West Jesmond Primary joined the Classroom Monitor community in September 2014, and staff are using the Rising Stars Progression Framework to manage a successful transition to life after levels. Here, Deputy Head Dominic Martin talks about their experience.

Life after levels: opportunities and challenges

When the DfE announced that primary schools in England would be free to choose their own methods of formative assessment in National Curriculum 2014, Dominic and his team embraced the challenge: “We saw this as an exciting opportunity to refocus the emphasis of school based assessment. Here was a chance for us to:

  • “build an assessment system that fitted with our school’s values and vision for the curriculum,
  • place more emphasis on reporting assessment outcomes to parents and children as a descriptive profile, rather than numerical values,
  • place greater emphasis on teachers using precise descriptions of pupil progress, gaps and next steps, rather than numerical values,
  • refocus our attention on how assessment can be used to support teaching and learning for all pupils.”

One of the issues facing the SLT was that their existing commercial tracking system was not robust enough to accommodate these changes: “With our existing tracking system, many members of the SLT found that the range of reports available to analyse data was limited. We liked Classroom Monitor as an alternative for many reasons. Initially we were drawn to it due to its link with Rising Stars, as we’d used their NC14 materials for a while and planned to use their summative assessments in the new academic year.”

Choosing an assessment framework

Dominic explains, “We were looking for a framework that would support us in teaching the depth and breadth of the curriculum in each year group, before children progressed further. This framework would also need to articulate the progression steps in each year group clearly to staff, children and parents.

“We chose Rising Stars because we liked the way they set out progress: developing, meeting and in particular exceeding. We really liked this approach as we thought it would support deeper learning and coverage before children moved into the next year’s learning. Old levels lacked breadth and depth, in my opinion.

“Rising Stars also seemed well matched to the DfE’s ideas on how attainment would be described at the end of years 2 and 6. We also liked the fact that we could use matching summative tests too. We did lots of looking round at different frameworks and systems before we made this choice.”

A tracking system that informs teaching and learning

The team at West Jesmond needed an online tracking system that would truly integrate the new curriculum with teaching, learning and planning:

“With Classroom Monitor, I specifically liked how the online markbooks facilitate day to day formative assessment. We thought this would really help staff to get to know the new curriculum quickly, and would support them in making judgements and moderation. I also liked the fact we could use our own descriptors and set progress thresholds.

“In terms of how Classroom Monitor tracks data, we liked the multi strand nature of the analysis, which saves a lot of time. Overall, Classroom Monitor seemed like an all round win! I also like the team’s openness to feedback and areas for development – they seem very customer focused, which we like!”

Managing a successful transition

One term into using Classroom Monitor and Rising Stars, formative assessment has already become more focused across the school. Dominic tells us, “The online markbooks and absence of levels has really brought teachers back to a greater focus on gaps and next steps as they can’t rely upon discussions about numerical values. Teachers have found the overview of how their class is getting on really helpful for planning and addressing the needs of all children, but in particular target groups who need to make rapid progress to catch up.”

Classroom Monitor has also helped the team to work through the challenges that a new curriculum and assessment system brings:

“The biggest challenge has been in the consistency of judgements under a new assessment system. The automatic scoring in the markbooks has been helpful in addressing this issue, and supporting staff to overcome it. It’s also really helped with moderation.

“As a positive, using new assessment criteria has forced staff to become familiar with new curriculum content, objectives and higher expectations. Staff have really embraced this new assessment system; they can now focus more on what a child needs to do next to move on, rather than using numerical values, such as 5c, etc. Staff have also used their meeting times well to share best practice and work through the changes together as a team – this has been vital to creating an ‘in this together’ spirit.”

About West Jesmond Primary

West Jesmond Primary is a larger than average community mixed school, with 600 pupils on roll. Dominic has been Deputy Head there for two years, and has been teaching for nine years.