Nurturing student talent in Art at Key Stage 3 in preparation for the challenges of GCSE

An Action Research Project by Tanya Owen (Art & Design)

As Van Gogh once wrote, “…one must never let the fire go out in one’s soul, but keep it burning.”

I began this research project as a direct response to teaching 4 out of 5 Art and Design groups in year 8. This particular year group has an extremely wide ability spectrum, a number of pupils with behavioural issues and one lesson a week to teach them Art in. I felt as a teacher I was not spending enough time with the higher achieving pupils. Even though I would differentiate the work, by the time the rest of the pupils were focused I would only have a limited amount of time to support pupils in developing more technical and refined skills.

I understand implicitly how to teach a pupil at GCSE level to achieve an A*. A lot of one to one work and time inside and sometimes outside of normal lessons is needed; discussing ideas; teaching technical skills and instilling the confidence to experiment with materials and make mistakes. This year, my A and A* students spent a lot of extra time after school or at lunchtimes working though these criteria and stretching their ambitions and creativity in a relaxed and supportive environment.  A trusting and positive relationship was developed with these individuals, which helped them to feel safe and to succeed.

As a response to this, I decided to begin a Year 8 Art Club for pupils who aspired to be talented artists so that they too could have a relaxed space in which to be creative and where I could teach them to a higher level, spark their creativity and tap into their imagination.

What does a talented Artist look like?

  1. They think and express themselves in creative and original ways

Pupils want to follow a different plan to other pupils and have strong personal ideas. They often challenge the tasks given and can extend the work in a fantastic direction.

  1. Have a strong desire to create in a visual form

They are driven by their imagination, flights of fancy, humanitarian concerns or personal issues/subject matter. They persevere with resolving visual problems and complete tasks successfully.

  1. Push the boundaries of a normal process

They test ideas and problem solve. They explore ways in which to depict ideas, feelings, emotions and meanings. They are excited by new ideas and ways of looking at their work and are not frightened by it.

  1. Show a passionate interest in the world of art and design

They are often interested in a particular art form, contemporary culture or youth culture.

  1. Use materials, tools and techniques skilfully and learn new approaches

They are keen to extend and explore their technical ability and can sometimes become frustrated when their skills do not allow them to do what they would like to do initially but they persevere.

  1. Initiate ideas and define problems

They can explore ideas, problems and sources on their own and collaboratively with a sense of purpose and meaning.

  1. Critically evaluate visual work and other information

They make unusual connections and links with the work of other artists. They can apply the ideas/techniques to their own work in a non-linear and innovative way.

  1. Exploit the characteristics of materials and processes

They use and understand materials well and even invent new ways of using them.

  1. Understand the ideas and meanings in their own and others’ work

Their work has meaning and a narrative which they can talk to you about on a very personal level.

As a visual person, I find definitions in words quite difficult and find the use of concrete examples much clearer, such as in the following examples of a current GCSE pupils’ work:

Fig 1

Fig 2Fig 3

Leading ultimately, to the completed project.

Fig 4

So, having clearly defined what a talented Artist’s work looks like I decided to take a very small part of this to tackle with the year 8 group. For me, it was important to inspire and excite the students about the subject. I began by running workshops for the pupils outside of lessons. Although the pupils seemed to be quite happy with this, there were not many participants and they lacked enthusiasm. So I decided to let the pupils take the lead…

Although one or two found this freedom a little difficult, we talked individually about what they wanted to do and came up with some themes and concepts. Most pupils, however, brought in their sketchbooks from home; drawings they had already done and artists’ work they particularly liked and were very excited to show me what they really enjoyed. This brought a whole new energy to the group and many more joined. Many of the pupils were very motivated by Manga Images. Pupils need to have a certain technical aptitude to draw these figures and faces accurately and many were doing this very skilfully. They are nevertheless, quite flat drawings and could be made a lot more exciting by adding various techniques and contexts to them. I did not want the pupils to just continue with creating pastiches of the artists’ work.

The Manga drawings are quite flat and cartoon like….

Fig 5

Other pupils within the group focused on various things from cake prints to make Birthday cards as well as continuing to explore classwork, to which they were be able to add some of the new techniques explored.

Fig 6

I did two weeks of each workshop demonstrating techniques and trying to get the pupils excited about applying more exciting patterns and textures into their drawings and artwork.

Fig 7

The pupils did enjoy this but seemed to do it a bit reluctantly, as most wanted to carry on with and develop their own pieces of work.

I then began to look at evidence about creativity.

Fig 8

‘The real driver of creativity is an appetite for discovery and a passion for the work itself.’ (from an article in the Guardian)

First, creativity, like learning in general, is a highly personal process. We all have different talents and aptitudes and different ways of getting to understand things. Raising achievement in schools means leaving room for these differences and not prescribing a standard ‘steeplechase’ for everyone to complete, at the same time and in the same way.

Second, creativity is not a linear process, in which you have to learn all the necessary skills before you get started. It is true that creative work in any field involves a growing mastery of skills and concepts. It is not true that they have to be mastered before the creative work can begin. Focusing on skills in isolation can kill interest in any discipline. The real driver of creativity is an appetite for discovery and a passion for the work itself. When students are motivated to learn, they naturally acquire the skills they need to get the work done. Their mastery of them grows as their creative ambitions expand.

Third, facilitating this process takes connoisseurship, judgment – and, yes, creativity, on the part of teachers. For creativity to flourish, schools have to feel free to innovate without the constant fear of being penalised for not keeping with the programme.

So, although teaching pupils new skills is effective, it would be more effective to get the pupils to answer technical  questions about their work through a desire to create a piece in a certain way.  As a teacher the challenge then is to facilitate this vision…to answer and give options to creative questions.

How do I give this creature an eerie texture?

Fig 9

How do I make this hair look more lively?

Fig 10

How do I make the paint more dribbly and random on my flowers?

Fig 11

This process has had a powerful effect on the relationship I have with those pupils. There is a greater trust that they will be able to succeed with me as their teacher, which for me is very important, as I feel it has been this group of students in particular who can be marginalised in lessons. They also have a greater confidence in the art classroom as they have a greater ownership of it. Independence and confidence has risen. I am trying to use the club as an opportunity to talk about classwork in a non-formal way so that I am able to have a bigger input into stretching their abilities and ambitions inside and outside the formal setting.

Ultimately, I want pupils to have more ‘attitude’. When I consider what is different between my most able pupils at GCSE and this group in year 8; it is that the GCSE candidates are argumentative, protective and almost stubborn about their ideas. This ‘attitude’ gives them resilience in resolving their own creative dilemmas.

As a consequence of this research I intend to proceed as follows:

My Action Plan

  • Encourage pupils to integrate new techniques into their own ideas/work to make it visually richer and craft a creative final piece.
  • Try to give them the confidence to deal with mistakes. It could lead to a new idea and the pupils may have the courage to go down a creative journey in which they do not know the outcome.
  • Add links on our Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) to various pencil and paint techniques so pupils can access them and learn how to do these at home;
    • Watercolour – salt technique, texture and cling film, blurring and wash on wash
    • Creating texture and collage – using tissue paper, glue gun, pva, pulp, newspaper, magazines
    • Pencil techniques – realistic drawing, creating texture using a pencil, portrait drawing
  • Plan an art trip for year 9 next year to raise aspirations further and run another art club based on this.

