more to life that school.  Switch off, relax and do something else.  I have a long drive that acts as a buffer zone between home and school, and a dog that needs a lot of walking.

There is a lot that teachers can do to help themselves, but we have to accept that teaching isn’t a 9-5 job.  Those that manage to fit their work into those hours are either not doing everything they should or have an alternative career as a time management consultant ahead of them should they tire of teaching.

Have you any suggestions for reducing teacher workload?  Please leave a comment below.

How to make your Science class more exciting?

This is a guest post.  Please use the contact me section at the top of the page if you are interested in writing for fiendishlyclever.

One of the most common problems educators face, especially when dealing with younger students, is how to make their classes more exciting and fun? In a post by the Daily Mail, a member of parliament, said in a press conference that science has become boring, which makes student disinterested when it comes to the subject. However, a change in the curriculum is expected soon to encourage more students to join STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) professions, especially concerning females. But, how can do you transform your Science class into an interactive and fun environment? In this post, we will show you three effective ways on how you can innovate your class.

Go out and explore
The best Science lessons are taught by encompassing the outside environment for a change of scenery. Encourage your class to explore outside the four corners of your classroom and maximize all the resources. Set up a field trip if necessary and visit the nearest Science museum in your area.

Click here to view the top Science museums in the United States.

If your school has a well-preserved garden or located near a park, you can take your class there and take photos of various plants and flowers, animals, and insects.At the end of the day, you should expect your students to be filled with stories that they want to share and discuss with other students, which is a good interactive way to get their attention.

Flip the classroom
A new type of a blended learning strategy has been introduced recently to educators, which is called the Flipped Classroom experience. It is the process wherein it reverses the traditional educational procedure by providing learning materials to students for them to watch or read at home, then they will be engaged in an activity related to the topic when they get back in class the next day.

In a traditional classroom model, the instructor is the central focus of the discussion where they discuss and respond to the questions of the students. However, with the flipped classroom it is more learner-centred, in which students are provided with the learning materials which they will discuss the next day while the educators administers the activities, either a debate, experiment, seatwork, etc.

Maximize smartphones and apps
With the increase in the consumption of online resources and ownership of mobile devices by students, it is forecasted that smartphones and tablets will continue to be significant technologies in the classroom. A study by McGraw-Hill Education reported that from 2013 to 2014, college students using mobile devices to study rose to an unprecedented 81%, which is expected to climb higher in the coming years. Smartphones, in particular, appear to be more convenient to students as it allows them to make and receive calls and texts, while accessing apps and online references from a single device. Today’s handsets are highly powerful, too, such as the iPhone 6 and the Galaxy S6. The former, based on a feature post by O2, has a huge screen at 4.7-inches, with 64-bit processing power, and a battery life that can last for up to 24 hours – making this handset one of the ideal smartphones for students and even educators on the go.

Smartphones also offer professors and students a convenient way to collaborate even while on the go, via video conferencing apps such as Google Hangout or Skype, and via cloud storages such as the Google Drive, the Skydrive, or the Dropbox. There are also apps that can help make your class more interesting.

• Video Science is a collection of videos by science educator and adviser Dan Menelly that runs from 2 to 3 minutes.
• Moon Globe HD allows your class to view 3D high definition photos of the moon from your location, and even interact with it virtually by spinning the digital moon on the screen while exploring every nook and crater.
• Frog Dissection is an app that allows students to virtually dissect a frog via their device by following a step by step instruction of the voice-over.
• Science360 is an interactive app for iPad users that presents mosaic images of various topics and branches of science with stories and discussions.

If you want to view more applications that you can maximize in class, here is a list of the best STEM apps for teaching.

Turning Science into a fun subject depends on the educators’ capability to adapt to changes and find innovative ways on how to capture modern students’ attention. It will be helpful to have an open discussion with your class to gather their ideas on what they expect to learn from your Science class, then apply those ideas to your curriculum this school term. How do you turn your Science class into an interactive one?

Assessment without levels



National Curriculum levels were consigned to the history books last September or so was the intention of the government when it launched its new curriculum.  I’ve been in contact with science teachers all over the country and most are still gathering information about what assessment should look like and formulating a way forward.

I’ve attended CPD events and read articles and blog posts in an attempt to see what everyone else is planning and to make sure I’m on the right track.  The change is so fundamental to everything we do as science teachers that we want to make sure that we are on the right track.

