The future of assessment in primary schools


01st December 2020

The future of assessment in primary schools

Tracking systems are dead; the curriculum is the progression model. In this blog, Cornerstones Director and former primary headteacher, Simon Hickton, explores a brighter future of meaningful assessment and describes the innovative support available to schools now.   

The future of assessment in primary schools

Tracking systems, levels and narrowing

Tracking systems, or at best, assessment databases have been a must-have part of primary education for many years. I have personal experience as a primary headteacher of how a school’s assessment systems could ‘prove’ better than expected progress and maintain or boost an Ofsted grading.

This top-down accountability, ranking and publication of attainment and progress in English and maths narrowed the curriculum. In turn, it negatively impacted accurate teacher assessment, encouraged teaching to test, and even crept into performance management.

The DfE banished levels and expected progress back in 2015, but pseudo levels became commonplace and if anything, complicated matters further. Sadly, some schools and stakeholders still cling to antiquated practice.


A change from Ofsted 

The statement on expected progress made by Ofsted in 2017 was followed up in 2018 with a speech given by Amanda Spielman, HMCI, in which she said:  

“We do not expect to see 6-week tracking of pupil progress and vast, elaborate spreadsheets. What I want school leaders to discuss with our inspectors is what they expect pupils to know by certain points in their life, and how they know they know it. And crucially, what the school does when it finds out they don’t! These conversations are much more constructive than inventing byzantine number systems which, let’s be honest, can often be meaningless.”

More recently, in their Annual Report 2019/2020, Ofsted reaffirmed that ‘assessment is not an aim in itself, but is linked to the curriculum progression model’ and reiterate that they ‘don’t look at internal data during inspection.’


Curriculum related expectations – the way forward?   

So, the curriculum is now commonly accepted as the progression model. But even back in 2015, more forward-thinking professionals were beginning to talk about age-related expectation. These expectations work when directly linked to the curriculum being taught and learned. I like the term ‘curriculum related expectation’ that David Didau used in his recent blog. He went on to state that it becomes reasonable to expect children to have met these expectations because they are – or should be – directly connected to what has been taught.  

We’d all agree that schools aim to provide a well-rounded, balanced curriculum that supports the progress of the whole child. But children’s progress through this curriculum needs to be monitored and supported as an ongoing, live process rather than simply ‘tracked’. 

Sensibly addressing learning needs

Of course, children make progress at different rates, and teachers have always had to deal with diverse needs in their classes. Addressing gaps in learning is an important part of teaching, whether you’re an NQT delivering a lesson or a senior leader auditing a whole school curriculum. But the Covid-19 pandemic has taken things to even more complex and acute levels. Worryingly, the impact looks likely to be felt for the long term as ongoing research from the Education Endowment Fund and The Sutton Trust indicates.  

Assessment is key if we are to start addressing these diverse learning needs in the short and longer term. The government’s new recovery commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins, wants to see a more sustained ‘integrated strategy’ for recovery, with the use of ‘diagnostic assessments’ to ‘inform the adjustments you need to make to the curriculum in September.’  However, with staff workload at a critical level, how can we efficiently assess what children have learnt and what they need going forward?  

Rethinking assessment, capability and evidence

It’s worth reading Guy Claxton’s blog post, Rethinking Assessment: A Crib Sheet, in which he discusses methods of evidencing capability. Claxton highlights a great point made by Dylan Williams that aircraft fly by making constant, small adjustments – they don’t wait until they have flown 3,000 miles before checking that they’re on course. That’s why the best way to evidence children’s capability is through teaching a well-designed curriculum with integral formative and ipsative assessment. Scrapping league tables would also help teachers to make judgements based on competence rather than just comprehension, but that’s for another blog!

I would argue that a curriculum should be designed around what is remarkable not what is markable. It has the power to develop perseverance, curiosity, open-mindedness, intellectual humility, rational scepticism, innovative thinking, collaboration and empathy. These traits can impact children’s success in an everchanging marketplace and world, as research from James Heckman, Angela Duckworth and others has shown.

With a curriculum in place that encourages children to use and apply their learning, and to innovate, you’ll have ample evidence of their capability. Teachers are then more able to monitor and support children through ongoing, accurate assessment for learning – just like the piloting of that plane. 

How Cornerstones can help

At Cornerstones, we’ve always believed that assessment in its broadest sense is a crucial driver in supporting children’s progress through a curriculum. That’s why we developed our online curriculum platform, Maestro, to provide a joined-up planning, teaching and assessment solution for busy schools.  

Here’s how Maestro can support curriculum based assessment right now and in the longer term.

Maestro’s assessment support  

1.  It’s a live platform. Schools often find it challenging to monitor the coverage and impact of their curriculum accurately, but this is a crucial aspect of curriculum work. We designed Maestro to be more than a curriculum content library. It is a responsive, interactive platform that helps you monitor and adapt your live rather than just the intended curriculum.

Actual coverage

2. It provides clear progression points. The broad nature of the national curriculum and intricacies of individual subjects make judging progress difficult. Maestro underpins a school’s curriculum by linking skills and knowledge in a progression framework for all primary subjects. This framework gives teachers clear, incremental checkpoints to support teaching, learning and assessment.

Objectives progression by subject

3. It helps teachers to make meaningful assessments. Maestro gives teachers class based assessment tools, including project quizzes and more formal half termly tests. With live information and their knowledge of the pupils, teacher assessment becomes what it should be: accurate assessment for learning.

Teacher assessment

4. It is easy to plan children’s next steps and intervention. With accurate monitoring of taught lessons, teachers can make informed decisions about how to best support children. You can now group your children on the platform, to help differentiate activity and make prompt assessments for learning. Crucially, Maestro’s lesson content is adaptable so that teachers can easily plan the children’s next steps. They can select the previous or next lesson objectives from the inbuilt sequenced framework, and type in specific interventions, such as scaffolding or targeted support.

Adaptable lesson plans

5. It provides insight for subject and curriculum leaders. Gone are the days of endless folders and spreadsheets that are out of date almost as soon as you’ve printed them! Your entire curriculum will be at leaders’ fingertips. With Maestro, you can easily analyse and report on subject coverage and outcomes at an individual, class or whole school level. You’ll get a live picture of how children are progressing through your school and where the strengths and gaps are, to inform your action plan.  

Detailed coverage analysis


Assessment for the future

The next few years will be a critical time for the education sector and having reliable, quick and meaningful practices in place will be key. As always, we will keep a close eye on the assessment landscape and continue to develop Curriculum Maestro in response to the needs of schools.


Want to learn more about how Maestro can support your school?      

We developed Curriculum Maestro to help primary schools flexibly design, teach, assess and lead their curriculum. It provides you with a comprehensive curriculum and assessment platform to help your school as a whole, and individual children, to sensibly address gaps in learning. If you would like to see Maestro’s features for yourself, please book an online meeting with one of our curriculum advisers at a time to suit you and your team. They’ll listen to your needs and explain how it all works.

‘Maestro is a one stop shop. It has the curriculum design, to the topics that cover the NC and more, to the individual lessons and resources, to the tools to assess children and for subject leaders to be able to monitor their subject confidently.’ Emma Perkins, Deputy Headteacher, Warrington.

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Useful links  

Are you already using Maestro? Want to quickly identify and address learning gaps in your curriculum? Visit the Help and Guidance section to watch our how to video, or contact us via Live Chat. 

Measuring progress at primary school: where to next?  

How Maestro can help you prepare for your school’s recovery  

Ofsted’s Annual Report 2019/2020: a summary for primary schools

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