Life after levels – what next?

New Scholastic UK report highlights confusion and lack of consistency in secondary schools’ response to ‘life after levels’

Scholastic UK, part of the global children’s publishing, education and media company, today released a new report which provides fresh insight into how schools are measuring attainment and progress in Years 7-9 following the end of well-established attainment levels in 2014.

Life after levels – what next?, which is based on in-depth interviews with multi-academy trust and school leaders and a survey of 122 secondary schools, investigates how the teaching profession has responded to the requirement to develop its own methods for assessment and tracking pupil progress at Key Stage 3.

The report’s key findings are that:
  • Schools are generally united in their view that ‘levels’ had evolved into an assessment framework that was not fit for purpose and that change was needed.
  • There has been a lack of guidance for schools in identifying alternatives to levels and on what they report to pupils, parents and regulators.
  • There is currently no one definitive approach that schools are taking in response – some have developed their own systems, many are continuing with levels under other names, whilst others are still unsure of their plan.
  • The lack of a standard system within schools and between schools is expected to create problems around national benchmarking and for pupils and teachers moving between schools operating different systems.
  • The issues of effective entry baseline assessment into Year 7 and lack of clarity around new GCSE grades are cited as major related concerns for secondary schools.

In launching the report, Catherine Bell, Co-Group Managing Director of Scholastic UK, said: “The value of this report is that it draws attention to the issues that schools have faced, and in many cases are still facing, in the transition from levels to a new framework. By highlighting the response from a representative group of multi-academy trusts and schools, we can provide clear guidance on where schools need support in delivering on this agenda going forward. Our objective is to shine light on where the teaching profession is now and where we need to go next to help deliver the best possible outcome for pupils.”

Scholastic offers a standard assessment and progress monitoring, tracking and reporting programme called STEPS (Strategic Targets for Educational Progress and Success in Key Stage 3). Developed in partnership with Darrick Wood School in Orpington, the cornerstone of STEPS is a simple grid and a progressive set of attainment targets that present challenge at all levels of ability throughout Key Stage 3. The grids are broken down into subject ‘Strands’ and then ‘Steps’ which means pupils can make fine levels of progress and teachers can create incremental, personalised targets based on assessment throughout Key Stage 3. It also provides crucial baseline assessment tests.

“What schools are looking for is confidence that any new system will not disappear overnight,” said Martin Smith, Assistant Headteacher at Darrick Wood School and creator and developer of STEPS. “As teachers, we don’t want to be changing systems again in five years’ time – we are looking for security, and STEPS provides that. We have shown that our system is effective – it measures progress and assessment simultaneously, and creates easily understandable data and a structure for teaching. It is also completely flexible and adaptable, so schools can adapt STEPS for their own purposes.”

Life after levels – what next? can be downloaded at

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