The Commission on Assessment without Levels – our experts opinion

Mick Walker is a Life after Levels assessment guru. He loves education and believes this is the teaching profession’s time to define the future of assessment.

The release of the Commission on Assessment without Levels has prompted a lot of conversations. In this post Mick shares his view of the report.

“The Commission’s report was published in September after the leaked release of a near final version in July. It follows on from the ‘NAHT Commission on Assessment’ following the Government’s decision to drop the use of attainment levels.  The final version contains highly practical assistance for those schools finding life after levels a challenge.

The report extends the approach of the NAHT in examining the basic principles and uses of assessment, along with highly practical considerations that should be explored by every school as they develop, refine or review their assessment practice.

The timing of both reports is symptomatic of an education system that evolves in piecemeal fashion, often before it thinks through the full consequences. Our children deserve better – we need a long-term strategy underpinned by sound research and free of political bias.

These reports and the dozens of other conferences and training events, suggests a lack of capability and confidence within the teaching profession to respond to the opportunity provided by the removal of levels. There are notable exceptions, but from what I have seen too many schools have exhibited behavior that comes close to panic. There are those who point to Ofsted or the DfE as the cause of this uncertainty, and some of their arguments are persuasive, but the profession should also look at itself.

I believe that the removal of levels is the right move. I’m delighted to see that it has prompted a high level of discussion, much of it re-uniting assessment with teaching and learning. My sincere hope is that this will result in a much improved understanding of the place of assessment in all its guises and a more informed teaching profession.

To get there the profession must lead the conversation and not get high jacked by commercial packages that promise a quick fix replacement for levels: this will do little to build expertise within the profession. We have to go deeper. The approach to learning that underpins the new national curriculum is fundamentally different to that of previous incarnations, and assessment systems need to reflect this.

The Commission’s recommendations provide a clear direction – better teacher training, focused CPD and professionally recognised assessment expertise in teaching schools. We already have a Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors which should be re-invigorated and the notion of a Chartered Assessor extended to all schools.  The idea of developing a training module for Ofsted inspectors and school leaders is also very welcomed.

With a profession highly skilled in assessment practice armed with evidence of validity and reliability of teacher assessment, the reliance on external tests can be re-examined. This won’t just happen, it needs to be made to happen and the teaching profession needs to take the lead.”

Mick’s teaching career extended over eighteen years. He has taught in secondary, sixth form and further education institutes, worked as an external examiner and been an advisory teacher for a local authority. He has also held the posts of Chief Examiner and Senior Moderator.

After the delivery failures of the national curriculum tests in 2008, Mick took over the post of Acting Managing Director of the National Assessment Authority (NAA) and is credited with re-building the national curriculum assessment system.

To find out more about Mick’s work with Life after Levels please visit the website. The site contains tons of free resources to support schools through this exciting time.


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