Our Emerging KS3 Assessment Framework.

Booklet under construction.
Booklet under construction.

Having explored different ideas about assessment at KS3 during the last year, we’re about to move forward with our approach.  Here is the explanatory booklet we’ve given to parents: Assessment at KS3

So far, we’ve been seeking a focus on authentic assessment within subjects, breaking free from all the illusions and falsehoods of NC levels; the ladder of progress that never was.  This has generated lots of great discussion in departments about standards and how we assess them. This has included reflections on the problem with ‘can do’ statements and the absolute importance of internal and external moderation of standards based around samples of work. We’ve embraced the idea that standards are relative, not absolute, in most contexts. (See Assessment, Standards and the Bell-Curve).

Meanwhile, in order to give information to parents, we’ve been using an interim Progress Grade using a simple four point scale: Excellent, Good, Some concerns, Poor: EGSP.  This has been based on teacher judgements and subject specific test data.

Inevitably,  we’ve seen a strong tendency to impose a bell-curve.  Across all subjects and all years, we find that about 20% of grades are E, 60% are G and 20% are S/P, with relatively minor fluctuations. Essentially, we’re simply comparing each student’s progress to the cohort in quite a crude way so this isn’t giving us enough information.   This year we will be putting significant substance behind our measures of progress in two ways:

  1. The introduction of assignments to spell out the elements behind the assessment.
  2. The introduction of an attainment scale; bell-curve markers linked to GCSE grading.

I explained the concept behind assignments in a previous post.  We have now developed them in all subjects for all years 7-13.  They are being rolled out this term. Here are some examples from History, Geography and Maths.  Each one sets out the knowledge required, the tasks to be completed and the key assessments within a unit. These are stuck in students’ books, annotated by students and teachers as the units progress.

It’s important to stress that each assignment summarises a huge amount of other detail located within departments – schemes of work, texts, marking criteria, vocabulary lists, exam specifications and so on. Also, the nature of assessment is completely determined within each department; no centralised assessment regime has been imposed. 

Screen shot 2015-10-03 at 13.42.59

In this example, the key content section indicates that ‘propaganda’ and ‘the role of women’  are ideas students should know about in relation to WW1.  Clearly, the precise nature of what needs to be known about them isn’t captured on the A4 summary; that all comes through teaching, testing and lesson resources.

Similary, the marking criteria for the final extended writing task are not included here. The aim of the assignment sheet is to inform students and parents of the key elements that inform the teacher’s judgement of their progress and attainment and their status in relation to work completion at the expected rate.

Screen shot 2015-10-03 at 13.41.13

Maths assignmentAssignments spell out the content behind our assessments at KS3 – as well as at KS4 and KS5.  They are entering the everyday discourse around standards and work completion across the school.

After some data experiments, we are now about to introduce a level of rigour to underpin our intuitive bell-curve.  This is set out in a paper I’ve issued to staff as part of a consultation.  We’ll be tweaking this before sharing with parents in the next week or so. We’ve defined five starting-point ranges to set up five Starting Profiles. Within each Starting Profile, attainment grades 1-9 are linked to progress grades.  We’ve tried to pitch it to be aspirational for all students; ‘Good Progress’ isn’t an easy win for anyone.

Here’s the draft, updated 7th October from the original.  Thanks for the comments so far.

Assessment at KS3: 

Authentic Assessment:  Basic Principles 

 Formative assessment processes should be as authentic as possible in each subject. This means we use tests, assessments against criteria and moderation against bench-marked exemplar work to determine the standards each student is reaching as appropriate for the learning in the subject.

Austin's Butterfly. The final draft was always within him. It just needed to find a way out.
Austin’s Butterfly. The final draft was always within him. It just needed to find a way out.

 The key to assessment is to define the standards expected in terms that make sense within a subject discipline with reference to actual pieces of work and specific problems. The Austin’s Butterfly metaphor is very powerful. We should identify ambitious goals and give precise feedback about improvements each student can make. We should not accept mediocrity.

 Assignments should be a way of signposting the key assessments that will inform teacher judgements of student attainment.

 Importantly, whilst standards may be fixed by criteria, test scores and other fixed reference points, progress is judged relative to each student’s starting point. This gives all students scope to make excellent progress regardless of where they start.

Screen shot 2014-10-19 at 08.59.16

 In order to give parents, students and teachers an external framework to reference to, we will use the language of the new GCSE grades to mark out the bell-curve of standards in every year.

 Progress grades are given to signal progress from the starting point to the current attainment, projecting onto probable future attainment at GCSE.

The Process 

We have allocated each student in KS3 to a Starting Profile based on their KS2 Outcomes. Five Starting Profiles cover our cohort effectively. SP1 and SP5 are small at the extremes; SP2, SP3 and SP4 are our core cohorts.

