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Daniel Stucke

Assessing without levels - Milestones

7 min read

Assessing without levels - Milestones

At our school we took the decision last Summer to embrace the opportunities available to move away from National Curriculum levels. Our approach isn’t revolutionary, but I think it’s worth sharing.


I personally felt that there were numerous issues with the old NC levels. They were not as well understood by parents / pupils / parents as everybody thought. A false sense of accuracy had been developed as levels morphed into sub-levels, did anyone really know the difference between a 5c and a 5b? At a whole school level far too many schools, ourselves included were chasing sub-levels around in circles looking for ‘rapid and sustained progress’. They also lost so much detail, everyone would hang their hat on that one level. But a 5b could hide a myriad of important information. A student might have real strength in Shape and Data in Maths but be struggling with their Number and Algebra skills. We were also in the process of re-writing schemes for learning so it made sense to tackle the two jobs together.

Desired outcomes

Initial work was done between myself and our school improvement partner. We looked at the core outcomes we wanted from our assessment systems. Primarily we wanted to refocus assessment in the classroom on the learning. All assessment should help teachers and students understand which key concepts they had grasped and which they had not. Secondly we wanted a system that could report as efficiently and simply as possible to governors, leadership, teachers, students and parents which students were making expected progress in which subjects. On reflection that’s what all school wide level analysis looked at. And when it involved chasing 2-3 sub levels per year it was a nightmare.

Expected Progress

The National Curriculum and the GCSE programmes of study set in stone expected learning at the end of KS2, KS3 and KS4. School performance measures set 'expected’ progress from KS2-4. Whilst measures are changing at both KS2 and KS4 we felt confident that learners would still join us banded into High/Middle/Low 5+/4/3- attainment bands. And expected progress will still be around the equivalent of three levels of progress.

With this in mind our model takes each subject, splits this into three bands, and maps out the expected learning in each year to ensure that middle level learners join us and progress to at least a grade C+ equivalence. High level attainers to B+ etc.

We asked each academic subject to map out the learning for each of their three bands. Pasting in the GCSE PoS outcomes into Y11, and any NC outcomes into Y8 (we have moved to a 2 year KS3). Then shuffling these around to form their high level scheme of work.


Anyone who has read the NC or GCSE PoS’s will know that the language used therein is not great for use with pupils and parents. We asked our teams to cut these down to the key 'milestones’ that were crucial for progress in the subject. And we asked them to re-write these in language that pupils and parents would understand, without dumbing them down too much, I do think we should avoid hiding away from subject specific terminology. Staff were encouraged to use blooms and SOLO taxonomy language and structures as a guide in this process. This gave us a roadmap for each subject detailing exactly what we expected a student to learn each year, and it gave us a framework of expected knowledge and skills to assess learning against.

As an example the Computing roadmap is below:

Computing Roadmap

Reporting on progress

Each assessment window (we have four a year) we ask staff to report on each student’s progress. They simply report on whether students are making Significantly Above / Above / On / Below / Significantly Below expected progress. This judgment is made by taking a range of formative and summative assessment information and judging whether a student is on track to learn what is expected of them according to the milestone pathways.

Needless to say this makes reporting at class/subject/year group level incredibly easy, a simple tally and percentage of each grade allows us to monitor progress at this level.

Staff also record the next two key milestones that a student needs to master in order to make maximum progress. This might be a key skill that they should have mastered by now but are struggling with, or it might be an important topic that will be covered in coming weeks. Parents get a quarterly report detailing the SA/A/O/B/SA progress measures along with a pair of key milestones for each subject.

Reflections two terms in

I’m pleased with how things have gone so far. Staff worked incredibly hard over the Summer to write the frameworks for this to work. I do believe we have a system that has fulfilled our original aims. More assessment is focussed on specific areas of progress, the entire data collection and analysis system is far simpler, freeing our middle and senior leaders and reporting to governors et al is simplified.

I worry we may have set our expectations too low. 'Expected progress’ was set at the old equivalent of three levels of progress form KS2-4. We took the measure of 'expected’ as per performance tables and mapped it to individuals, sometimes individual expectations need to be different to those we 'expect’ of classes or year groups. The more work I’ve done in successful schools during my NPQH the more I’ve realised that setting an 'expectation’ high than that can lead to higher expectations from staff, parents and pupils of what progress is possible, and in turn leads to better progress. This was always planned as a flexible model that we could tweak as expectations and measures at KS2 and KS4 change and as the new PoS’s come into force. We will review formally at the end of the year and if we have to slide milestones around to raise expectations then so be it.