Featued image: Wallpaper Geometric Art Abstract Waves Background  Creative Commons Zero – CC0


Nurturing and Developing Artistic Creativity at KS3

An Action Research project by Matt Hodge (Art & Design)

Aim of the project:

The aim of this project is to develop strategies for developing individual creativity on male pupils at KS3.


  1. Examine where the differences lie between the theoretical art education and actual art education in England.
  2. Investigate the nature of good practice from the perspective of creativity and compare to good practice under the current framework for high schools.
  3. Develop a strategy for increasing creativity in schools within the current framework.


In 1999 John Swift and John Steers wrote A Manifesto for Art In Schools. The paper called for a new form of Art education in our schools that promoted difference, plurality and independence of mind. These desires and thoughts have been echoed by others interested in the study of Art education and justification for the inclusion of Art education in National Curriculum, for example Burgess and Addison (2000) and Siegusmund (1998). Many issues raised in the manifesto have already been addressed, specialist teachers appear at primary level and the previous National Curriculum for Art primarily addressed creativity, confidence and cultural awareness (The National Curriculum, 2007). Whilst Art education may have appeared to move towards a freer model, the reality painted by teaching colleagues is different.  The limiting assessment criteria, that pupils and teachers have to abide by prevents true creativity and relies upon formulaic progression of activities (Hardy, 2002) and evidenced by the current GCSE assessment criteria. In order to achieve good grades, teachers put pupils through a tried and tested formula with minimal room for individuality.


Initially the project was to focus on boys’ progression but engagement in the project through the originally planned extracurricular clubs after school was minimal. The club was attended by a handful of pupils but they soon dropped off. Opening the club to male and female pupils saw numbers briefly increase however these numbers soon tailed off. The open nature of pupils finding things they were interested in may have been too challenging. Pupils would easily find an image they wanted to turn into a piece of Art but struggled to consider technique and methods. This is where pupils needed much tighter instruction.

To adapt the project to produce viable outcomes I adapted my teaching strategies to focus on assessment rather than instruction at KS3, taking the role of ‘facilitator’ rather than front and centre teacher. Initial direction and themes for projects were given to pupils of both sexes but from this point the majority of instruction came through assessment rather than teacher led direction. This allowed pupils to complete work at a pace they were comfortable with, which in some cases, particularly among female pupils, has driven up quality. They still seek guidance and help but this has become much more of a two way conversation about ways progression is possible rather than what do I do now.

Photographs and commentary

Pictures 1,2,3

Outcomes from a project based on Harry Potter Death Eaters. Pupils developed individual ideas in response to a field trip, using generic instructions for what is expected to be seen in a design task. Pupils were required to gather their own resources and develop their own ideas drawing on a number of sources. Pupils were given basic instruction in how to construct the mask but once completed had to develop their own methods for adding details.


Picture 4

Pupils independently chose and studied a variety of Artists before being tasked to appropriate techniques to a portrait of a member of staff.


Pictures 5,6,7

The same generic task assessment sheet was used multiple times to familiarise pupils with the expectations of the assignment. This allowed pupils to best explore their techniques and methods as they knew the framework they would be assessed against in detail. The process allowed pupils to manage their own time and expectations of progress between tasks.



Picture 8, 9, 10

Resources and initial design ideas produced by pupils to inspire their Harry Potter Death Eater masks.


Picture 11

Clear and explicit outcomes requirements allowed the pupil to find a personal hook to maintain their interest. The pupil was able to succeed as they could pick their own topic / theme within the intended outcome.

Next steps

  1. Develop a foundation based curriculum to build initial directed skills in early KS3 covering basic needed skills and techniques.
  2. Develop further independence, confidence and resilience in self-directed study.
  3. Offer pupils a range of starting points for projects (artist or subject based) to allow them to develop their own course of study, fitting assessment criteria into the tasks, not the task into the assessment criteria.


Burgess, L. and Addison, N. (2004, 2nd ed.) Contemporary Art in Schools: Why Bother? in R. Hickman, (Ed.) Art Education 11-18 – Meaning, Purpose and Direction. London: Continuum.

Hardy, T. (2002) AS Level Art: Farewell to the ‘Wow’ Factor? Journal of Art and Design Education. Vol.21 No.2

QCA (2007) The National Curriculum. London: QCA

Siegesmund, R. (1998) Why Do We Teach Art Today? Conceptions of Art Education and Their Justification. Studies in Art Education. Vol.39 No.3.

Swift, J and Steers, J (1999) A Manifesto for Art in Schools. Journal of Art and Design Education. Vol.18 No.1


Developing Mastery in Mathematics (3)

Featured picture:

Maths mastery – exploration and implementation

An Action Research project by Julie Silk

Aims of the project

The aim of the investigation was to explore the changes to approaches in the teaching of Mathematics to incorporate the new style of questioning and understanding known as Mastery.

The Key Stage 3 and 4 curriculum has drastically changed, particularly with regard to the style of questioning in assessment.

Our aims

  • To clarify what “mastery” means
  • To identify changes needed to teaching styles and learning outcomes
  • To implement changes
  • To observe one another to assist with team planning and sharing good practice
  • Embed mastery in our Schemes of Work


In 2015 the new Mathematics curriculum was launched. Numbers replaced grades and a new style of examination was introduced by the examination boards. Our current Year 11 will be the first to face the challenge of the new curriculum. It was, therefore, essential that as a department we gained full understanding of what the changes were and how this would impact on our teaching. There were two main changes: curriculum content and mastery. Exam boards, education experts and teachers across the country were all offering a variety of opinions as to how this would look. It was for this reason that the faculty as a whole decided to carry out action research that would assist with this process.


Our initial discussions began with us selecting a couple of classes to work with in order to build resilience and mastery skills using plenaries that based on mastery style questions.   At the same time we set out to research more fully the definition of mastery.  It quickly became apparent that we would need to use our plenaries with all classes or some of our pupils would be disadvantaged.  In consequence we extended this practice to all classes in years 7-10.

The emphasis on moving from predictable questions where you can teach a few “tricks” to get enough marks to get a C, to a real understanding of how to problem solve with Maths is , I believe, an excellent step forward. I have always considered teaching maths to be like coaching a football team. You show them lots of skills which they can practice and master but it isn’t until they are put together in a match that the full beauty of the game can be appreciated; in our case the “match” is problem solving.


  • Research mastery
  • Change plenaries
  • Change assessments
  • Observe each other teach in peer observations
  • Share good practice within the department
  • Share good practice outside the department

Research was shared and stored in a central folder in the Maths faculty for the benefit of all.

The new style of questioning needs quite a lot of encouragement for pupils to get started and we have to build resilience as up until this year, pupils were reluctant to get things wrong in Maths.

With the new style of questions we felt that it was important for the pupils to get a realistic idea of their understanding of the work. Our new tests provided by the exam board are very challenging and pupils need much encouragement to correct their mistakes. I felt it was vital for them to persist and so for every end of unit test we do, one week later they have a retest, same style of questions but different numbers. Pupils are adapting much better to the tests as confidence grows. The younger the pupil the better they are dealing with the changes. In year 10 the tests and end of year exams have certainly spread the level of attainment, many who would normally be 4/5 borderline are struggling to achieve anywhere near their target grade while the top-end are almost on par with their counterparts from last year. We can now see that our next step is to get pupils to write down the steps taken in each question and to at least start a 6-8 mark question that they feel is at the limit of their ability.