Allocation to a Profile is determined by KS2 outcomes as shown. Where no KS2 data is available, we will use CATS scores and Reading Ages to make a best-fit allocation. (We’ve analysed CATS and Reading Age data to create a matching formula of sorts.)  Each year Starting Profile allocation would be reviewed so that students can move up to a higher profile if their progress suggests they need greater challenge – if they are repeatedly ‘Exceeding Target’ across multiple subjects. In 2016, when we receive KS2 scores centred around 100, we’ll align P1-P5 accordingly.

On SIMS, teachers will enter the Attainment 1-9 grades, based on their assessments. These will automatically generate the EGSP grades following the pattern in the table. Eg SP3, Grade 6 is always Good Progress

As 1-9 grades have not been used to-date at KS3, it will take a while to align assessments to fit the model neatly in each subject. They should be viewed as approximate markers; not absolute measures. This will be communicated to parents. Initially, in practice, teachers can enter the number 1-9 that generates the EGSP grade that seems most appropriate.

For reference to old GCSE grades: 9~A**, 8 ~A*, 7~A, 6~B, 5~C/B, 4~C, 3~D, 2~EFG
For reference to old GCSE grades: 9~A**, 8 ~A*, 7~A, 6~B, 5~C/B, 4~C, 3~D, 2~EFG

It is expected that the Good Progress G grade is the default grade for students routinely completing the work to a good standard. E indicates pushing to the top edge of the progress path and should be reserved for genuine excellence. SP1/Grade 9 generating E (Exceptional Progress) should be rare. This is A**- truly exceptional.

S meaning ‘Some’ suggests that, whilst progress is being made, it needs to improve to achieve excellence. This sets a high bar which may be challenging for some students and parents. (We felt Some was a much better word than Slow to mean ‘not as good as we’d like’. )

At KS4, Grades 1-9 should be referenced to criteria and standards related to actual GCSE Grades. However, at KS3 even though we are using discrete numbers, each number on the scale is indicative of a range with a large margin of error. That needs to be communicated repeatedly. These grades will be much more approximate in some subjects than in others.

Screen shot 2015-10-03 at 13.56.34

Crucially, the numbers do not form a ladder; students making steady progress at the same rate relative to the cohort, will retain the same grades throughout, every year.

NOTE: Attitude to Learning grades EGSP are more subjective. A student with Progress S may well have E for AtL. This would indicate that they are working very hard but are still finding it difficult to progress, given their starting point.


  1. Hi Tom, thanks for sharing. We’re thinking along the same lines. Questions:
    1. How flexible are the pathways? It’s hard to label students from accountability-induced KS2 results, for those who under-performed as well as over-performed. Also, perhaps someone under-performed on SATs but takes a long time to get noticed because of the error margin in assigning “excellent progress”, especially initially.
    2. Are the assessments used to track strengths and weaknesses – I’m a Maths teacher and the example you show will encourage the students to focus only on performance goals – I’d love a single system that allows learning goals instead and still tracks progress!

    I have few answers, just questions! I would be interested in your thoughts – or anyone else’s!


    • Hi Chris. Thanks for your questions.
      1. Pathways will be reviewed each year. There will always be discussions around whether getting higher progress grades on a lower path is better than getting lower progress grades on a higher path – but because we assign the paths based on data, the labelling shouldn’t be a big issue,especially as the paths are quite broad. Lots of the assessments are common across all paths so students who are working beyond their pathway should stand out. We’ll need to monitor it.
      2. I think our Maths assignments do actually track performance and learning goals. They record tests and so on but the Review Questions illustrated in the top section are indicators of learning in very specific content areas. Students will gather learning goals as they work through the assignments, whilst still aiming for a broad standard overall as evidenced by the topic tests and termly tests. I’m not convinced by systems that record progress towards learning goals defined by reams of statements – they’re not only cumbersome but also, when they produce things like ‘Multiply decimals: Working Beyond’, they don’t really tell you anything. It would interesting to see more models.


  2. Thanks Tom. Very interesting and solar to what we are doing. Just a q of clarification, when your staff enter data onto sims(you say they do this following assessment) is this a ‘current attainment’ or a prediction ( ‘they are on course for a 6’). If it is a prediction then I assume this means for a student making good progress, their grade is unlikely to change. Current attainment, their grade would gradually improve towards their target. Thanks


    • Thanks Andy. When we enter these grades, they are projections to ‘most likely future GCSE grade’ or ‘on course for’ as you suggest. A student making steady progress at 7 will keep getting 7s. There is no meaningful way in which a GCSE grade can be used for ‘current attainment’ at KS3 in my view (eg with a top-end Y7 student gaining a 5, level with an average Y11). We don’t have assessment tools that could tell us that reliably, lining up the standards between cohorts. Grades are only ever designed as bell-curve markers for a cohort, not steps in a ladder. That’s one of the flaws with levels – the ladder illusion. We’re trying to avoid that. It’s important to stress that these grades are only meant to be broad indicators; the most important info is the micro formative feedback on standards and improvement. I”m hoping that, given that the grades won’t change very much, parents will focus more on the detail.


