A Basic Framework for National Curriculum Assessment


I thought it would be fun to publish a very basic Aunt Sally, to stimulate discussion about how to assess and report attainment and progression within the new National Curriculum.

In the spirit of all good Aunt Sallies, this one begs more questions than it answers. But, hopefully, I’ve designed it in such a way that they are the necessary questions to address.

I cordially invite you to frame the questions and, ideally, provide some possible answers. Alternatively, why not describe an alternative model and justify the differences between it and this?


Declined            x          x            x           x            x
Maintained            x          x            √          √            √
Improved          √           √√         √√           √√
  Well below       Below            At         Above    Well above



  1. A five level attainment measure based on achievement against defined standards
  2. A three level progression measure based on achievement compared with the previous assessment
  3. For individual reporting these are combined using 1-5 for attainment and A-C for progression, eg 5A = Well above expected attainment and has improved compared with previous assessment; 3C = At expected attainment and has declined compared with previous assessment; 1B = Well below expected attainment, maintaining performance level in previous assessment
  4. For school level reporting schools get weighted credit: a single credit where there is a single tick in the table above; a double credit where there is a double tick.
  5. Schools might receive an additional bonus credit for Pupil Premium-eligible learners who receive a single or double credit.

‘Best fit’ judgements made against the standards, defined as follows:

  • Well below: Has mastered the core National Curriculum requirements with difficulty; at significant risk of falling short of mastery; requires continued targeted challenge and support to maintain it.
  •  Below: Has mastered the core National Curriculum requirements with support and made some progress with the school’s supplementary curriculum.
  •  At: Has mastered the core National Curriculum requirements and the school’s supplementary curriculum.
  • Above: Has mastered the core National Curriculum requirements and the school’s supplementary curriculum with ease; beginning to anticipate the next stage of the National Curriculum programme of study;
  •  Well above: Has mastered the core National Curriculum and the school’s supplementary curriculum with ease and is already mastering the next stage of the National Curriculum programme of study; requires continued targeted challenge and support to maintain this level of progress.



June 2012


15 thoughts on “A Basic Framework for National Curriculum Assessment

  1. Really interesting. Defining the standards (and assessing against them) will be the challenge but the credits for attainment and performance combined is a compelling model. Couple of things: Is it not possible that a child may be working well below the expected standards from one assessment to the next but still show improvement? Worth considering esp. for pupils with SEN. In note 3 you say 3C would mean there had been no improvement compared with previous assessment when I think the note should say performance has declined?

  2. Thanks Andrea. I’ve made some amendments and additions to reflect your comments. The best fit descriptions assume that 100% of learners will master the core National Curriculum. On this model, if a child is working well below the level expected and shows sufficient improvement, s/he would be graded below/improved if that description was the best fit.

  3. Other countries have massively varying frameworks. Despite that the outcomes are often very similar. So the obvious thing is to prescribe the minimum possible to give a common focus and let the professionals get on with it regulated by Ofsted and Ofqual. Far less expensive and far more likely to become evidence rather than politically based. Supporting evidence can come from grass roots “crowd sourcing” of learners work.

  4. Ian – I’m not sure I understand how the approach you propose is consistent with the reference in the response to the Expert Panel Report:

    ‘In terms of statutory assessment, however, I believe that it is critical that we both recognise the achievements of all pupils, and provide for a focus on progress. Some form of grading of pupil attainment in mathematics, science and English will therefore be required, so that we can recognise and reward the highest achievers as well as identifying those who are falling below national expectations.’

    Are you suggesting that the Government should define outcomes in a differentiated fashion and then let a thousand flowers bloom in terms of assessment, whether within the core National Curriculum or outside it?

    If so, how would you differentiate the learning outcomes?

    Wouldn’t a market-driven scenario of that kind be even more confusing to parents (and professionals) than the national system of levels we have currently?