Peer observation

At the start peer observations were used to have a look at what we were each trying out with our classes. We have a full programme of paired observation for the next academic year to further develop our skills and share best practice.


The full impact of our findings will be more evident as time goes on.

  • Test results for my year 10 groups have shown that the more able the pupil the better they have adapted to the new style questions.
  • Resilience is key to gaining marks.
  • Showing working out is now more important than ever.
  • Adoption of the Shanghai style of teaching (learning key facts, peer support, moving forward together) is important as pupils need all the mathematical skills taught readily available.


  • In the long term, changes to the curriculum will increase understanding of Mathematics by pupils
  • Resilience needs to be encouraged and perfected
  • We’ve been fortunate that Nrich has been good preparation for some of the skills needed
  • Results will rise as we develop mastery further
  • The skills we have gained can be shared with others in other departments, other schools and Primary colleagues

Next steps

  • Continue to adapt lessons to incorporate mastery plenaries
  • Increase pupil response to tests and exams
  • Use peer support to raise understanding in lessons
  • Contact Primary partners to set up a support hub
  • Focus mind set changes on the middle ability pupils who seem to have been the most affected by exam changes

Sources and references

NCETM (2014a). Developing Mastery in Mathematics. [Online] Available from: [Accessed: 28th September 2015]

NCETM (2014b). Video material to support the implementation of the National Curriculum. Available from: [Accessed 28th September 2015]

National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics. October 2014. Williams, H. (2014) Approach, Research. Mathematics Mastery Acting Director of Primary

Developing Mastery in Mathematics (2)

(Featured image: “Image Provided by Classroom Clipart“)

An Action Research project by Jodie Johnson

The aim of this project was to explore different ways in which we could embed the new ‘mastery in maths’ curriculum into our day to day teaching. The curriculum has changed dramatically for Key Stage 3 and 4 in terms of the way students will be assessed; while the content is largely the same the way in which we teach the new curriculum has to be adapted to this new style if our students are to be successful .

Our aims were:

  • To clarify exactly what ‘mastery’ means for our subject
  • What this means for us as a faculty as a whole and our teaching styles; we then wanted to work on how this should directly impact on our individual lessons and assessments
  • To begin to think about how we could allow our students the opportunity to be more resilient in our subject and therefore more ready to face the new style of questioning that they will be challenged with
  • Finally, we worked on how the mastery curriculum could be embedded more formally into our schemes of work.


Looking formally at ‘Mastery in Mathematics’ is vital for our department at this time as our current year 10 are the first to face the new mastery curriculum at GCSE level. It was essential that we took the time as a department to focus on the shifting focuses of the new curriculum; it was important that we did this together and that we did it now. In our initial meeting we wanted to address the differing opinions we had in terms of what we thought mastery was and then whether this mirrored what the new curriculum required. Once we had clarified this for ourselves it was important to us that the students could articulate what we meant by mastery.  Finally and most importantly we needed to work on how this would impact on our day to day teaching methods so that our teaching style was adapted and in turn we were preparing our students as best we possibly could for the challenges they would be facing.


We began our discussions at the beginning of the year by each focusing on a couple of specific classes that we would ensure had a ‘mastery plenary’ as often as possible and that we would use as a group to compare to the rest of our students. However we quickly realised that this would leave those that were not picked at a huge disadvantage in terms of preparing them for their assessments so we decided it was important that all of our students (in years 7-10) were experiencing ‘mastery’ style lessons.

While we felt as a department it was vital that we started to look at Mastery this year for our students, I have also been interested in this style of teaching for a while. I have become more and more conscious since I began teaching that the mathematics we were delivering to our students wasn’t necessarily preparing them for the real world but for an exam that we could pretty much second guess in terms of what it would look like. Like most other mathematics teachers I have worked with, I felt the problem solving skills and fluency that we should be teaching our students was being lost and replaced with teaching students how to answer a seemingly random set of questions in order to pass exams and this meant that they did not have a deep understanding of the concepts they were being taught. In my opinion, Mathematics should be an exercise in problem solving, it should stretch a person’s mind to work in a way that no other subject does and this was being lost as result of the pressure which falls heavily upon teachers shoulders to hit target grades. The new mastery curriculum while daunting for maths teachers in the short term, I saw and still see, as an exciting and hugely beneficial thing in the long term for our future generation of Mathematicians. How exactly this would look in my classroom, how I could ensure I was preparing them to problem solve and enjoy mathematics, while at the same time preparing them to pass their exams in maths is something I was grateful to have the time to do while preparing this Action Research Project.


As a department there are several ways in which we have modified our teaching since working together as a learning focus group1.

Research into Mastery and how this affected our work

All member of the department undertook their own individual research into what mastery was and we the brought it together in our learning focus meetings. We found that the most important factor when teaching the mastery curriculum was that of fluency between topics. We decided after our reading that for our students, especially those that would be facing the foundation curriculum this was something that we were not currently doing successfully, building their resilience in mathematics was paramount.   If they were to be successful mathematicians we needed to instil some confidence in them that it is completely fine to get things wrong in mathematics.

We also discovered various ways in which other countries have approached the teaching of Mathematics. We looked at the potential impact adopting Eastern Asian styles of teaching would have on our students and decided that some time would need to be dedicated to our students ‘learning’ facts and methods in maths so they had access to them at all times when completing more open ended tasks. Things like learning times tables for our younger students is something we often presume the students know from primary school but this is often not the case and we spent some time with our weaker students actually learning things like this as home works or in class.

We discovered after conversations between the team that articulating mathematics is something that is important for our students in order to ‘master’ a topic and that again our current methods weren’t necessarily allowing enough opportunity for this skill to be developed. We have therefore spent much more time on questions where students have to prove answers and in my lessons I questions students in a slightly different way, emphasising the importance of clarity in their working, asking questions like “Are you sure about that? Prove it to me as your current working doesn’t convince me”. This form of questioning also forces my students to think more precisely about what they are writing and the way in which they are presenting their work.

We researched different methods that we could use every lesson that wouldn’t necessarily link directly to individual topics. For example, asking questions like:

“Where does this fit into what we did last week?”

“Can you show me another way to do that?”

“Is that the only way to do that question?”

Adapting Assessments

At the beginning of the year we were working from a scheme of work called ‘Kangaroo’. We have worked on this for the least 4 years as a faculty but with the new curriculum changes Kangaroo have also updated their aims and lesson objectives. We continued to follow this scheme of work but adapted our assessments to include mastery style questions that we found on the Kangaroo website as well as the AQA website (which is the GCSE board we will be following) at the end of each unit of work. This meant that our students now needed much more fluency between subject areas and we were working at dispelling the myth that ‘a Pythagoras question looks like this’, ‘an expanding brackets question looks like this’ etc. We were starting to force our students to think of Mathematics as a puzzle and that each individual topic was just one piece and that they would need all the pieces to answer these new style questions.

Over the last 3 years we have been developing our schemes of work to incorporate more and more ‘Nrich’ challenges (Nrich is a website created by Cambridge University which has open ended questions and what we now recognise as ‘Mastery challenges’). While we have informally taught Nrich lessons once a fortnight for the last few years, one member of the department has now formally added appropriate Nrich lessons to our schemes of work where they naturally fit into the subject areas we are teaching. The rationale behind this is that the students will get used to being ‘stuck’ (no Nrich challenge is a 5 minute problem with a yes or no answer – each one takes at least an hour and the students will become more and more familiar with getting themselves unstuck as part of the experience). One adaptation I made during these lessons during the year was to only allow students to ask 3 questions of me the teacher per Nrich lesson. This forced them to have to really think about whether they needed to ask the questions or whether they were actually being too teacher reliant.