  3. This is great and some interesting ideas.
    I wonder how does this then fit in at KS4? At KS4 do students stick to their pathway or are specific target grades allocated? Do you then move to a system where current attainment linked to GCSE grades are used to measure progress?


    • Thanks Mark. At KS4 i think the profiles will be remain a guide to setting subject targets and progress grades. At the moment we are saying we’ll review each year but only to promote, not demote. It’s set up to be challenging – remains to be seen if those numbers are achievable.


  4. Hi Tom,

    Thanks for sharing, it’s an interesting model, I especially like the openness about the fact progress reports/tracking is inherently imprecise and the encouragement for parents to look at the work behind the grades.

    My one query about the stable GCSE grades is whether they are seen by students as castes, ie ‘we’re 5s, you’re a 4’. Is this something you’ve discussed? Are there strategies to prevent this?


    • Hi Ed. we have discussed that. We feel the system allows everyone to aspire for 9s but the Pathways give everyone realistic steps. Students will perceive their progress by staying on track or exceeding expectations. We will need to stress the issue that they are not fixed. For us it is just as important to stress that they can’t be complacent – grades can go down as well as up.


  5. Thanks for sharing this. I fear I may have missed something but if, from any given start point, 20% make exceptional progress (E), 60% make good progress (G) and 20% make slow/poor progress (S/P), how does this fit with good progress not being ‘an easy win for anyone’? It looks like 80% make good or better progress.

    Or do you mean it’s not an easy win when compared against national average rates of progress defined by transition matrices or VA estimates?

    Sorry if I’ve missed the point.


    • Hi James. Those figures were what we were getting last year just using EGSP. It was too nebulous. From now. EGSP are tied to grades and starting points so the distributions will change significantly.


  6. hi Tom,

    Just some observations: You are making a few assumptions that may need checking out:
    – that all your teachers can accurately assess GCSE graded student responses (are their current ‘predicted grades’ accurate when final results come through?)
    – that they have adjusted for ‘more robust’ future exams
    – they can accurately trace a linear development of the necessary traits in their subject to secure particular grades 5, 4, 3 & 2 yrs before the students perform in Y11
    – that progress is linear

    think you’re right to have both CAT info as well as Ks2 – often felt that gave valid additional info.

    I do think we are in danger of using ks2 results as latter-day 11+ if we classify students right from the off in Y7. Will students be aware which Path they are on – or is that for teacher-use only?

    And for the AtL descriptive terms, wonder if it’s more valid to describe the type & intensity of advice/feedback we’re having to give them to achieve the flow we’d hope for, rather than a summative label – ie describe what we’re having to plan for, rather than a brusque judgement of the individual:

    P= priority advice having to be given (because isn’t yet responding to most improvement advice given thus far)
    S= strategic advice being given (because key elements aren’t being responded to that are necessary for progress)
    G= guided advice being given (responds to nearly all advice so able to focus on the key points for further progress)
    E= enterprise advice being given (does all improvement advice fully so in a place to explore unique challenges)

    – would be a way of describing attitude to feedback, & a guide to how future feedback is being individualised for each student to ‘close the gap’ – which comes down to a) the quality & clarity of the advice for next steps that teachers give, and b) student response to it – or lack of it.

    Just some thoughts. Good luck with the process.


  7. I wonder how we RE teachers are going to cope with these changes since we don’t have clear guidance, our current level system is flawed. I’ve been meeting some RE teachers to find answers, many thanks for sharing this, very good, it sheds light on this (dark) matter 🙂 !


  8. Don’t suppose you would share more of these assignments? I am a head of maths and seem to be following a similar scheme to your department and love this idea. I would love to share and discuss strategies and resources to prepare students for the new curriculum.


  9. This is very interesting!
    Is your MIS system (SIMS?) able to handle this new methodology and produce reports to parents, or have you layered something on top?


  10. […] Assessment without Levels: Our system has been launched and we’re now dealing with the reality of its implementation. What do the grades mean to teachers, students and parents? Already, we’re thinking that a change of language might be helpful.  Although the 1-9 scale originates from the new GCSEs, it’s been problematic for students to feel their Grade 5 or Grade 9 in Year 7 or 8 sets them on a particular path: either disheartening or too pressurised.  With a small tweak, we can use the 1-9 scale to define the standards reached in any given year (in a bell-curve marker style) whilst softening the direct implication that this is their GCSE trajectory which feels fixed and confining.  Ready, Fire, Aim  works here because we didn’t anticipate the strength of feeling on this from parents of students at both ends of the spectrum. […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s