  5. We can recognise the achievements of all pupils in all areas of learning through eg the ModBac http://www.modernbaccalaureate.com which aggregates existing methods of external and internal accreditation from KS1 to KS5 and provides mechanisms for gathering evidence. If we accept that, we don’t need government to specify anything new. The whole concept of “national expectations” is arbitrary, for individual children Key Stages do more harm than good. Children don’t mature in key stages, look at the research evidence (physiological as well as sociological). OFSTED should be in a position to judge whether or not children in any institution are performing to potential given their current level of maturity, if not why bother with OFSTED? All the government needs to specify is the key learning outcomes and let current systems for assessing the quality with which they have been met take care of that. eg the QCF specifies attainment at Entry 1, Entry 2, Entry3, Level 1 and Level 2 – spanning NC L1 to about 7/8. Why keep duplicating systems, especially when the QCF is referenced to the EQF so more than just a parochial little England thing. Use the knowledge and resources that are already there more intelligently. All parents want to know is Is my child happy at school? Do they need more support to do better, are they progressing to their potential? Are they likely at current rates to get A*-Cs in GCSEs or equivalents? Parents in general have no clue about NC levels anyway. Teachers should be able to develop the professional competence (if not already there) to give parents accurate answers to the above questions backed by sound evidence. (If they can’t why do we call them professionals?)

  6. I can understand where you’re coming from, but if the Government has just decided that National Curriculum Levels are too complex for parents to understand, I can’t see them applying the QCF in their place!

  7. Let’s face it, the government is not going to do anything except remove ATs and levels. Even if we got them to twiddle at the margins it won’t make a fundamental difference. Its the wrong way round, government should be concerned with outcomes not process but we see the opposite in maintaining the POS and getting rid of the ATs. They think that because in heavily exam driven cultures like China and Singapore PISA scores are a bit higher, expecting everyone to do the same and achieve the same level will raise standards. Culture and child motivation here are completely different so it’s obvious that it won’t work. It’s simple, put the effort into motivating children by recognising and rewarding their achievements in contexts that they value rather than contexts that adults value. (Research evidence at all levels support this) Use that as a vehicle for developing literacy, numeracy and rational approaches to decisions. That might have a chance. The rest of the political manipulation of what will be learnt and how is just a distraction, perpetuating under-achievement by most of the population. If we have to have a NC, make it as simple as possible because really it isn’t going to make much difference one way or another.

  8. The QCF is simpler than the NC and simpler than your Aunty Sally. It is the basis for the national framework for all qualifications and the European Qualifications Framework across all member states, the nearest there is to a global system. Using it rationalises and educates to a single set of simple bench marks rather than having many with complex mapping or just a pious hope they mean something. This reduces complexity and makes it more likely that parents will understand not only it but the levels of expectation for the Lifelong Learning programme as a whole. There seems to be a myth that there are defined core NC standards defined by the new POS. These are not assessment standards, they are teaching requirements with no bench marks about how they will be interpreted. Take “design, use and evaluate computational abstractions that model the state and behaviour of real-world problems and physical systems” At what level? Model throwing a die in a spreadsheet or model a flight simulator? Without some level descriptor as a minimum, the expectation is undefined until there are examples and then agreement as to which examples are at the right level. That is possible but there are no plans to implement such methods as far as I know. And on parental understanding, how many IT teachers will understand “design, use and evaluate computational abstractions that model the state and behaviour of real-world problems and physical systems” never mind parents or more importantly the children.

