Assessment Without Levels



In May 2014 we (Durrington High School) were awarded an ‘Assessment Innovation Fund’ by the DFE, to develop a method of ‘assessing without levels’ in KS3.  This page outlines how our ‘Growth & Thresholds’ method of assessment will work – and can be used by schools to get started with it themselves.


Our starting point was to come up with a set of principles that guided our assessment model. We wanted an assessment system that:

  • Is based on developing the key knowledge and skills required for success in KS4
  • Is based on our high expected standards of students
  • Is based heavily on formative feedback and allows all students to succeed – and so develops a growth mindset
  • Incorporates periodic summative assessment to support this ongoing formative feedback
  • Is simple and easy to understand – for staff, parents and students.
  • Has consistent principles, to be used across subjects, but the flexibility to be suitable for all subjects.

We believe that it is vital for all assessment, up to the point of public examinations, to be focused on which specific elements of the curriculum an individual has deeply understood and which they have not.”

p50, The Framework for the National Curriculum A report by the Expert Panel for the National Curriculum review December 2011


In summary:

  1. Never meant to be a label – Levels were never meant to be a label, they were meant to support progress.  Unfortunately, they have very much become a label.
  2. Undue pace – There has become an unnecessary focus on getting through levels quickly, rather than embedding deep understanding of key concepts.
  3. Levels mean different things – In some instances they are marks on a test, or APP work best matched a descriptor or ‘just in….’
  4. Successful nations don’t use them – Nations with successful educational systems believe that children are capable of anything because of the effort they put in…not because they are level 4, 5 etc. This very much supports growth mindset theory.



  • Show students excellence.
  • Encourage critique.
  • Give specific feedback.
  • So they work with care and focus to improve their work and develop their understanding.

So how does it work…..?


  • Subject specialist teachers come up with the ‘big ideas’ in their subject.
  • From this, they consider ‘what do students need to master, in terms of knowledge and skills, in order to be successful in KS4?’
  • Based on this, what does excellence look like in each subject?
  • Then scaffold progress towards excellence through the thresholds, from a baseline threshold, by giving students feedback about how to progress to the next threshold.
  • Use the thresholds to plan for progression and focus assessment and feedback on the key knowledge and skills.


  • Students are not assigned a target level – they are all expected to aspire to excellence – Growth MindsetRather than focusing on a pre-determined (and limiting) end point, we are focusing on their starting point and building from there.
  • Assessment is based on progress made – so celebrates effort of all students, with different starting points.
  • Our teachers set the standard of excellence expected – this reinforces our high standards.
  • Students are not given feedback such as ‘you’re a 4a’ – but focused on formative feedback that makes students think about how to develop their understanding.
  • Threshold rubrics are used for planning teaching and progression – not for labelling students.  Students aren’t told what threshold they are – just what they need to do to develop their thinking. The thresholds are a scaffold for teachers.


Use the KS2 levels to place students into 4 attainment bands (Thresholds). This could then be linked to future GCSE grades:


These thresholds are not supposed be ‘labels’ for students – in fact students are not even told them as we don’t want to limit their expectations of themselves.  They are a planning tool for teachers.  When used in conjunction with the threshold rubrics (see later), they give the teacher a starting point to plan for progression.

The new GCSE grades explained:

  • Grade 9: top A* performers; about half of the 6.8 per cent who got A*s this year are likely to get it
  • Grade 8: the rest of those who obtained A* but did not qualify for a 9
  • Grade 7: equivalent to an A grade pass
  • Grade 6: covering those from two thirds above current C grade to top of existing B grade
  • Grade 5: international benchmark, showing performance equals that of students getting top-grade passes in high performing countries in international league tables. Pitched at half or two thirds of a grade above the current C pass
  • Grade 4: equivalent to a C grade pass
  • Grade 3: equivalent to a D grade pass
  • Grade 2: equivalent to an E grade pass
  • Grade 1: equivalent to grade F and G passes


The starting point is for each subject area identifies the core knowledge and skills that students will need to master in order to be successful at GCSE. This will be based on the knowledge and skills that subject staff know to be key to success in Y10 and 11. They will also link to the National Curriculum programme of study.

e.g. in science:

  • the core knowledge might be – cells, interdependence, forces, energy, particles
  • The core skills might be – identify, describe, explain, analyse and link


Once we know where we want the students to go in our subjects, in terms of achieving excellence by the end of Y11, we can then use this to plan backwards with the curriculum for Y7-11.


