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The decision

Following the reform of the national curriculum, the DfE announced:

“the current system of ‘levels’ used to report children’s attainment and progress will be removed from September 2014 and will not be replaced. By removing levels we will allow teachers greater flexibility in the way that they plan and assess pupils’ learning.                     

(DfE, 2013: 2-3)                                            

As schools would not be given a new system to use, from September 2014, teachers would have the freedom to develop, trial and implement an original system that suited our students, our curriculum and our school.

Why has this change been introduced?

For too long now, schools have used an assessment system that teachers had not developed. Performance descriptors were produced that teachers had to ‘buy into’. Originally levels were only meant to be used at the end of KS3 (Y9) and students were to be graded with a single number. However, and perhaps inevitably, the levels were broken down into sub-levels (5c, 5b, 5a) and they were used more frequently resulting in some schools assessing using levels every half term.

 The result?

We now have an assessment system for data and not an assessment system for students and teaching and learning.

Tim Oates Group Director of Assessment Research and Development at Cambridge Assessment and Chair of the Expert Panel on assessment during the national curriculum reform, provides compelling reasons in a video posted on YouTube by the DfE, into the rational behind this move to abolish NC Levels (DfE, 2014).


What are we doing at The Queen Katherine School?

In September 2014, a group of teachers have met as part of our TLC sessions to begin research into assessing without the NC Levels. We decided, however, not to concentrate on developing a new system focussed on producing data and reports and saw this as an opportunity to redefine what assessment meant to us. We wanted to start in the classroom and look at how we use assessment to inform planning, teaching and learning and to ultimately support student learning, progress and achievement.

Our journey has been aided by a groundswell of educational research and the Internet and social media has been instrumental in the sharing of ideas and thoughts.

A fascinating blog by executive-Headteacher Stephen Tierney provides much food for thought. In it he states how ‘life after levels is primarily a curriculum issue not a data issue’ and how too many schools are rushing to setup new systems to satisfy the needs of data and reporting . This combined with the work (Pam Hook – @arti_choke), we began to investigate SOLO Taxonomy (Biggs and Collis, 1982).


Produced by Pam Hook (2012)

Hattie (2012) explains how this model describes increasing levels of complexity in a students’ understanding of a subject and how moving through this model allows students to progress from uni-structural/multi-structural (surface learning) through to relational/extended abstract (deeper learning).

Although we have only started to investigate this “, we believe SOLO can be powerful in planning assessment to support teaching and learning. Stephen Tierney (2014) had the following to say about the use of SOLO in his school:

“It has helped teachers structure the learning within lessons, projects and schemes of work in a sequential and increasingly complex manner.”

Our latest TLC session challenged members of the group to plan and implement a SOLO task in a KS3 lesson. They were asked to reflect on whether planning this task using SOLO led to greater clarity for them in terms of and what they expected from students, and then to see if students’ learning was more visible as they work through this SOLO task. Following on from this, we hope to approach the design of schemes of work and subject curriculums with the use of SOLO.

Why all of this focus on SOLO and the classroom? This is the most important element in a school. What happens inside the four walls of a classroom is key to student progress and achievement. Before we start concerning ourselves with how we quantify assessment in a new system and how we report this on paper, we first of all want to aspire to high quality first-time teaching and learning using assessment. And we feel that SOLO is the first step towards this. Once we have cultivated an ethos and strong drive to using assessment and high quality feedback to support student progress and achievement, we will then work on designing the system that requires data and produces reports.


Biggs, J.B., & Collis, K.F. (1982). Evaluating the quality of learning: The SOLO taxonomy (structure of the observed learning outcome). New York: Academic Press.

DfE., (2013). National curriculum and assessment from September 2014: information for schools [Online PDF] <https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/358070/NC_assessment_quals_factsheet_Sept_update.pdf&gt; [Accessed 11th April 2015].

DfE., (2013). Reform of the National Curriculum in England [Online PDF] <https://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/pdf/n/national%20curriculum%20consultation%20document%20070213.pdf&gt; [Accessed 11th April 2015].

DfE., (2014). Tim Oates talks about assessment without levels [YouTube Video] <https://youtu.be/yDYjF_bQy4Q?list=UU4NkS_w8o50U6jw2oksEMxQ&gt; [Accessed 10th April 2015].

Hattie, J., (2012). Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximising Impact on Learning. New York: Routledge.

Hook, P., (2012). The Learning Process <http://pamhook.com/wiki/The_Learning_Process&gt; [Accessed 14th April 2015].

Tierney, S., (2014). #SOLO Heaven [blog] <http://leadinglearner.me/2014/02/22/solo-heaven/?wref=tp&gt; [Accessed 16th April 2015].

Tierney, S., (2015). Life After Levels – An Assessment Revolution? [blog] <http://leadinglearner.me/2015/03/24/life-after-levels-an-assessment-revolution/&gt; [Accessed 12th April 2015].