Alternative to levels could be a ladder to success

11th February 2015 at 15:00

This summer, children in Years 2 and 6 will be the last to receive an end-of-key-stage “level”. Having previously relied on the level system to measure pupils’ progress and attainment, teachers must now devise their own strategies for assessment. Here, Sam Hunter, headteacher of Hiltingbury Junior School in Hampshire, explains the "learning ladders” method her school has pioneered.

In the autumn of 2013, my maths leader expressed her frustration at the impracticality of maths targets. Unless restricted to times-tables knowledge, targets were always out of date with the curriculum being taught. 

Her answer was a booklet of maths ladders for every pupil. Each ladder represented a key skill from the new national curriculum and the rungs were aligned to end-of-year objectives. Delighted to have a new and responsive way to set meaningful and current targets, we quickly adopted the same approach for reading and writing.

We then realised that these ladder booklets were also our recording tool for assessments, a planning aid and the device with which we could report progress to our parents. The fact that these were not APP sheets filed away in a cupboard, but were working resources in the hands of pupils, proved to be incredibly powerful. 

Suddenly, assessment without levels no longer seemed scary. With reference to the national curriculum and the support of colleagues from local schools, we set end-of-year expectations for Years 1-7. The creation of an online version of the Learning Ladders allowed us to track progress and report directly to parents. Four terms on, we are confident that we are creating something robust and fit for purpose.

However, finding a pathway through life after levels has not been without its difficulties. The process has caused us to unpick and question what we fundamentally believe about assessment. How do we know that a child has made progress if there are not sub-levels to prove this? How confident are we with making the most of ongoing teacher assessments without the end-of-term test to back this up? What do we moderate our judgements against while we create standardisation documents of our own? 

The answer is proving to be time, and lots of it. Time in staff meetings to ask the questions; time for staff to work on problem solving; time to meet with colleagues from other schools.

As schools seek their own new systems of assessment, I would strongly encourage headteachers not to be distracted by the desire to have a tracking system that will keep Ofsted happy. Tracking is not assessment. Now is the time to audit what your staff really understand about assessment and the power that it plays in quality teaching and learning.

You can find out more about the Learning Ladders system at the Hiltingbury Junior School website.

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