While this year was very much an experimental year in terms of the best way to adopt ‘mastery’ in the classroom, one thing that we were keen to get right was our assessments. We felt it was essential that the assessments the students were doing to inform our data on their learning resembled closely what their final assessments would look like in order to make our data as accurate as possible. In some cases (especially in year 10) this has meant students’ progress data has taken a hit, however we felt preparation for the new mastery curriculum was paramount. This also meant that we could build resilience, not just in the classroom when we are teaching and when they have the luxury of checking their answers and ideas with their peers and teacher but when the students needed to transfer this to the exam hall and feel as though they needed to at least attempt questions (especially the larger 6-8 mark questions which we have not seen before) without fear of getting them wrong.

Changing plenaries

In order to prepare our students for the new style curriculum we started to use plenary questions that paired more than one topic with that which was taught during the lesson. In the Appendix you will find two plenaries which show how mastery could be demonstrated once a topic has been covered.  There is also a full lesson which shows Levelled learning objectives and how we now must link subject content to other areas to secure ‘mastery’. Hopefully these will show how fluency between topics is now essential to completing most of my planned plenaries this year. While there was some resistance from students initially, the students do recognise the importance of doing this and have adapted accordingly.

Peer Observations

In order to help each other and compare our work, myself and another member of the faculty paired up to complete some peer observations. We used the time to discuss ideas and how the topics taught could be connected to other areas of maths.  This helped both of us to plan appropriate mastery style questions for the main bulk of the lessons and the plenaries. The joint planning that went into these lessons allowed us to think about the fluency between other areas and topics, as well as standardising the way we delivered our plenaries and most importantly, the different ways in which we were trying to build resilience in the subject.  As a faculty we plan to complete at least one peer observation per term to see how mastery is developing.

Impact and Conclusion

The impact our actions have had on the faculty will be felt in time. While there is no concrete evidence that can be shared in this document, I think that from my perspective, it has forced me to think about my practice and the fluency and links I make when teaching. My mathematics has certainly improved as a result of teaching the new curriculum, especially since I have a very able top set in year 10, who need to be challenged to reach their potential – the new assessments that we have even challenged me, which has been great!

While many students are still not comfortable with the new curriculum and style in which we now have to teach mathematics it is definitely improving, my students, especially the most able, are always very excited when they realise we are having an ‘Nrich lesson’ and now ask me at the start of lessons whether that is what we are doing today. This is an improvement on where we were at the start of the year since they didn’t tend to enjoy and therefore excel in these lessons because they were being pushed out of their comfort zone.

My key stage three classes have improved greatly in terms of their resilience and are now much more able to access mastery plenary questions that I give them to practice. At the beginning of the year many, especially my least able in year 7 and 8 would simply freeze when they were confronted with a questions that didn’t directly relate to the subject we had been focused on during the lesson. It is a gradual process but it is certainly a picture that is improving.

As I have mentioned above, the first mock our year 10 students took in June did not necessarily show strong progress, however in terms of my class, their reaction certainly showed maturity and resilience which is what this new curriculum requires our students to show. They worked solidly on their mock papers once they had been marked to understand as many questions as possible. Since they now understand the importance of keeping going – they are keen to do so.

Next Steps

Continuing our work on mastery is essential if we are to mould students to being successful not just in maths but in terms of their resilience to tackle problems and overcome their fear of getting things wrong. It is important that our work continues over the next few years and that any new team member understands why this is so important. Next year we will continue developing our lesson plans and assessments.  We will continue to work on Nrich challenges with our students and the peer observations that myself and another colleague completed will be rolled out to all members of the faculty. The standardisation of our lessons is important so that our students recognise that when they come to the maths corridor they will be challenged and need to have access to all areas of maths, not just those that they have been taught in the last 45 minutes.

This project is certainly an ongoing piece of work that we need to build on over the next few years. Our students will certainly become more comfortable with the mastery curriculum as we move forward, especially as this year Key Stage 1 & 2 have also been introduced to the new ‘mastery curriculum’ at their level, which should mean students are being moulded to move more freely between topics and solve problems independently. I look forward to seeing how our students develop as our teaching styles become more accustomed to the new curriculum.


  1. Learning Focus Groups – For professional development purposes staff work in small groups who share a common interest in developing an aspect of their teaching practice. These groups provide a forum for discussion, support, sharing and joint activities to help each teacher develop their own individual Action Research project.


Plenary 1



Plenary 2



Full lesson














Department for Education (DfE). (2013a). National Curriculum in England: Framework Document. London: Department for Education.

Kilpatrick, J. Swafford, J. & Findell, B.(eds.)(2001). Adding it up: Helping children learn mathematics. Mathematics Learning Study Committee: National Research Council.

NCETM (2014a). Developing Mastery in Mathematics. [Online] Available from: [Accessed: 28th September 2015]

NCETM (2014b). Video material to support the implementation of the National Curriculum. Available from: [Accessed 28th September 2015]

NCETM (2015). National Curriculum Assessment Materials. [Online] Available from: [Accessed 28th September 2015]

Ofsted  (2015) Better Mathematics Conference Keynote Spring 2015. Paper presented at the Better Mathematics Conference, Norwich, Norfolk.

Developing Mastery in Mathematics (1)

(Featured image: ‘Multiplication sentence written in multiples of three’

Mastery in Maths: Research and lesson adaptation to fit the new criteria in Maths

An Action Research project by Clare Mondair


The aim of this investigation was to explore aspects of Mastery in Maths to improve my own understanding of what Mastery actually means and what it would mean for the students in my lessons. In addition, my aim was to change my own teaching where necessary in order to best help the students in my classes achieve of their best. As a Faculty we aimed to work together to develop lessons that would contain a ‘Mastery’ element as well as developing resources to add to the new Scheme of Work which was quite thin on the kind of Mastery resources required.

Literature Review

Although there are many differences between the education systems in England and Eastern Asia, the ‘mastery’ approach to teaching commonly followed in these countries can teach us much.

According to the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics. (October 2014), the main principles and features characterised by this approach are that:

  • Teachers reinforce an expectation that all pupils are capable of achieving high standards in mathematics.
  • The large majority of pupils progress through the curriculum content at the same pace.
  • Differentiation is achieved by emphasising deep knowledge and through individual support and intervention.
  • Teaching is underpinned by methodical curriculum design and supported by carefully crafted lessons and resources to foster deep conceptual and procedural knowledge.
  • Practice and consolidation play a central role. Carefully designed variation within this builds fluency and understanding of underlying mathematical concepts in tandem.
  • Teachers use precise questioning in class to test conceptual and procedural knowledge, and assess pupils regularly to identify those requiring intervention so that all pupils keep up.

The intention of these approaches is to provide all children with full access to the curriculum, enabling them to achieve confidence and competence – ‘mastery’ – in mathematics, rather than many failing to develop the maths skills they need for the future. In addition, it has been recognised that for many schools and teachers the shift to this ‘mastery curriculum’ will be a significant one requiring new approaches to lesson design, teaching, use of resources and support of students. It also focuses on giving students the skills they need to make sensible choices and to use their knowledge to tackle problems in all sorts of situations. It also aims to develop their resilience for when the road gets tough.

