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Only one in six primary schools planning to scrap national curriculum levels

Just one in six primary schools say they are planning to stop using national curriculum levels in future to assess children – despite the system being scrapped.

The survey by the British Educational Suppliers Association found that 32 per cent of primaries were not planning to stop using levels and a further 53 per cent were unsure.

Currently children are assessed against broad descriptions of ability in each subject area, known as levels. Level 4 is expected at the end of primary school and the percentage of children reaching the standard in English and maths is used to rank schools.

But the government announced in June 2013 that the system of levels would be axed because it believed the system was “complicated and difficult to understand, especially for parents”. 

The survey of 405 primary school subject leaders found that while a third agree with the government that levels were not useful for parents, 92 per cent thought they were useful for teachers. The key concern for schools is having an assessment system which allows them to compare their pupils with others around the country – this was mentioned as important by 85 per cent of schools.

Caroline Wright, director, BESA, said: “From today’s survey findings it would appear that many teachers fear that the government is using a sledge-hammer to crack a nut by replacing a system, that they feel serves professionals well, in order to tackle the concerns over the way schools communicate pupil progress to parents.”

While using levels is not banned, the level descriptions are matched to the National Curriculum and they will not be updated to match the new curriculum which begins in September 2014. Instead schools are expected to come up with their own systems of assessment.

Russell Hobby (pictured), general secretary of heads' union the NAHT, said: “The size of the unsure category is the most interesting one – it shows the lack of communication and clarity there has been about this.

 “Each school will need to continue with levels for the year to come because they will still be teaching some children under the old curriculum, so they can’t abandon them overnight. While there is no love of levels, the idea of a shared professional language to assess children is what teachers want to hold onto.”

The NAHT’s own commission on assessment reported last month and called on the government and Ofsted to make clear statements on what schools will be required to demonstrate to inspectors and to report to parents and the Department for Education.

It set out a number of principles that schools can use to develop their own assessment systems.

The  BESA survey found that only about four per cent of schools currently plan to buy in a new system from a commercial provider – most said that they would update what they already used, and the most popular forms of support were other schools and local authorities.

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