Once we have ‘planned backwards’ we can then start to map out the curriculum, across Y7-11.  This will involve looking at what are the big ideas and what topics will be taught, when – and what are the key knowledge and skills to be assessed in each unit of work?:


When planning a curriculum in this way, it is also worth bearing in mind how it will support learning.


The diagram above shows how traditional curriculums have been planned i.e. blocks of topics over the course of the year. As we learn more from neuroscience, we understand that if topics are not revisited over time, it becomes difficult to recall the information.  See below:


The ‘blocking’ method of curriculum design does not support this recalling of information. So when designing the curriculum it would be worth considering an approach of ‘interleaving’ topics throughout the year i.e. coming back to them regularly.

For each unit of work, subject teachers will need to discuss, decide and agree what standards are expected from each threshold, in terms of the core knowledge and skills. This allows us to set the high standards we expect from our students and is a key principle of our model of assessment. It also allows us to be selective about the key knowledge and skills that we think are important and so need to be assessed – so we don’t just assess everything.  Focus on and assess what matters.

So each unit of work would start with a completed copy of this threshold rubric.  So within that unit of work, what is expected, in terms of knowledge and skills, at each of the four thresholds?  This, when used with student baseline thresholds, allows teachers to plan for progression within their teaching – with the aim being that all students are aspiring towards excellence:



Thresholds could be based around SOLO taxonomy. Foundation and developing are aimed at surface learning i.e. embedding the key knowledge/ facts.  Secure and excellence are more focused on developing deep learning i.e. doing something with this key knowledge e.g. analysis, linking ideas, evaluation etc.   It is worth bearing in mind that whilst SOLO might provide a good framework for planning learning in some subjects, it might not be suitable for all subjects – and this is fine:


This can then lead to the production of a learning schedule for that unit of work – where the key knowledge and skills to be learnt are broken down into individual lessons. You will notice that there is an emphasis on identifying the surface and deep knowledge, throughout the unit – through the use of surface/ deep learning questions.  These are hinge questions – what should the students be able to answer, during this lesson, at each of these levels?:



When subjects are planning their thresholds, it is important that there is progression through the years. So for example, if a student has a baseline threshold of ‘developing’, if they make expected progress through KS3, they should achieve a minimum of a grade C by the end of Y11.  This means that the ‘developing’ thresholds in Y7, 8 and 9 should show increasing levels of demand in terms of expectation, to allow them to maintain this trajectory.  Ideally what we would like of course, is for them to rise through the thresholds towards ‘excellence.

The following chart from maths explains this well:



In terms of tracking progress and reporting to parents we can look at how students are performing, relative to their baseline threshold:

    • Working below their baseline threshold– Making less than expected progress
    • Working towards the lower end of their baseline threshold – Making expected progress
    • Working towards the top end of their baseline thresholdMaking good progress
    • Working above their baseline threshold or at the top of or beyond the excellence threshold – Making exceptional progress.

So, departments will need to devise suitable assessment tasks that will allow them to assess students, against the thresholds, periodically through the year.

This is explained by the diagram below:


The -1, 0, +1, +2 value allows us to record this progress quantitatively in spreadsheets, SIMS etc.  This is just for internal analysis and not shared with parents/ students.  See below:

awl new1


Advantages to this:

  • Allows underachieving students to be identified and interventions planned.
  • Allows performance of classes/ subjects to be monitored – % of students making good, expected, less than expected progress.
  • Ensures students of all abilities can be praised for the effort and progress they are making – in the same way.
  • Supports long term goals  – and monitoring progress towards them.

So, rather than reporting  a level to students and parents, we are reporting the progress they are making towards achieving their forecast grades at GCSE.  This what the report that goes home to parents looks like:

awl new2

With the following guidance for parents:

awl new3

Once this information has been collected about students, the progress scores i.e. -1 = less than expected progress, 0= expected progress, +1 = good progress, can be collated for all students, across their subjects.  This is what this is currently looking like.