We’ve known that levels have had their faults for years.   We know that schools place more emphasis on their worth than they should.  We know that they can stigmatise children who compare their levels to friends and family.  We know that progression doesn’t always happen in a linear way through the national curriculum levels (or through sub-levels if you use PIVATS and B-Squared in special schools).   Students are expected to make a certain number of levels of progress over a key stage and are tested over and over again (tracking and assessment windows anyone?) to make sure they are on target.

So what comes next?

We’ve been discussing quality assessment within our regional committee for the ASE for several months now.  Models used by members within the committee have a similar feel although the language differs between them.  Some schools have three tiers, some four etc which replace the old levels.  An example is given below

Competencies Embryonic/ Developing Achieving (expected) Exceeding


Other professionals use language like beginning, developing, enhancing crafting, crafting, perfecting, mastering and so on.

The idea is simple – you develop (although let us be honest, most schools will be looking for a system to adopt from outside) a system where for each topic/lesson teachers have identified what students will be expected to achieve and worked backwards/forwards from this point.  Of course having a set of statements is only the beginning of the journey, using them for formative and summative assessment will take a little more time to get right.

Sticking with the old national curriculum levels is fine for now but long term is likely to be considered bad practice.  They are likely to be a starting point in developing a new system that better reflects the new national curriculum.

As a school leader I have a new set of questions that come up every time I think of assessment.

Tracking over the key stage – will we expect set targets based on the targets (for example 80% of students reaching the expected standard).  Will we track individuals towards their target like we do now?  How will we track progress towards the target (hopefully sublevels are well and truly dead).

Comparability with other subjects – will we easily be able to compare science with other subjects to see how students are doing (or if we can’t do this does it matter that we can’t?)

Ofsted – what will they be expecting to see and will inspectors have been trained on the changes? I know some have been asking questions about assessment and levels since they stopped being statutory.

How will our system compare to mainstream schools – very few of our students may make expected progress and we don’t want to create a system that is as demotivating as what we have now.  It also needs to be appropriate for groups of students that span a wide range of levels under NC levels.

So where are we now?

I’m still gathering my thoughts and doing my research.  I know that Activate (the scheme of work I’ve bought in as a starting point) has started moving in the right direction but I’d be interested to hear from those that are further along the journey than I am.  Hopefully I’ll manage to get my head around assessment at KS3 before the changes to GCSE come in and that changes too!

a reminder: how to request your observation notes from Ofsted

I recently wrote some posts about requesting your evidence forms from Ofsted.  One of the benefits of being in special measures is that you get plenty of attention from Ofsted.


Despite having been jointly observed and receiving feedback by my head, I still wanted to see my observation notes and what had been written about my lesson.  I’ve attached a copy of the feedback (part of a section 8 monitoring visit) so you can see what you get back.

S5 evidence form

All it takes is a quick email:

The address you need to use is ‘informationrequest@ofsted.gov.uk
The email I sent is below – I included a scanned copy of my driving licence
I would like to request a copy of the S5 evidence forms completed during the recent section 8 monitoring inspection of my school.  Hopefully the information below will help you to identify the forms in question.
Home address
Contact number
Date of lesson
Time of lesson
Year group
Name of inspector
Details of lesson content
I’d be interested to hear from other people that have requested their observation notes like me :)


Free science literacy resources from the author of William’s Words in Science

IWWcells‘ve written before about William’s Words in Science (here) and his resources for cells (here) and food/digestion (here).  While at was at the ASE annual conference last month I met the author, Dr William Hirst in person.  I was pleased to see him selling his excellent resources at his stand, and more importantly I was pleased to see other people buying them.  If you haven’t seen his resources, read my reviews linked above and visit William’s site (if you buy anything, be sure to tell him I sent you – note I don’t receive any commission or financial kickback, I just happen to rate his resources!)

More importantly while I was at his stand I discovered that William has many free resources that are available for any one to download from his site.  These resources showcase the strategies that are used in his books and can be used to drop into your lessons.  I would like to hope that some of my readers will try the resources and feed back to William (contact details are available on his site).

If you want an idea of what is available, William gave me permission to host a selection of these resources here – alternatively bookmark his site which will be updated more often than this blogpost.

Williams Word Games in Science