We have been through a brief spell of ’re-calibration’. Analysing the data showed that more students than should have been were making 'expected progress’ and less than should have been were making 'above expected progress’. On discussion with middle leaders and teachers it was clear that staff had set the bar a little too low when making judgements of 'expected progress’. And conversely too high for 'above expected’. Also staff were forgetting where students had started their journey. Those who joined us as level 4 learners and had worked hard for several years were being judged as making 'expected progress’ because that’s what staff had come to expect from them. When in fact, in terms of KS2-now measures they were working well 'above expected’. Much as it pained me a little to talk levels again, the diagram below helped staff to re-calibrate in their minds our progress statements.

Milestones mapped to levels and grades

In part two I’ll explain the implementation strategy we used to lead this change.

Daniel Stucke

Draft National Curriculum Programmes of Study - My Response

10 min read

April the 16th is the deadline for responses to the Draft National Curriculum Programmes of Study. Much has been written and said about the creation of the Computing nee ICT programme of study and it’s creation process. I’ve written myself around the topic a number of times over it’s journey from the Nesta report to our decision to start a Computing GCSE back in 2011 (feeling pretty smug about that decision!) to the diss-application of the old PoS to our new KS3 curriculum.

Really I should respond to the proposals, so here in the interest of sharing and discussing are my (personal) responses to the official consultation. I’ll try my best to avoid the politics and keep our young people and their futures at the heart of this response.

The response below largely refers to Computing/ICT, much as I could be tempted into discussing other subjects.

1.Do you have any comments on the proposed aims for the National Curriculum as a whole as set out in the framework document?

It is sad to see English education being reduced to “core knowledge”. There is a real danger that an overly prescriptive curriculum, based on too much core knowledge, combined with the ongoing pressures of league tables and Ofsted will lead many weaker teachers and schools to cramming facts into our young learners. Will this develop the skills and competencies for future learning and work that they will require? I don’t think so. I’ll never argue that learning times tables and other key pieces of knowledge are crucial, but that’s not al there is to education is it?

2.Do you agree that instead of detailed subject-level aims we should free teachers to shape their own curriculum aims based on the content in the programmes of study?

In principal yes. But where there are extensive changes, the Computing curriculum being the most obvious, it is important that sufficient support is available for schools and teachers to create effective curricula.

3.Do you have any comments on the content set out in the draft programmes of study?

The Computing programme of study is a massive change from ICT. I’m in support of replacing much of the old PoS, as is evident in much of my previous writing. Programming and a more detailed understanding of how computers work is important.

The PoS that has been proposed seems to be heavily weighted towards Computing/Computer Science, at the expense of creative pursuits and digital literacy. Whilst they are clearly left in the final two points of the KS3 PoS, they seem to have been left in as an afterthought. Whether that’s the intention, it is certainly the appearance that is given.

Some of the Computer Science points are somewhat extreme. I’m not at all convinced that all 13 year olds need to understand 2 sorting algorithms and two searching algorithms, and I’m quite convinced that they do not need to be able to represent text or images in binary by hand! There is plenty of time for those students who wish to continue with Computing at GCSE level to pick up these more detailed skills at this point.

For those who will not work in the IT industry or go on to develop their programming skills in more detail this proposed PoS does not offer enough opportunities for learners to develop their skills of safely, creatively using IT to solve problems, something that every one of them will need to be able to do for the rest of their life.

4.Does the content set out in the draft programmes of study represent a sufficiently ambitious level of challenge for pupils at each key stage?

See answer to section 3.

5.Do you have any comments on the proposed wording of the attainment targets?

See answer to section 3.

6.Do you agree that the draft programmes of study provide for effective progression between the key stages?

