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Achieving coherence in a level-less limbo

Finally, a change that we can welcome. Ofsted are talking more about subject knowledge, richness of curriculum and learning, and a clear purpose of assessment.

This is the first in a 3 part series on my school’s approach to the new Ofsted framework. Watch out for part 2 on ‘Memory and independence’ and part 3 on ‘Beating the odds’.

Level-less limbo

My school’s journey in this began when levels were abolished 3 years ago, and schools up and down the country were left in what can only be described as an abyss of no-levels-limbo, a panicked frenzy of unanswered questions and a resounding silence from any source of educational guidance. Of course, whilst wading in this sea of level-less limbo, various changes to exams meant controlled assessments had vanished, there was suddenly a dire need to maximise memory retention and exam boards had no idea of grade boundaries.

Levels drove our assessment framework. So when that disappeared, we felt like headless chickens along with the rest of the country.


In this blind, no-levels panic, my school decided enough was enough.

How did we deal with this?

  • We utilised our best practitioners to devise a set of key learning objectives (KOs) that we decided captured the absolute key learning in every subject

  • these KOs would span the range of abilities within a year group

  • these KOs would span across the 5 years at secondary school

  • these KOs would be student friendly and challenging

  • they would be personalised for individual needs for every ability

  • we would regularly review and adapt the KOs and amend them where necessary

  • we would have no more ‘key stage 3’ and ‘key stage 4’.

  • Instead, we would make sure our curriculum was broad right from year 7 to 11

  • and we would ensure knowledge was mapped out in a deliberate sequence, interleaving to aid memory and differentiate content by year group and ability.

A snapshot of a key objectives grid, mapping the learning journey for students of English Literature

Dylan William says ‘if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never get there’. The first of William’s 5 formative assessment strategies is ‘Clarifying, understanding, and sharing learning intentions’ (Embedded formative assessment) and we believe these key objectives exemplify the fundamental knowledge students need to acquire; our teachers teach this in all its different forms and contexts. They are sequenced over time in a way that forms learning experiences that students will be able to make connections with in a real and transient way.

Purpose for assessment


Very often, we miss the benefits of book marking because of its retrospective nature. Students receive it long after the learning has taken place and far too much time is spent marking for the sake of senior leadership checks. The Education Endowment Foundation defines effective marking as ‘timely and specific’ and when it is ‘meaningful, manageable and motivating’.

My school’s formative marking is ‘live’. We provide feedback in real-time, in the moment of the learning. Students respond to our feedback in real-time, and move on in their learning. Feedback is ‘timely and specific’ and progress is immediate. Read more about how live marking works here.

We know it is working because the progress our students make is excellent. Last year, the school’s Progress 8 (P8) score was 1.0 (2018). The English department began live marking a year before the rest of the school and their P8 is an indication of the excellent quality of education provided: a P8 of 0.76 (2016) increasing to +1.8 (2017 and 2018). It is worth sharing SISRA’s Subject Progress Index for English Literature this year sits at a phenomenal +2.1. It means students of English Literature at my school make 2 whole grades better progress than their equivalent ability students in the SISRA family of schools (comprised of 1,150 schools - 185,000 students).

Summative (but formative too)

Dynamic Progress Reporting-Learning Collaboration

Our in house assessment and reporting platform, Dynamic Progress Reporting (DPR), facilitates the embedding of our curriculum and allows all stakeholders to become part of the learning journey. Parents are no longer asking for levels - they have formative key objectives letting them know how far their child has secured them, in a meaningful and actionable way. Teachers can provide current and projected grades but the focus remains on the formative KOs because that is where the actions to improve lie. Using these, students know exactly how to move on in their learning. The resources portal allows students to access learning material that will help them independently secure key objectives they have identified for themselves.

Teachers don’t waste time on writing reports; they simply update on a 4 point scale, how far the students have secured the key objectives, as and when they see the students have moved on in their learning. This real-time reporting means every stakeholder is empowered. Watch this video to see DPR explained by a range of stakeholders at my school.

The conversations about learning at my school are focused on the right things. The new Ofsted framework is a reassuring one for us - we have been doing the right things. We are definitely on a journey - we don’t have it all correct yet (who does?) - but what I do know is, we are determined to keep the main thing, the main thing.

We love to hear feedback and share good practice - look out for our termly School leaders’ Open morning on our website to learn more about what we do!



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