There is a real need for a balanced approach here.  Of course having key facts at your disposal is very helpful when it comes to solving problems, especially when in an unfamiliar context but the need to be flexible and adaptable is too. Also helpful is being able to use what you do know to get you facts you don’t know.  For some students when learning their tables it can take a while to get 11 x 12 to “stick”, but if they are confident with 10 x 12 = 120 then they know how to get to the answer pretty quickly by adding on another 12.  Therefore, it is their understanding of the structure and not just my knowledge of the facts that helps out in tables tests. This is what sets students out on the road to mastery of the times tables!

Mastery of the Mathematics curriculum encourages ‘intelligent practice’ to enable students to develop conceptual understanding alongside procedural fluency.  It is important to use multiple representations to support this understanding and to encourage students’ reasoning.  Students are also encouraged to solve problems from the very start of the curriculum journey, not seeing it as some ‘add on’ that can only be considered when all the facts are in place.  The challenge is developing these skills and understanding alongside mastering different aspects of the Mathematics curriculum.

Asking students to think of more than one way to answer a question not only forces them to think more laterally but it also allows discussion of methods of true ’mastery’. These types of tasks enable students to:

  • Develop mathematical language.
  • Articulate their reasoning.
  • Share ideas on approaches to problem solving.
  • Grow in confidence when discussing ideas.

The key to this success is strong peer support which must be built up over time. In addition a good pedagogic tool to use in mathematical problem solving is instead of finding one way to solve a problem find three ways. Working in pairs is key to problem solving tasks as students come up with different ways of starting and after establishing one solution they are able to share alternative ideas. A core value of ‘mastery’ is partnership, listening to each other and showing respect for different views and ideas. Allowing students to explain their thinking, asking for and giving support and encouraging feedback is very important to establish and maintain mastery of mathematics.

Research Methods

Having researched and established as a Faculty what ‘mastery’ actually meant in maths we had to think about the way in which it would be developed. An agreement was made that we had already been attempting to develop mastery in terms of problem solving over the last year but lessons were intermittent and often lost out on due to other factors of school life.

An agreement was made that we would continue to develop lessons as normal but that a majority of our lessons would now contain an aspect of mastery. Nrich lessons would continue but would be incorporated in to the new Scheme of Work where possible (Nrich is a website created by Cambridge University which has open ended questions and what we now recognise as ‘Mastery challenges’). In addition, teachers in the Faculty would make lessons that they had produced available for the whole team and we would observe mastery lessons being delivered so that we would have a good understanding of what it ‘looked’ like. This would enable consistency throughout the Faculty. Many lessons would contain the format below so the students would know that was Nrich.


The lesson would then progress through a series of steps so that there was enough challenge for everyone. Students were encouraged to work at their own level, however they were also encouraged to go for the higher level challenge where possible. This would result in those students who were less able working alongside those who already had a good ‘mastery’ of mathematics. The advantage of this system meant that students were working with and supporting peers and learning from one another in their language and at their own level.


The above would not apply to Year 11, but all other year groups should benefit from this thinking. It would of course be especially important for the Year 10 classes as they would be sitting a new exam which would call for resilience as well as thinking outside of the box in order to tackle some of the new material.

Main Findings

Asking students to think of more than one way to answer a question not only forces them to think more laterally but it also allows discussion of methods of true ’mastery’. These types of tasks enable students to:

  • Develop mathematical language.
  • Articulate their reasoning.
  • Share ideas on approaches to problem solving.
  • Grow in confidence when discussing ideas.

The key to this success is strong peer support which must be built up over time. In addition a good pedagogic tool to use in mathematical problem solving is instead of finding one way to solve a problem find three ways. Working in pairs is key to problem solving tasks as students come up with different ways of starting and after establishing one solution they are able to share alternative ideas. A core value of ‘mastery’ is partnership, listening to each other and showing respect for different views and ideas. Allowing students to explain their thinking, asking for and giving support and encouraging feedback is very important to establish and maintain mastery of mathematics.

Using Nrich we were able to appreciate that the current mastery approach encompasses two key aspects of mathematical learning, conceptual understanding and procedural fluency, which we agree are essential for nurturing young mathematicians. In addition there are five aspects of being able to be a Master at Maths, conceptual understanding; procedural fluency; strategic competence; adaptive reasoning and productive disposition (Kilpatrick, Stafford & Findell, 2001).

  • Much of the curriculum has been moved from higher levels to lower levels resulting in students now being expected to suddenly achieve at a much higher level than previously expected.
  • Many of our students do not have the basic mathematical fluency or reasoning skills in order to access much of the new curriculum.
  • Resilience in students is key in helping to ensure that students stay on track and improve.
  • Peer support and discussion is vital if students are to succeed in mastering some of the problem solving activities and questions which will come with the new curriculum.
  • Nrich allows students to explore Mathematics in a safe environment where they don’t feel threatened by their lack of basic knowledge.

Discussion and Conclusion

Mastery can only be developed over time and is unlikely to have much impact for the first two years of the new curriculum changes. The current difficulty we face is the fact that our Ks4 students have not been brought up with this habit of mastering Mathematics and it is therefore difficult to develop these skills and follow a Scheme of Work designed for a new exam which is already challenging to our average ability and less able students.

The mastery of Mathematics is however, being thoroughly embedded in the curriculum where possible for the Ks3 students and the impact of this should be felt when the current Year 9 group begin the GCSE course.

Mastery in Mathematics will enable students to articulate their ideas, build resilience, build mathematical fluency and think about problems from a different angle which in turn should have an impact on many aspects of life as well as Mathematics.


Drury, H. (2014) Mastering Mathematics. Oxford University Press, pp8.

Mathematics Learning Study Committee. Adding it up: Helping children learn mathematics. National Academies Press, 2001.

National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics. October 2014.

Williams, H. (2014) Approach, Research. Mathematics Mastery Acting Director of Primary.




Making the most of Personal Learning Checklists

(Featured picture: ‘untitled’ by AJC1 is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

A ‘Sharing best practice’ post by Kate Rolfe (Humanities)

Whether you call them Personal Learning Checklists (PLCs), RAG lists or as we refer to them, Module Outline/Review Lists, you have a tool which if used effectively, can cover a multitude of uses to support learning.


Picture 1: A Module Outline Sheet

In Humanities where pupils study two subjects (Geography and History) with the same teacher, we use our ‘module outline sheets’ and ‘module review sheets’, as a way to signal the beginning and end of topics. The first module outline sheet is used with pupils to discuss the structure of the term and key assessment points. It also allows pupils to engage with success criteria and the objectives for the term in order to select a target to aim for based on past progress and predicted targets. Finally, the RAG (Red, Amber Green) aspect of the sheet allows pupils to judge their current understanding of a topic and accept that red sections provide opportunities for new learning. It is also helpful for the teacher as it can highlight areas of overlap between subjects, where pupils may have already covered some of the content, so teaching of these topics can be modified accordingly.


Picture 2: A Module Review Sheet

The module review sheet allows pupils to reflect on their progress on a termly basis and over a longer period of time than specific assessments. By completing the RAG section a second time pupils are able to compare easily their perceived progress over time. It is also useful for the teacher as if there are any common “red” areas then these can be addressed through revision or other means. The right hand side of the page is a chance for the pupil to reflect on particularly strong areas of a topic and areas they could improve on. This could be related to specific skills or general attitude to learning. This has become more explicit in lessons through our school ‘Excellence Programme’, where pupils are asked to find a piece of work that they are particularly proud of in order to reflect on how they achieved excellence in learning. The teacher WWW and EBI section allows the teacher to give more generalised feedback to a pupil about their attitude to learning/response to feedback/homework etc.