Progression in knowledge maybe. But it is very unclear how this progression is to be measured. I’m no huge fan of National Curriculum levels as can be seen in our research work on Badges for assessment. But they have certainly served a purpose, particularly in core subjects. If we are still to be measured on the levels of progress from KS2 to KS3 and KS2 to KS4 then what will these measures be based upon? It’s not even clear if KS2 levels will continue within core subjects - but that’s a whole different conversation. As ASCL’s quality response suggests, educators are more than capable of replacing NC Levels with something better, but again we need the time and collaboration opportunities to develop these. The complete lack of clarity in this area is of real concern.

7.Do you agree that we should change the subject information and communication technology to computing to reflect the content of the new programmes of study?

What’s in a name? I have no issues with the change to ‘Computing’. Politics and policies have muddied the name of ICT so a change can’t do much harm.

8.Does the new National Curriculum embody an expectation of higher standards for all children?

If standards are measured in facts committed to memory by a certain age then yes. If standards mean skills for lifelong learning, and knowledge and understanding that develops at different rates for different learners, then I’m not sure it does.

9.What impact - either positive or negative - will our proposals have on the 'protected characteristic’ groups.

There is significant danger that learners from protected characteristic groups will be turned off the use of IT in their future lives. The heavy focus on Computer Science will be a considerable learning challenge for them. Combined with the issues of delivering these (see subsequent comments on CPD) effectively they may well fail to progress in Computing, quickly become disaffected with the subject and leave school without basic digital literacies that they will need to access employment.

10.To what extent will the new National Curriculum make clear to parents what their children should be learning at each stage of their education?

The majority of parents will have little or no idea what the majority of the Computing points mean.

As far as clarifying which facts should be known by what age things should be relatively clear. Does that explain what students should actually be learning and how?

11.What key factors will affect schools’ ability to implement the new National Curriculum successfully from September 2014?

Three key factors put the success of the proposed KS3/4 PoS for Computing at huge risk of failure:

The content, as detailed in previous responses, risks turning many learners off the subject of Computing. Unless they are delivered with skills which leads on to…

Staff training:

Most schools in England will not be able to deliver the KS3 (&KS4) Computing programme of study from September 2014 without a massive investment in training. Our school has a talented ICT department however we consist of a Maths teacher, a Business Studies teacher and an unqualified ICT teacher (who fortunately understands programming). This is not atypical. I do not know the percentage of teachers teaching ICT at present who have degrees in Computer Science, or who can program, but I would estimate it at around 10%. That leaves approximately 90% of the ICT teaching workforce who do not know the content proposed in the PoS.

To teach well and deliver difficult concepts to students at an early age it is vital that teachers are experts in the field, that they have a deep understanding of the subject matter and hopefully experience of teaching it. This is all missing at present.

Continuing Professional Development (CPD) demands to deliver this PoS at all, let alone by September 2014 will be huge. Most ICT teachers will need to learn to the concepts behind programming, then learn a programming language, and then will need to learn how to teach that knowledge effectively. That’s hundreds of hours of training for most staff. Most teachers will receive around 25 hours of CPD a year on average. CPD budgets in schools are falling in line with overall falls in school budgets under the current government.

Where will the CPD programmes to support this proposed PoS come from? Who will fund them? Who will fund the supply cover required to back fill staff while they are out on this training?

All at once: Surely it would be sensible to stagger the introduction of the new curriculum. We will be elected to teach KS3 students this curriculum, which is very different from previously, despite those same students not having been exposed to any of the new Computing knowledge in the new KS3 curriculum. Are we to play catch up with everything that they would have learned in KS2 had this been introduced bit by bit?

12.Who is best placed to support schools and/or develop resources that schools will need to teach the new National Curriculum?

Local Authorities? Nope! Becta? Ha! Vital? Oops! Teaching Schools? Not sure the majority of them have Computer Science teams!

Joking aside, this is an issue. Following the issues over the drafting of the PoS are the relationships between the likes of Naace & BCS strong enough to develop the required support together? There will be plenty of people rubbing their hands with glee and offering expensive training courses and pre-packaged schemes of work for schools at a cost. Will these be tailored to the individual schools? Of course not.

The people best placed to support schools and develop resources are the teachers themselves. There is great creativity, ingenuity, dedication, skill and enthusiasm in the current ICT teaching community. Those with the Computer Science / programming skills will be all too happy to help. This has been seen for the past 7 years or so on Twitter and across teacher blogs. There is only so much work that these volunteers can do in their spare time, could funding be sought to allow them the time and space to collaborate. The Primary National Curriculum for Computing in ITT Expert Group’s work at Primary level is a great example of what needs to be started at KS3.

