Progression without Levels

Briefing Pack

By Melanie Jones, published 21st January 2014

"As part of our reforms to the national curriculum , the current system of ‘levels' used to report children's attainment and progress will be removed.  It will not be replaced." (DfE 2013)

If you are beginning to think about how to go about defining and assessing progress in a post levels world, you are not alone.

As history departments begin to tackle the difficult questions and issues surrounding life beyond National Curriculum levels, it is all too easy to fall into the trap of either continuing to use levels regardless, or to simply reach out for something simple to replace them with - a quick fix. However, there are no quick fixes. 

More so than ever, departments need to be thinking about what progress means in history and what it looks like in the context of the school as well as the national context. How then might they find a pathway that works for them?

How will this correlate with other subjects or schools? How will the integrity of the subject be maintained? How will history departments defend themselves against imposed models of progression that may not be appropriate for the subject?

Tim Oates has said that the successful implementation of the new curriculum will very much depend on assessment structures and how schools go about designing them. He indicated that successful models will emphasise progression in line with national standards and address some of the issues that have been highlighted in recent years as he outlines below:

  • While the middle range have improved, little progress is seen to be made by the top and the bottom ends of the spectrum
  • Deep knowledge as capital must be addressed which is factual, procedural and conceptual.
  • Assessment must not be used for the wrong purposes.
  • Fewer things in greater depth - consolidation is the key
  • Probing questions must highlight misconceptions - we do not apply enough constructs and concepts in a variety of settings and situations. Constructs are all important for building progression. (This definition in the case of history may well be a matter of some debate)
  • Seeing assessment as accountability must stop. In Finland, this measure is covered through Initial Teacher Education which very few are able to get into.
  • Levels have become a label. We need high density formative assessment.
  • A year on year approach provides greater clarity which has been missing in the past.
  • New assessment models must be valid. This is key. Models must measure what they claim to and must be consistent with curriculum aims.

We do not yet know what drivers may affect how we measure progression from key stages 1-3 and whether or not you agree with what Tim Oates has to say, the impetus is to start thinking about progression, how it might look and be measured in your school context and stand up on a national scale.

The following examples show the thinking of just 2 individual secondary schools as to how progression might be defined in their contexts. Steve Mastin is Head of History at Sawston Village College in Cambridgeshire. You can view one of his progression maps here.

Alex Ford is a Programme Leader for history in Harrogate. You can view Alex's research, rationale and progression models here.

Look out also for Michael Fordham's article on progression, based on extensive research which appeared in a special supplement of Teaching History based around assessment and progression in the new curriculum that went to all schools. You can access the supplement here.  

Should subject associations be producing guiding principles that can cross all subjects? We would like to know your views. There is no easy answer to the question of measuring progression and it is vital that the history community takes this opportunity to share ideas and thinking. We want to know what you and your department are thinking about progression in the new curriculum. Please share your thoughts on these ideas and add your own by posting on our forum or by sending in examples of your own thinking/planning that you would like to share with others and/or get feedback on to

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