Picture 3: A GCSE Geography Module Outline Sheet

At GCSE level module outline sheets use the terminology of the exam specification. This is because this is where a large number of questions originate from. For example, during a mock exam, a question referred to “how vegetation is adapted to the soil and is in harmony with it”. The term “harmony” was used on the exam specification but had not been used explicitly in the textbook or lessons. As such, although the pupils had the knowledge required to answer the question, the wording had thrown them. The module outline sheets can also be used to track topics and completed work. Now that the Geography GCSE exam has much more content, each topic can take up to two terms to complete. By dating work pupils can track any lessons they have missed in order to catch up on that work.


Life without levels: The Development of assessment and reporting in the curriculum

Life without levels: The Development of assessment and reporting in the curriculum

An Action Research project by Ed Walker

Synopsis: In the context of the DFE’s recent decision to remove the requirement to use KS3 levels and alongside this introduce a new KS4. This action research paper seeks to outline the necessary changes and the approach that will be taken to aspects of grading, assessment, reporting and the curriculum at St. Bernadette School.


With the introduction of new GCSEs, the removal of requirements for levels at KS3, and the emphasis on a knowledge based curriculum there is a need to adjust our curriculum, assessment, reporting and levelling system throughout the school. Over the past three years the first decision has had to be when will the new levelling system be put into place? The decision to delay the implementation of a new levelling system until the 2016/17 academic year was taken to ensure that the creation of new assessments and grading throughout the school was in line with a closer understanding of precisely the form that levels would take in the majority of subjects based on new GCSE criteria. This delay has allowed for a coherent package could be developed that includes assessment, reporting and the new grading system.

Why move away from the current system?

The Final report of the Commission on Assessment without levels (DFE, 2015), led by John McIntosh, set out a very clear rationale for the abolition of key stage levels in schools. The DFE reports its concern that as the levels were so complex in the national curriculum that the application of best fit criteria often led to serious gaps in students’ knowledge. The report also highlighted that often this meant that it was not clear to parents and teachers where the gaps in students’ knowledge were.  The DFE was also concerned by the lack of depth in students’ learning that emerged from the use of national curriculum levels as mere thresholds for students to achieve that did not secure students’ understanding.

The DFE report was clear that the Government have ‘not sought to prescribe any specific model of assessment.’ In summary, the report highlighted that a move from the current system is necessary, yet there is not any one solution that they favour. Instead of issuing a clear recommendation the report asks schools to consider the following three points; ‘why pupils are being assessed, what the assessment is intended to achieve and how the assessment information will be used.’ The development of our own assessment system had begun prior to the publication of this report, as had been the case in many schools. However, the timing of the report was extremely useful in driving the detailed guidance that has been developed in the 2016/17 academic year.

The decision to use any grading system

An argument can be made on analysis of the 2015 DFE paper that the use of any type of grading system may not be the correct decision. Indeed some schools have moved to a system without any school wide levels or grades whatsoever. These schools instead prefer to use the above, at or below expected progress model. Such a system was considered. The main reasons for deciding not to run with such a system in our school’s context are as follows; 1. We have a successful raising achievement programme without the use of any sort of grades the intervention mechanisms would become unnecessarily complicated. 2. The need for a structure, aims and a focus in the steps that students need to make throughout the school we believe will give students, parents and teachers clarification as to the required standard that was broadly expected of students at various points in the year, although we cannot definitely determine the required stage for students to have reached we can at least give them some structure and targets, this is shown to be important later in this paper. 3. Systems that use above, at or below expected progress end up using the same descriptors simply without the grade attached, again without the link to gradings this can become too abstract for children (Pollock, 1994). Finally, there is a lot of confusion around the educational world regarding the setting of grades at GCSE (NAHT, 2016). We are fully aware that we will not be able to definitively provide accurate definitions, however by preparing our grades in such a way that we are teaching to the top and giving students clear targets we will at least remove any ambiguity in our system. Some educational blogs have misunderstood the new GCSE grading system, believing it to be a norm referenced based system; they imply rather than state this. However, the September 2014 ‘Board paper for new GCSEs published by Ofqual [1] (Ofqual, 2014) illustrates that it is neither a purely norm referenced based system, nor a purely criteria based system, rather a combination of the two. As norm-based systems do not reliably lead to grade descriptors we have decided to use a criteria based system that takes note of the exam board comments and the grade 3,5 and 7 grade descriptors provided but does not solely rely on these, that is flexible and will need to be adjusted periodically. Ultimately the 1-9 system that we have produced gives an indication of the final GCSE grade we believe students will achieve but is not purely driven by this, but rather by our own standards of excellence.

Deciding upon a new grading and assessment system.

The approach that the school has taken is one of criteria referenced testing. Criteria referenced test is the process of evaluating and grading the learning of students against a set of pre-specified criteria (Brown 2003).  This was felt to be the most natural approach for the school to take in light of the national approach being taken with the 1-9 grading system at KS4. The reasons for this decision are set out in this document by exploring some of the alternative systems used as well as the rationale and supporting evidence for the use of the system we have decided upon.  It was clear that we should not be aiming for a simple recreation of key stage three levels, the DFE paper notes that they ‘have been concerned by evidence that some schools are trying to recreate Key Stage 3 levels based on the new national curriculum.’   (DFE, 2015)

There have been a variety of different approaches taken by schools to the new levelling system. The first approach that we considered was that taken by the ‘school A’ chain of schools. The approach taken by ‘school A’ has been to set the criteria reference in each year group for every subject; this is one version of what is commonly referred to as an age independent model (Green, 2002). In their system a student who achieves a grade 5 in Year 7 will be predicted to achieve a grade 5 by the end of Year 11. The grade 5 standard therefore changes in every year group, getting progressively more challenging as students move through the school. There are advantages to such a system. There is a clear path of progression throughout the school. Parents and students, assuming successful explanation, will be able to clearly understand the grade that students are predicted to achieve at the end of their time in the school. However, there were several reasons that we decided that the age independent model would not be the one that we use at St. Bernadette School.

Firstly, the work of Dweck (1986) has illustrated that achieving the same grade at ages 11,14 and 16 can have a negative effect on self-esteem and motivation. This is as students can feel that their ability is fixed over time.

The second reason is the ability of students to feel that they have progressed over a period of time. This can lead to increased levels of motivation as students see their grade improving each year as they work towards an end grade (William, 2001).

Thirdly, there is a real danger that in different year groups teachers end up not effectively referencing against the soon to be established 1-9 criteria, but instead by developing what becomes effectively a separate system for different year groups that in practice is norm referencing against the other students in that particular year. As a school we have an intake that changes in terms of prior ability a relatively large amount each year,[2] the quality and accuracy of the grading would be reduced.  Pollitt (1994) states “We are in danger of implementing a system of tests that behave like thermometers, all pretending to measure on the Celsius scale, but which actually each have their own freezing point and each their own idea of what constitutes a nice summer’s day.”

Finally, as an age independent model often gives extremely detailed criteria to define assessment levels and the progress that had taken place it can be extremely time-consuming to both design and implement. Such a system has been accused of being too mechanistic and over complicating the grading process (Hall, 2002). Like the DFE Life without levels paper (2015) over complication, time consumption and being too specific within the grades are seen as not creating the best environment for successful assessment and therefore teaching and learning.