The progress scores for each student, across all of their subjects, can then be added together to give an overall total score – which can be used as a guide for the overall progress each student is making.  Again it’s worth stressing that these scores are not shared with the students or parents – they are for school use as they allow for spreadsheet manipulation.  Students and parents are reported to, as shown in the sample report above i.e. are they making expected, good, exceptional, less than expected progress in each subject?

As we’ve done this for the first time, it’s nice to see students from all thresholds being able to score high in the ‘total progress’ column.  This allows us to celebrate the success of students of all abilities – a key objective of this process.  ‘Intervention groups’ can also be identified i.e. those with a negative overall progress score.


These banded thresholds of knowledge and skills can then be used to give students ongoing and personalised formative feedback on their day to day work, focusing on how to improve towards excellence. In order to support a growth mindset, the feedback should be aimed at moving students through the thresholds and aspire towards excellence, so developing resilience and grit. This keeps expectations are consistently high.  This is why the rubrics are such an essential planning tool.


Summative assessments (termly) can be used to further assess how well students are doing towards the end of the unit of work. Based on their performance on these tests, they could be awarded a ‘threshold level’, based on how they have done.

As an example, a single summative test could be used to assess students against the thresholds, as shown below:


Some subjects might want to do tiered tests.

For some subjects, for example practical subjects, it won’t be suitable to do a test. They will need to introduce termly periodic assessments that assess across all the threshold knowledge and skills.


Shaun Allison – Deputy Headteacher


Emma Mason – Lead Assessment Innovator

You can also contact our team of ‘Assessment Innovators’, who are leading the development of assessment without levels, across these curriculum areas:

  • Humanities – Ben Crockett –
  • Art & Design – Emma Wade –
  • PE & Performing Arts – Jack Corbett –
  • English – Jo Grimwood –
  • Maths – Sam Down & Emma McCann – see address above
  • Science – Simona Trignano –
  • Computing – Chloe Gardner –
  • MFL – Pam Graham –



Download a booklet that explains the ‘G&T’ method of assessment here.  This now includes subject specific information, to assist schools with their planning.

Presentation from launch meeting:

Useful Links

Living in a levels free world: Q and A – Tim Oates

Assessment Without Levels in Depth – Cambridge Assessment – Tim Oates

Implementing Assessment Without Levels – Chris Hildrew

Assessing Without Levels – Dan Brinton


Schools who are currently exploring using the G&T method of assessment

The following secondary schools have expressed an interest in adopting this assessment model:

  • Longhill School, Brighton
  • Beacon Academy, Crowborough, East Sussex
  • Ifield Community College, West Sussex
  • Chailey School, Lewes, East Sussex
  • Davison CE High School, Worthing, West Sussex
  • Bourne Community College, Emsworth, Hampshire
  • Uckfield Community Technology College, Uckfield, East Sussex
  • Cornfield School, Littlehampton, West Sussex
  • Heathfield Community College, Old Heathfield, East Sussex
  • St Andrews High School for Boys, Worthing, West Sussex
  • Springfield School, Portsmouth, Hampshire
  • Crookhorn College, Waterlooville, Hampshire
  • The Holy Cross School, Newmalden, Surrey
  • The Angmering School, Angmering, West Sussex
  • Uplands Community College, Wadhurst, East Sussex
  • Belmont Community School, Belmont Durham
  • Chew Valley School, Chew Magna, Bristol




44 Responses to Assessment Without Levels

  1. Pingback: Mindset: Just do it…. | Class Teaching

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  4. Sam.satyanadhan says:

    How can I get in contact with Jo about English ?

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  6. Amanda says:

    Please can I get in contact with Simona re: Science

  7. Emma Hollis Head of Art Kingsbury School Warwickshire says:

    Hi Could I please have Emma Wade’s contact information regarding art?
    Thank you

  8. Hi Emma – all email contacts have now been added

  9. Rosie Tucker says:

    Hi Shaun,
    Please could I have the contact details for Simona? I’ve just tried to email her using the address above, but it has bounced back failing to deliver.
    My email address is if that helps.
    Rosie Tucker

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  11. Nikki underwood says:

    Hi, how could I get in touch with Simona from Science?

