The 8 systems recommended by the DfE to replace levels – and the one that got away

In December 2013, the Department for Education launched a competition for schools to design a new assessment system to replace levels. The winners would each get £10,000 to develop their idea. Initially, nine winners were chosen, but only eight were eventually announced. Why? Sam Hunter, headteacher of the school behind the “missing winner” – Hiltingbury Junior School in Hampshire – tells her story.

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The deal with the winning schools was that their system would become open-source for all other schools to use for free, which was great. Unfortunately, that meant any company could use the materials and then charge schools. In addition, we would have no chance to “quality control” how our system would be used, yet our name would be attached to it.

So, we withdrew. I am now used to being “the ninth school” – it almost has a hint of notoriety about it.

Although we did not take the grant money from the Assessment Innovation Award, we achieved all that we had set out to by sharing our Learning Ladders approach to assessment without levels with other schools. We believe about 6,000 are currently using it.

Although it has certainly been a challenge to create and then adapt a new system, it has given our school an incredible opportunity to unpick what we mean by assessment, why we do it and how we want to do it.

Our aim has been to ensure that our pupils remain at the heart of what we do. Their Ladders booklets help them to consider targets, celebrate achievement and plan their own next steps. Having said that, their journey is certainly not linear and they jump between ladders and rungs fluidly and confidently.

Professional dialogue has become richer, no longer restricted to sublevels but instead considering what our learners can do or need to do.

Assessment really has become part of my life and I am excited to be in the process of writing a book about it.

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