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)

When National Curriculum levels were removed in 2014, it was 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 to the tricky question: 'What does progress mean in history?' Departments need to think about what progress means in history and what it looks like in the context of the school as well as the national context. 

What pathway will work for History in a particular school? 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.

Whether or not you agree with what Tim Oates has to say, his ideas provide food for discussion about progression and how it might look and be measured in your school context and stand up on a national scale.

Steve Mastin is Head of History at Sawston Village College in Cambridgeshire. You can view one of his progression maps via the PowerPoint at the bottom of this page.

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

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