Locally, School ‘B’ have also adopted an approach that is also based upon the age independent model yet is different to that of ‘school A’. This model provides ‘School B’ levels (see the table below)   that seeks to set a threshold standard each year if students are considered to have ‘passed’ the year.  This removes the concern of students being ‘stuck’ at the same grade each year, however this adds a separate concern that there is no overt link with the 1-9 grading and hence preparation for KS4.  Although, as this system was launched before the grading 1-9 were in place one would imagine that it will now be updated to reflect these changes. However, this will mean a considerable further investment in time and possible confusion as to the required standard.


The work of School ‘B’ and St Bernadette has been in part based upon that of Shaun Allison and Dan Brinton. Allison recommends allowing teachers to set the standard of excellence that they want their students to achieve and that we be selective about what they assess in order to prepare them successfully for GCSE. The difference between the School ‘B’ and our approach has been that although both systems allow teachers to set the standard of excellence we have linked this far more explicitly to the GCSE criteria and build back down age related thresholds to meet that change the definitions of the final GCSE grading.

To return to the questions posed by the DFE in their 2015 report; ‘why pupils are being assessed, what the assessment is intended to achieve and how the assessment information will be used.’ Firstly, we set out to ensure that students deepen their knowledge and understanding and precisely what they need to do to make progress. The assessments will also be used so that teachers can see how their groups are progressing in comparison to other groups and provide useful benchmarks to national progress and expectations. This in turn will allow best practice to be shared and provide a basis for interventions to be made to boost academic performance. It will also enable us to compare the progress that groups are making and develop strategies to improve academic performance. To ensure that these aims would be met we felt we should consider the following when developing the new grading and assessment system:

  1. Set standards of excellence that prepares students effectively for their GCSE examinations.
  2. Allow students to clearly understand the level that they are working at and how they can make progress.
  3. Be succinct for teachers that will allow them to clearly identify and moderate the grades that they are awarding within the assessments covered.

In summary, at St. Bernadette we have decided to use a criteria based system that uses one key set of 1-9 criteria for each subject throughout Years 7 to 11. The main aim of this is to ensure that students are able to best make progress from KS2 to KS4 and that the steps are made clear to all learners as to what they need to do at each step. All faculties have been encouraged to base these levels upon the new 1-9 GCSE criteria for their subject area. This criterion emphasises a link to GCSE expectations throughout the school.  We will analyse over the next three academic years the success and appropriateness of this link.

To help to ensure that students both clearly understand the grade that they are working at and that teachers are able to clearly identify the progress that students are making we need a blend of both summative and formative assessments in place. We therefore have had to ensure that the criterion based reference system that we have developed is flexible enough to take account of ongoing changes and formative progress in class. The system must also be able to make summative judgements about the grade that the student is currently working at.

When developing the structure of the 1-9 grading criterion we decided that this should not be as prescriptive as that set out by Allison (2014), he suggests insisting that all faculties have clearly defined a rigid knowledge and skills set of definitions to the thresholds that they expect students to meet each year, each with their own year by year subject definitions in the knowledge and skills required.

We have considered using only the distinction between skills and knowledge. In some subject areas, History for example a skills versus knowledge approach has been taken, see appendix 1. Other subjects such as MFL and English have focused on skills driven areas to assess with knowledge used within, for example by using productive and receptive skills, see appendix 2. At St Bernadette we have felt that this flexibility is important to ensure that subject areas are not forced to use broad headings that are not appropriate to their faculty area. By taking this approach we hope faculties more able to create assessments that are more closely linked to the demands of their individual curriculums.

The closer linking to the curriculum of the grades is designed to help students understand exactly where they are each year in relation to the progress that they need to make. The need for a close link to subject curriculums is highlighted by the DFE 2015 report ‘The new national curriculum puts greater emphasis on the specific knowledge pupils should acquire by the end of each key stage and requires greater depth and detail of learning.’ Therefore, ‘removing levels encourages schools to develop approaches to in-school assessment which are better tied to curriculum content’ (DFE, 2015).

Both ‘School C’ and ‘School D’[3] use a similar system to the one that we will be using. However, when analysing their systems we felt that in places it was unclear as to how much understanding and certainty students would have in each year at deciding whether or not they were making progress. We have still needed, as commented upon by Sizmuir and Sainsbury (1997), to use some form of ‘descriptors… as a means of imposing coherence on diverse elements of attainment.’ To help to clarify where we expect students to be without developing a different set of assessment criteria for every year group, as the other models we have considered have done, we have developed with faculties the steps at the end of each year group we would expect students would have reached to secure a particular grade. It is important to note that these use the same descriptors as the generic criteria but also have specific content areas that students would have covered in each year group.  It is important, so as to avoid simply recreating a version of the national curriculum, that these grades are viewed holistically and do not offer specific steps to reach various sub-levels within the grades.  Instead that through module sheets/PLCs that students are clear as to the next steps that they need to take to improve their learning in line with the curriculum that they are studying.

The success of the new grading system will in large part be determined by the accuracy of the assessment that takes place. Faculties have developed their own criteria for success in assessments based upon the GCSE grading criteria. It is of great importance over future years, and as the GCSE grading progresses that the moderation process is robust and looks beyond using only the grade descriptors but also seeks to work with other schools and institutions to create ‘a common yardstick’, (Sainsbury and Sizmur, 1998). For formative assessment teachers must not become fixated with using the 1-9 assessment in the classroom as this may distort effective feedback. However, if it us useful and aids understanding for students to develop it should not be deliberately avoided, professional judgement remains important.

What will become increasing important is, as suggested by Hall (2002), that ‘teachers need to interpret loosely framed level descriptions through a well-defined community of practice.’ To help to ensure the accuracy in this new system, alongside moderation, a new approach has also been developed to the analysis of results. In 2016/17 results will be carefully compared and detailed breakdowns given to faculties that consider accuracy of predictions at various grade boundaries. There is also the opportunity to join external moderation activities such as Pixl Curve, which seek to give nationwide security to the grades given. The national moderation process that will take place with 1-9 grades also ensures stability in the system that we have created as this relative grade certainty in Year 11 will trickle down to other year groups.

Updating reporting practices

The DFE’s Workload Challenge (2015) highlighted that many teachers found the data entry and data management ‘burdensome.’ The change to a new levelling system has allowed us to reconsider the value of the reporting system that we have had in place, particularly the impact that this has had on teaching and learning and raising achievement in the classroom. The same report also reminds us that ‘Ofsted does not require progress to be recorded with any particular frequency.’ Research from the DFE (2011) has also shown that in their survey of teachers that according to 77% of staff surveyed there needs to be more involvement from staff in the use of data, and that according to 84% of those surveyed felt data is often felt not to successfully impact on the development of teaching and learning.

We have when reviewing the operation of the reporting system considered three main areas: How will we collect the data that we collect to raise achievement and improve teaching and learning? How much time will the collection and analysis of this data add to teacher workload? How accurate is the information received?