13.Do you agree that we should amend the legislation to diss-apply the National Curriculum programmes of study, attainment targets and statutory assessment arrangements, as set out in section 12 of the consultation document?

Really not sure about this. What will Ofsted be looking for in classrooms in this 'fallow’ year? Is this just a sneaky way of introducing the new PoS’s a year early?


I’m not against the proposals. A balanced increase in Computer Science and a bringing up to date of the other areas of the old ICT curriculum are well overdue. However the proposals that have been produced do seem to be overly weighted towards Computer Science, based on what evidence and research is unclear. If this PoS is to go ahead then there are huge issues with it’s successful implementation in the proposed timescales. The creation of this document to this point has not brought the communities together and has left teachers in particular feeling completely left out of the process.

Daniel Stucke

Our New ICT Curriculum #ICTCurric

4 min read

Probably worth reading my last post about the disapplication of the previous ICT Program of Study and our plans to take it’s place at KS3 before proceeding with this one.

So what have we done in the 4 months since my last post?

Our fabulous ICT Department have thrashed out what we believe to be the key elements of an ICT curriculum for 2012. Taking inspiration from many places (again see the last post) we’ve come up with a core set of topics which we believe will support our learners in accessing our two KS4 qualifications if they decide to do so in the future (GCSE Computing & Creative iMedia), whilst giving them the digital skills and literacies that we believe they will need to be successful in all areas of their future learning and work.

Our core topics are:

  • Living Online
  • Publishing Online
  • Formal Digital Communications
  • Researching Online
  • Digital Presenting
  • Visual Programming & Control
  • Text Based Programming
  • Handling Digital Data
  • Digital Imaging
  • Digital Video
  • Digital Sound
  • Project Planning
  • Project Evaluation

We’ve decided to call our new curriculum ‘ICT’ - after much debate we decided it still fits the job nicely!

We’ve also throughly embraced the idea of using badges to reward and assess progress. We’re fortunate that I’m also responsible for data and assessment at our school so I’ve kindly given us permission to scrap National Curriculum levels entirely for KS3 ICT. In their place come our Badges, these will eventually be in Bronze, Silver & Gold levels for each topic. It’s an interesting experiment but we really believe that knowing you’ve achieved a Silver Award in Digital Presentation and a Bronze Award in Living Online will mean far more to learner and parent than being told they are working at a 4b. Time will tell.

We have been carefully constructing the learning objectives / learning outcomes for the badges and learners have been collating their evidence towards these using Realsmart rPassports. They’re being awarded on Edmodo for now, eventually we hope to use the full Mozilla Open Badges framework.

To give you a feel for these here’s one objective from the Living Online badge:

I can use social networks safely because I have:

  • reviewed the security and safety settings of my social networks
  • analysed my contacts and ensured that they are appropriate and can see only what I want them to
  • discussed the potential dangers of social networking, highlighting typical signs of danger
  • described how to report suspicious or abusive behaviour that I might encounter online
  • chosen the right social network for the right communications and interactions

Please feel free to see more detail on our wiki and feel free to offer your comments here. It’s very much a work in progress, we’ve got a framework in the background and are trying to keep a half term ahead of ourselves throughout the year.

It’s interesting to note that since this whole adventure started with Mr Gove’s original invitation to ICT teachers to embrace this new found freedom, he has since decided to retract that and come up with a new program of study, as far as I can tell behind closed doors from the very educators he encouraged to take up the mantle. Hopefully it will bear much resemblance to what we’re doing here. If not we’ll probably carry on with what we feel is right any way.

So far it’s been a really enjoyable start to the year. Staff have been enjoying teaching relevant skills and literacies to the students and they are getting the hang of badges. As we start awarding the first badges over the next week or so I am confident it’s going to really take off. I’m also really positive that when we get onto the likes of Digital Presentation we’re going to start seeing students using lots of evidence from other subjects to support their badges. I hope that this in turn becomes a nice guide to staff in other departments as to the actual ICT skills of our learners. With my Maths teacher head on I think it would be great to be able to look at a glance at the specific skills of my class and know in advance if they have experience of managing data or doing basic programming. Historically other teachers wouldn’t really have a clue as to the ICT skills of a student, making integrating ICT in other subjects more difficult.

