Free article: Unlocking the assessment conundrum

Published: Monday, 18 April 2016

Rachael Marshman discusses the changing assessment landscape and examines what schools should consider when designing a new assessment system.


  • Schools need to have an effective assessment framework that enhances teaching and learning.
  • Ofsted will be looking at how the school's assessment model meets pupils' needs, and schools need to differentiate between pupils of different abilities.
  • Data can help identify pupils' strengths and weaknesses to drive whole-school improvement and help improve the quality of teaching.
  • A management information system (MIS) can be used to record and analyse the data being gathered on pupil progress.

It is three years since the Department for Education (DfE) announced that national curriculum levels were to be removed.

While the assessment reforms have meant a significant change for schools, many headteachers have seen them as an opportunity to cultivate a meaningful curriculum and develop an assessment practice that suits their school's specific requirements.

So, now that schools can teach the curriculum however they choose and develop their own assessment arrangements, how are they managing this new freedom? And what help is available to them?

Good practice

Senior leadership teams are increasingly seeking guidance from specialist educational organisations and other schools that have taken the plunge and are assessing effectively without levels.

There have been a number of reports published by organisations such as the Association of School and College Leaders and the National College for Teaching, which set out recommended methods of good practice that can help schools devise their own assessment tracking systems.

In my view, the reports tend to agree on a number of key factors. These are that:

  • assessment should be driven by the curriculum
  • data can help identify pupils' strengths and weaknesses to drive whole-school improvement
  • schools need to ensure that they differentiate between pupils of different abilities
  • effective assessment can help improve the quality of teaching
  • meaningful tracking should inform decision making.

The reports highlight a number of areas that I believe senior leaders need to bear in mind when developing an alternative assessment model.

An effective assessment model

Senior leaders recognise the need for an effective assessment framework that enhances teaching and learning. With Ofsted keen to see how well schools are responding to national curriculum changes, headteachers will also want to be able to demonstrate that their assessment model meets pupils' needs as part of an inspection.

Key to achieving these objectives is the ability of schools to capture information on what pupils have learnt in a way that allows them to see clearly whether they are on track to meet expectations at the end of the key stage. By making good use of information, schools can demonstrate exactly what skills a pupil has developed and show that teachers know what needs to be done to boost their progress.

One way senior leaders can simplify the entire process is by enabling staff to use the tools available in their management information system (MIS) to record and analyse the data being gathered on pupil progress. Staff should be able to extract all the information they need quickly and easily.

Many MIS solutions allow teachers to record and access marks awarded to a pupil for work completed during a lesson or at home, in any subject, and link these to specific statements within the national curriculum. They can also enter summative judgements, such as test results, to indicate which phase of the curriculum pupils are working within. But managing assessment in this way has other advantages too.

Easy access to information

Being able to access information on pupil progress helps teachers to evaluate how well pupils are doing against age-related expectations. It also makes it easier for them to identify those who are falling behind in their learning or need additional support to reach their full potential, including the most able pupils. Demonstrating the progress of individuals and groups is key to a successful Ofsted inspection.

Another benefit of enabling teachers to record achievement electronically is that authorised staff across the school can instantly see how a class or an individual pupil is performing at any one time. This means interventions can be put in place quickly to address any issues that arise, and schools can ensure that no child is left behind.

During an inspection, data can be retrieved in a few taps too, providing evidence that staff are aware of any concerns raised and that pupils are receiving the additional help they may require. But there is a growing need to share information on children's progress beyond the school gates.

Guidance issued by Ofsted following the removal of national curriculum levels called for schools to keep parents and pupils themselves regularly updated on the progress they are making. Using an MIS, teachers can easily show how a child's attainment compares with their progress against both end-of-year expectations and those set by the school for each term. Individual pupil reports can be generated quickly too, and many schools share these regularly with parents and pupils.

In some schools, achievement information is made available to parents online, so they can see the exact skills their child has been working on, as well as any areas of weakness, from any internet-connected device. This ensures that parents are part of the learning process, and can support their child outside school.

Another area of interest to Ofsted inspectors is teachers using data well. Inspectors will want to see that teachers know and understand the status of all the children in their class and are tailoring their teaching accordingly.

Information at their fingertips

As schools begin to develop their own curriculum, technology will help support the freedoms they now have to assess their pupils however they choose by providing an effective attainment and progress-tracking solution.

A school's MIS houses the latest information, which teachers can access in the classroom, on their laptop or tablet. The data helps teachers monitor improvements in every class and spot potential issues as soon as they arise, so it is important for them to have it at their fingertips.

In a world beyond levels, schools are increasingly embracing the freedom they have to design an assessment system that meets the needs of their teachers, pupils and parents. With the knowledge and experience of schools that have already transformed the way they monitor learning progress, and good use of technology at its heart, schools will be better placed to ensure that their new approach to assessment supports every child in fulfilling their potential.

Further information

About the author

Rachael Marshman is a product manager at Capita SIMS with an expertise in assessment. Rachael previously worked as a school support officer within the London Borough of Merton's school improvement department.

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