Life after Levels: Proper time and investment is essential


The removal of national curriculum levels is a huge challenge for teachers and schools, with significant implications for both training and CPD. Alison Rogers says it is essential that this agenda is given proper time and investment.

It is an exciting, if not challenging, time for schools. 

A new national curriculum, coupled with the removal of national curriculum levels, presents an opportunity for teachers to exercise greater control of their classroom practice and to adapt new ways of measuring the progress of pupils.

The new arrangements are designed to offer teachers greater flexibility to use their own professionalism in the classroom, in the way they teach and assess their students.

Of course, it is never as simple and straightforward as that. The removal of structures and processes, and familiar ways of working, can be confusing, daunting and may leave professionals wondering which way to turn and what to do next. 

And while some teachers will welcome these moves as liberating for their professional practice, many will not. There is something safe in doing things in time-honoured fashion, and using methods that are similar to how everyone else is working.

National curriculum levels offered uniformity – if a child was working at Level 3C when they entered secondary school then everyone knew what that meant, at least within the constraints related to variability of primary school assessments.

In many schools, levels will continue to be used as an assessment gauge until such time as alternatives are found. 

In others, new, innovative and exciting ways are already being developed to meet the challenges of the future.

Initial teacher training (ITT) has a part to play in this process. We know that, with the best will in the world, ITT institutions cannot provide the answer to every assessment quandary. 

There is simply not enough time, and there is too much material to cover. Most teacher training courses offer some sort of generic or a specific assessment practice, although those who train future generations of teachers will rightly admit it is never enough. 

Established assessment methods such as Assessment for Learning or Assessing Pupil Progress may feature, for example, but usually with the caveat that when student teachers eventually enter the big wide world of the classroom, they may have to learn and adapt to whatever system is being used in their school.

Teacher training institutions cannot hope to have every angle covered, but at least trainee teachers will be offered some experience.

The concern, however, is that they may offer little or no assessment training, in future, precisely because they are aware that NQTs will have to learn a new system from scratch when they start work. It would be wrong and worrying if this was to happen. 

New entrants to teaching need to understand about the importance of effective, valid and robust assessment – how it should look, why it is important, and how it should complement everyday teaching and learning. The principles of assessment need to be discussed and evaluated. What does good quality marking look like, for example, how often should it be carried out, and how should it inform classroom practice? What are the most effective methods of tracking and measuring pupil progress? Many assessment systems may fit the bill of what is required, but how do you choose which one to use?

The reality is that teaching and training on assessment is the responsibility of both ITT institutions and schools, and never more so than now. 

While ITT providers may offer the basics, schools must ensure teachers are offered the specifics in training on assessment and understand that the generic nature of teacher training is just that. 

Not all specific training provided by an ITT institution may fit the needs of the schools, and as teachers change jobs they will need further training in the assessment systems used in their new setting. This is true not only of new entrants to the profession, but throughout all teachers’ careers. Time and investment in CPD in assessment is vital for staff if schools are to meet their responsibilities to pupils and their parents.

  • Alison Rogers is chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors.

Further information
The CIEA is currently piloting phase two of its Excellence in Assessment (Schools) programme and is inviting contact from interested schools. For information, email


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