    Kind regards


  12. rshakey says:

    Hi Shaun,

    Really interesting work you’ve done here. I’m not certain about your threshold banding and subsequent measuring of progress though. A straightforward conversion of KS2 performance to expected GCSE grades seems to embed expectations in very early on (an issue with the current KS2-4 measures). I know that it is a common outcome for students getting a L2 at KS2 to also come away with a lower GCSE grade for example, but when you then link this to measuring ‘expected progress’ at the lower end of the threshold band rather than the upper it seems like you may have an issue with underachievement here.

    How are you planning to guard against this?

  13. Ian Lynch says:

    Hi Shaun,

    You might be interested in the NAACE/TLM Computing baseline testing for KS3. Since September we have assessed over 52,000 children in a simple free on-line exam. We will provide a new exam every 6 months and feedback progress on a school and individual student basis as well as aggregated data by age and gender. The exam is based on a set of assessment criteria derived from the KS3 POS and accredited by Ofqual and endorsed by the DfE for a point scoring Level 1 qualification in Computing. At the end of KS3 it is an option to take that qualification and it can be converted to a Level 2 (A*-C) by higher attainers. So we still have two possible levels, level 1 and level 2 but both of these are QCF levels referenced to the European Qualifications Framework and for most the target throughout KS3 will be Level 1 but graded Pass, Merit, Distinction and Distinction*. We also provide a free cloud based evidence management and tracking system for formative assessment along the way. So all quite similar to the Tim Oates model with compatibility with the national qualifications system. There is more information at

    Also have a new web site to divert the KS1 and KS2 consultation for assessment that is an abominable reversion to levels back to sanity. Similar concept to the baseline test, establish the standards, track progress towards meeting them and provide free on-line technologies to do this and provide testing for those where it is appropriate.

  14. Frederick Cooper says:

    I don’t think you have addressed Shaun’s concerns at all! I agree the system is flawed because it is all based on their predicted GCSE grades and this is the one level that you are well and truly sticking to and reminding them of it regularly – you’re making a real mistake here. If you want to raise the bar then take that bar away!

  15. The thresholds are used by teachers to plan progression in their teaching. The students aren’t told a ‘target threshold’ or what their baseline threshold is, or a ‘target GCSE grade’. This is information for teachers. Students are being told that are all aspiring for excellence – and given personalised feedback (based on the thresholds) about how to get there.
    So the bar has been taken away.

  16. whatonomy says:

    Excellent blog. I’ve tried to define these big ideas for primary literacy.

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  21. Aideen Hood says:

    Please can I have contact with Simona re Science. Thank you

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  24. John Moore says:

    I love this, your approach seems to support good planning and AfL, while also providing good tracking data. What support is there for your approach, either from the DfE or other recognised commentators on assessment post levels? Have you had any peer review or feedback?

  25. Matt Drury says:


    I love the principles behind this – would be very interested to have some contact with your languages department if that’s possible?

    Many thanks for sharing!

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  28. suzanne says:

    Great blog.
    Do you have a technology link?


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  32. Chris says:

    Hi Shaun,

    I am working on introducing your model of assessment without levels at my own school (large secondary). I wonder if it would be possible to have some more information on how to set up the system to record the progress and reporting to parents. I would appreciate some help.
    Bets wishes

  33. Gina Ashton says:

    Hi I am really intrigued by this idea and love the concept. How would I get in touch with Sam and/or Emma to have a chat about things from a maths perspective?

  34. Jo Suddes says:

    Hi Shaun, Working with a group of schools on developing models of assessment and we used your model as a starting point in September. Very interested to see how it has developed this year. Would be keen to discuss with you if at all possible ?

  35. Jo Suddes says:

    Hi Shaun, I’m working with a group of schools who are developing their assessment models and we shared and used your model back in October as a starting point. Very interested to hear how it has progressed this year. Would there be any possibility of a chat about it?

  36. Jacqui Pichilingi says:

    I would like to talk to Jo about English curriculum please. Jac

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  40. Fiona says:

    Brilliant read, please can you put me in contact Mr Jack Corbett for PE.

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