Exciting times :)

Daniel Stucke

Bravo Mr Gove #schoolstech #ictcurric

4 min read

Unless you’ve been living under a rock today I’m assuming you’ll have seen some excitable headlines followed by a more detailed speech about the future of technology in education in the UK and in particular the future of the subject of ICT.

In a nutshell Mr Gove has scrapped the ICT curriculum, whilst keeping ICT in the curriculum. Confused? Don’t be. We can now effectively teach whatever we want. There will be a consultation, and there will hopefully be new ‘Computer Science’ qualifications in the pipeline. Mr Gove has listened to the calls of industry and responded with startling ruthlessness.

I’m delighted that my school is in a great position to make the most of these changes (in fact we won’t have many changes). We acted on the NextGen report when it came out last year and have a Y10 group working on the OCR Computing GCSE that I suspect Gove was alluding to in his speech. (Some of our other decisions back then with regards to Creative iMedia & MOS might not prove so long serving).

I never thought I’d say the words, but bravo Mr Gove!

The ICT programme of study was dull and out of date in places, and there is a lot of poor ICT teaching across the country. There is also a wealth of incredible teaching by teachers who have ignored / bent / destroyed the current program of study to their needs. Gove’s decision today means they are free to do so without worry of Ofsted and co castigating them for doing so. There is of course a danger that specific ICT lessons will dwindle in number further with this move. Integrating the skills across the curriculum is key, but we still need specialist teachers delivering these skills with panache if we are to really generate the next generation of talented, creative, coders.

The move to include more Computing / Programming / Computer Science has been much debated of late. It needs to be optional at KS4 but I’m in full support of this. Well qualified & skilled teachers to deliver this will be an issue.

It’s an exciting time to be involved in ICT. It’ll be interesting to see if we really do make it through the next few years without being told what to teach. And it will be interesting to see what qualifications become available at KS4 for us to work towards (and in turn what skills they focus us upon). This is a great chance to continue some of the great work that has gone on with and other endeavours to start putting together a set of core skills and competencies for Digital Literacy & ICT.

A particularly exciting thought crossed my mind when reading the full transcript of the speech. As the programme of study goes, so do the assessment levels and criteria. There will be nothing to say what a Level 5 in ICT is. So how about we scrap levels? What does achieving a Level 5 in ICT really mean? And who understands it? I’d suggest that half the students in KS3 don’t know, no teacher outside of the subject would know, and very few parents would know. Could we put together a simple list of core skills and competencies and measure learner’s progression in each of these. Something akin to APP lite, maybe with a Mozilla Badge system to award and recognise mastery and application of these skills? I suspect that National Curriculum levels will be phased out across the board over coming years, so this could be a great opportunity to put together something far more meaningful. I’d be much happier with my Maths teaching hat on if I could look at my learners records and see who has a Silver Award in Spreadsheets, or a Bronze Award in Scratch Programming, it would be far more meaningful to me and make planning the integration of ICT skills into that subject far easier.

So. Bravo Mr Gove. I may disagree with you a lot of the time, but you’ve been bold today and deserve respect for it. Join in the conversation that has been started today using the hashtag and at the website And welcome to the brave new world, when the National Curriculum review finally kicks into action don’t be surprised to see other subjects head in a similar direction.

Daniel Stucke

A 'Technical Baccalaureate'?

1 min read

The education charity Edge, which promotes technical and practical learning and of which Adonis is a trustee, is working closely with the Baker Dearing Educational Trust to come up with such a qualification. Under the plans, seen exclusively by Education Guardian, pupils aged 14 to 16 would spend 60% of their time studying for GCSEs in English, maths, science and another subject. The rest of their time would be taken up with a technical qualification, such as an engineering diploma or a construction course. They would also be expected to study a language, but not necessarily to GCSE standard.

This would be known as a Professional Technical Baccalaureate, and the organisations hope it would be used as a measurement in school league tables, as the Ebacc is now, and offered in all schools.

Whilst I’m no fan of the English Baccaluareate do we need yet another measure that the majority of people aren’t going to understand?

What exactly was wrong with relying on straight up single exam results any way?

A 'Technical Baccalaureate'?