Targeted Progress Points[4]

The 2015 DFE report suggests that targets are not always helpful as they guide teachers to simply meet certain thresholds. However, the report also states ‘pupils should develop a better understanding of how they are doing and where they need to target their efforts to progress in order to foster a sense of responsibility for their own learning.’ Hence to ensure that there is clarity in the progress that students will need to make from various starting points new transition points of targeted progress points have been developed as shown below. This is supported by Professor Cox (1995) ‘difficulties can arise when descriptions do not give clear definitions of progress or do not relate to realistic progression.’ There will be a main target level for all students. The term ‘minimum target’ will no longer be used.  For level 3, level 4 or below a score of 107 on entry this will be a minimum of 3 grades of progress. For disadvantaged and level 5 or above 107 on entry   the target grade will be 4 grades of progress. When students reach KS4 we will also give them a target Attainment 8 grade.[5] Challenge targets will also be set for students; these will always be one whole level above their target level.  Target levels are suitably challenging for the majority of students. There is an expectation that challenge targets will be used when the target level is not challenging enough for individual students.  Heads of learning and class teachers are responsible for when challenge targets are to be used in their classes and faculty areas.  It is anticipated that the challenge target will be most frequently used for more able students to stretch them towards grades 8 and 9.  There is a challenge, particularly in KS3, that these targets do not become the main focus of the classroom teacher, but rather that the knowledge and skills that students need to develop to progress are emphasised and the target grades are used to accurately reflect this progress.

Where students are significantly below their targeted grade this will be highlighted in spotlight reports as below targeted grade (over one whole grade behind), where they are at their minimum progress point this will be highlighted as minimum expected progress (between one sub level and three sub levels behind), where they are at their targeted grade this will be highlighted as good progress, where they are above their targeted grade this will be highlighted as excellent progress.


Average grades and target setting for subjects in all year groups.

It is imperative that ‘descriptions are written with reference to empirical data on pupil performance, to avoid the danger that unrealistic standards will be set.’ (Green, 2002). As such we know that broad targets for faculties based on three levels of progress in the past have been unhelpful and demotivating to teachers. Therefore the average grades in target setting will be based on a calculation using the national transition matrices, national attainment data and considering the numbers of students from each starting point in each year group for all of the measures used to allow for ambitious and realistic targets.  These may be updated each year as more accurate data becomes available, particularly in the light of new GCSEs.

For average grades there will then be a calculation made that sets an appropriate average grade for the stage that the students are working at. This will use the same step up points as those used for progress step ups. Therefore, if a final Year 11 average grade of 7+ is set for a faculty area this will be grade 6= at the end of Year 9. For options subjects these will be recalculated, as the composition of these groups changes from Year 9 to Year 10.

The average grades measure will continue to be used alongside the number of students on track for a ‘good’ grade at GCSE in KS4, the % of students on track for targeted progress and those students above targeted progress.

It is important that as part of this process we ensure that all teachers and Heads of Learning are aware that such a system is used to highlight trends that occur and is not a driving factor in performance management. This emphasis should help teachers not to merely push their students towards meeting a particular threshold, as the DFE warn against.


Conclusions and next steps

Research from the DFE and a range of academics has emphasised the need for a flexible system yet one that still allows all stakeholders to understand precisely the progress that students have made.  There are a variety of approaches that have been taken nationally that have taken various positions on this scale, these are largely all based around criterion based referencing. The in school summative system that we are seeking to develop is informed by national standardised summative assessment in our 1-9 system. We are confident in the new levelling system that we have developed for our context. However, there are a number of key next steps that must be considered over the coming academic years if this system is to be deemed a success.  The timeline in appendix 7 gives an overview of how we will address these challenges in the coming academic year.

  • Launching and explaining the new 1-9 system to students, teachers and parents.
  • Ensure that the 1-9 system encourages effective formative assessment rather than restrict it. As an approach to developing formative assessment teaching and learning should explore the benefits of mastery in enhancing students’ knowledge and understanding.
  • The moderation process of grades and links to final GCSE moderation is crucial to the accuracy of the grading process. (Appendix 5)
  • The key steps taken in each year group for students will be important in helping students understand how they are progressing and how they can improve the standard of their work.
  • We should avoid building a too detailed version of the grade descriptors to avoid recreating the complex national curriculum. However we should further link the curriculum provision in subject areas more closely to assessment systems. Building a clear body of assessment in each subject that links to the 1-9 system whilst offering clear steps for precisely what students need to do to improve. This process has begun in 2015/16.
  • Review the terminology used for the 1-9 system in KS3.
  • Further develop assessment systems to support SEND students.
  • Review faculty base line tests for diagnosing ways in which students need to improve and consolidate their learning.
  • The descriptors should be closely linked to the excellence we expect of students at St. Bernadette School without becoming too prescriptive.


  • Angoff, W.H. (1974) Criterion referencing, norm referencing and the SAT, College Board Review, 92, pp. 2-5.
  • Brown, S. (1988) ‘Criterion referenced assessment: what role for research?’ in Black, H.D. and Dockerell, W.D., New developments in educational assessment, British Journal of Educational Psychology, Monograph series no. 3, pp. 1-14.
  • Cox, B. (1995) The Battle for the English Curriculum London: Hodder & Stoughton.
  • Dearing, R. (1993) The National Curriculum and its Assessment: interim report London: National Curriculum Council and Schools Examinations and Assessment Council.
  • Dweck, C.S. (1986) Motivational processes affecting learning, American Psychologist (special issue: Psychological science and education), 41 (10), pp. 1040-1048.
  • DFE (2015). Final report of the Commission on Assessment without Levels. Chaired by John McIntosh CBE
  • DFE (2014) Report into the use of data within state schools in England and Wales.
  • Hall, K. and Harding, A. (2002) Level descriptions and teacher assessment in England: Towards a community of assessment practice. Forthcoming article, Educational Research.
  • O’Neil, J. (1994) Aiming for new outcomes: The promise and the reality, Educational Leadership, 5, March.
  • Pollitt, A. (1994) ‘Measuring and evaluating reliability in national curriculum assessments’ in Hutchinson, D. and Schagen, I. eds, (1994) How reliable is national curriculum assessment? London: NFER.
  • Popham, W.J. (1980) ‘Domain specification strategies’ in Berk, R.A. ed, (1980) Criterion referenced measurement: the state of the art, pp. 15-31. Baltimore and London: John .Hopkins University Press.
  • Sainsbury, M. and Sizmur, S. (1998) Level descriptions in the National Curriculum: What kind of criterion-referencing is this? Oxford Review of Education, 24.2, pp. 181-193.
  • Sizmur, S. and Sainsbury, M. (1997) Criterion referencing and level descriptions in National Curriculum assessment, British Journal of Curriculum and Assessment, 7.1, pp. 9-11.
  • Wiliam, D. (1993) Validity, dependability and reliability in National Curriculum assessment, The Curriculum Journal, 4.3, pp. 335-350.Appendix 1

Appendix 1


Appendix 2


Appendix 3

Assessment and curriculum 2016/17 (Version A)

Subject area: ____________________


Notes: Students that fail to achieve their targeted grade will be required to re-sit the assessment later in the school year.

Appendix 4

Curriculum and assessment points 2016/17 (Version B)

Subject area:________________


Appendix 5

Sample moderation top sheet 2016/2017


Appendix 6


Appendix 7



[2] From 2011 to 2015 there has been a 20% increase in the number of level 5 students on entry.

[3] As recommended as examples in the 2014 DFE report into life without levels.

[4] As is currently the case this will be different for disadvantaged students, by one level. Challenge targets are always one whole level above the targeted level.

[5] For Year 10 2016/17 this will not be available until February 2017.