Assessment without levels: qualitative research

Helen Poet, Caroline Sharp, Jennifer Garry, Jennie Harland, Gill Keightley, Catherine Kirkup and Kerry Martin

13 December 2018

Research report on the DfE website

This qualitative research set out to gather evidence on the types and range of non-statutory assessment approaches in English primary and secondary schools following the removal of national curriculum levels in 2014.

The research team conducted 118 telephone interviews with senior leaders and teachers in 42 primary and secondary schools in 2017.

Key Findings

  • Teachers and senior leaders said that they were focusing more on formative assessment since the introduction of Assessment without Levels (AWL). This was reported to be enabling teachers to differentiate activities, refine their planning and provide support more effectively.
  • Interviewees reported both positive and negative impacts of AWL on teachers’ confidence in judging pupils’ attainment. Some were confident and felt that their schools’ approaches were working well, especially those who had taken part in training and moderation. Others said that the lack of national standards for non-statutory assessment had undermined teachers’ confidence.
  • Schools had commonly spent a great deal of time identifying and implementing their new approach. Most interviewees reported that teachers were now spending a similar amount of time on assessment as before AWL. A few reported an increase in workload due to the requirements of their school’s new approach.
  • Only a minority of interviewees felt that their school’s assessment approach worked well for pupils with special educational needs (SEN). Others said that their school’s approach did not adequately recognise the small steps of progress made by pupils with SEN.
  • The report concludes that the removal of levels has led schools to re-focus on formative assessment. However, the removal of national curriculum levels and the encouragement for schools to develop their own approaches have led to a perceived lack of common understanding between schools. The influence of statutory national assessment is still clearly apparent in schools’ non-statutory assessment and continues to be the main driver for formative and summative assessment.