  9. Bear in mind that that mapping was done well before Gove was even on the scene. If you measure change in attainment over time that is progress. Progress is a gain in attainment. What the new POS calls progression is really simple continuity because you need to measure things to make a rational judgement about progress. Really you should also know the uncertainties in those measurements and quote them. In terms of the NC levels, they are really the only means of making a judgement about the level of expectation in the new POS. How else could it be done? Guessing what interpretation should be given to the words in the POS? In En and Ma there is more detail but even that would require assumptions to be sure of what level was expected just from the language. Teachers do this to a large extent intuitively because they are in environments where there is a wealth of exemplary material and teacher assessment against the NC AT levels has been in place for years. Ask a lay parent and you might well get a different interpretation altogether. This is a particular issue in stuff like Computing where most of the teachers would not understand a lot of the language used in the POS. In the end DfE could just say we expect the coverage of the POS to underpin the highest educational attainment and we are leaving interpretation of that to teacher’s professional judgement. Calling what is there Attainment Targets is misleading because a) They are not specifically about attainment, more coverage of a syllabus and b) Targets are specific, measurable, etc and there is no specification to do that. I suspect they have to use the term AT because it is enshrined in primary legislation. If there is pressure on schools to say all children reached the KS3 AT in computing how likely is that to get a minimal interpretation? If that happens how likely are the most able children to be stretched? It will end up even more lowest common denominator than now.

  10. I think we’re coming from broadly the same perspective. The National Curriculum Expert Panel appeared to advance a model in which the PoS would be in a left hand column and more precise outcome statements (aka Attainment Targets) would be provided in a parallel right hand column. The two column approach was retained in the primary core, but the right hand column became non-statutory notes and guidance. Elsewhere in the draft National Curriculum there are only the draft PoS. Each draft PoS – regardless of how detailed it is – contains a single AT which is generic, ie it relates to the PoS in its entirety. The Expert Panel also appeared to advocate a system based on mastery of subject knowledge, but exactly what had to be mastered would be captured in new-style ATs. Hence any assessment of attainment and progression would presumably rest on the concept of mastery, but the question ‘mastery of what?’ can only be answered by reference to each PoS is a single indistinguishable lump. Moreover, the PoS are insufficiently specific, in that they are not in the form of outcome statements. So, unless ATs are to be developed, any assessment model is fundamentally built on sand. I’ve tried to show that in my ‘Aunt Sally’. But, setting aside that fundamental issue, I also wanted to use it to exemplify one way in which attainment and progression might be combined in a relatively simple grading system that is more easily understandable for parents than the current levels-based approach. An added concern was to relate the assessment to what I called the ‘supplementary curriculum’ – ie any material over and above the specified PoS that schools choose to include. This to reflect the point that – except perhaps in the primary core – the draft PoS is not assumed to constitute 100% of the syllabus in any given Key Stage. I recognise that raises a further host of issues about comparability. What I had hoped was that a. someone could explain to me a way out of the conundrum caused by an absence of ATs and b. commentators could also suggest alternative models for reporting to parents and aggregating for inclusion in Performance Tables (my ‘ticks and credits’ suggestion. But, to date at least, no-one has really risen to the challenge.

  11. The words “expert panel” seems misapplied 🙂 The only way out of not having ATs is to let each individual school decide how to measure progress in its own context and hope OFSTED agrees with them. The emperor has no clothes. Rigour has been sacrificed for simplicity. Nothing wrong with that per se but its dishonest to then pretend it is more rigorous. Why not let children get qualifications at various levels whenever they are ready? Why do A levels have to wait until 18 if you can get a grade A at 16? Why do GCSEs have to be done at 16 if you could get an A* at 14? Why not give primary children entry level certificates? Recognition is well documented as a motivator so why don’t we recognise achievements more routinely at all ages? With technology it’s not expensive even with external moderation and current systems. If you assume all children are to attain the same levels at a particular age you are going to hold back the brightest as much as you drag up the weakest. Mediocrity built in. Why bother with key stages at all if there is no system of national assessment? Certainly in a secondary school you could just say get the best A levels/GCSE and equiv quals as you can for as many as you can starting age 11. What is the purpose of KS3 and KS4? There really isn’t one once you get rid of KS3 SATs and national ATs. Saying broadly, average attainers will leave school with 8 GCSE Cs or equivalent is simpler and more honest. Above average might get A*s but well above average could do that in Y10 or particularly gifted eg in Art, do it in Y9. The culture of compartments for administrative convenience is holding back the brightest while giving unrealistic targets to some that will never reach them.

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