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Key Stage 3 Assessment

In June 2013, the government published a document for schools on ‘Assessing without Levels’, in which it was explained that the old system of Levels at Key Stage 3 would be abolished and not replaced. They said the following:

We believe this system is complicated and difficult to understand, especially for parents. It also encourages teachers to focus on a pupil’s current level, rather than consider more broadly what the pupil can actually do. Prescribing a single detailed approach to assessment does not fit with the curriculum freedoms we are giving schools. The new programmes of study set out what should be taught by the end of each key stage. We will give schools the freedom to develop a curriculum which is relevant to their pupils and enables them to meet these expectations.

At Huntington, we agreed that levels weren’t very accurate and that they were potentially distracting from learning and the feedback we actually wanted students to act on.

We were guided by the world-leading expert on assessment in education, Dylan Wiliam. See his short video here for an explanation as to why levels proved to hinder learning:

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We thought we could do a better job in assessing your child so that they learnt more at KS3, so we devised our own model to best suit Huntington school students. Whereas many schools are just initiating a move away from levels, we are instead moving toward the completing two full years with our new system of assessment without levels.

We developed our own system of assessment which focuses primarily on improving the learning of our students, and which builds on the following overarching principles:

  • A move away from giving levels or grades to focusing on just giving great feedback;
  • A move towards charting progress relative to a student’s starting point and away from simply charting attainment e.g. Alex is exceeding we expect him to be at this stage in year 8.
  • A focus on the Growth Mindset ideals, whereat a focus on effort is explicit and really important;
  • An end of year examination or practical assessment in Years 7, 8 and 9 – to produce summative data, and to prepare students for the challenging demands of the examinations required by the new GCSE and A Level courses;
  • Flexibility to allow for subject level distinctions, but nearly every subject will need to prepare students for written examinations at the end of Year 11.

Take a look at this online video of Ron Berger, an American education expert, talking about ‘Austin’s Butterfly’. This very specific feedback, without levels or grades, is exactly the type of quality feedback we want to recreate at Huntington for your child.

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To get this assessment of your child’s progress right, we need to do the following:

  1. All subject areas will have a clear understanding of what their students should know, understand and be able to do by the end of each Key Stage. In concrete terms, for every subject, with their major assessment tasks, they need to define what their final ‘butterfly’ looks like – what is the exemplar model every student is working towards.
  1. Students’ Key Stage 2 data (or, for some subjects, a baseline test) will be used to organise students into prior attainment groups: High Starters (HS), Middle Starters (MS) and Low Starters (LS). This information will be generated for Subject Leaders and it is never shared with students. This information will identify a student’s starting point, but will not anchor them in any one group, or limit the progress they are able to make. It is subject to change on an annual basis given how well they progress. From this, departments will be able to measure a student’s relative progress throughout the year.
  1. From 2015, National Curriculum Levels will no longer be awarded at Key Stage 2. This means that our starting point data will be identified using a different set of information. It is crucial that, over the next two years, we liaise with our primary feeder schools to develop an assessment system which ensures continuity for students between Years 6 and 7.
  1. Each of the three groups in the cohort will make progress that is relative to their starting point. There are four stages of progress:
  • Exceeding expected progress
  • Meeting expected progress
  • Working towards expected progress
  • Underperforming against expected progress

Given their prior attainment, we may expect a higher starting point for Student B for example, therefore exceeding expected progress would likely prove the final butterfly image; whereas Student A could have a lower expected starting point, therefore the penultimate image would exemplify exceeding expected progress for them.


  1. These progress measures will be reported at three data entry points during the year directly to parents, alongside a strategy to improve, to ensure that we are focused in on helping our students learn best and not simply measuring their progress.
  1. Each subject will create a suitable end of year assessment to test the knowledge, skills and understanding of students against the agreed performance descriptors. For most subjects, this is likely to be an examination, in preparation for terminal assessment at Key Stages 4 and 5.
  1. End of year assessments will be awarded a 1-9 grading (which has replaced the old A* to G letter grades system –see our explanation of ‘Assessment at KS4’ here), based on the new GCSE assessment model. This is a ‘best fit’ model, as no school really knows how exactly the 1 to 9 will distributed until we have experienced one or two years of this new assessment. Marks will be submitted and moderated, and Subject Leaders will then set grade boundaries.
  1. For some students, there is a concern that the end of year assessment score will not reflect progress throughout the year. However, we consider this to be good preparation for the demands of terminal assessment at Key Stages 4 and 5. Given we will have an ongoing record of their progress and their end of year examination grades, we will be able to make a wise judgement about how they can continue to improve.
  1. Students will be able to focus on learning as best as they possibly can at GCSE and we will monitor their progress closely based on our best professional judgement. Our old system of target setting was useful in giving some sense of this progression, but like levels, they could prove a distraction and actually demotivating for many students. We are not going to focus our KS3 on endless target setting, but we will have the very highest academic aspirations for every student at Huntington.

In many ways, we are moving away from some of the common practices in schools in England: characterised by lots of graded assessments and an explicit focus on data spreadsheets so that the needs of the child get obscured. We recognise that, used wisely, data and assessment can prove a powerful tool for teachers and school leaders to help ensure the progression of your child. However, we also want to ensure that we concentrate on learning and not be obsessed by accountability measures and an unnecessary adherence to levels that proved to not contribute at all to boost learning and may have actually inhibited the learning of your child.

At Huntington, we have a deep trust in our expert staff of teachers and support staff and our assessment model reflects our trust in their expertise. We are always open to refining what we do and listening to the needs of parents. Over time, we hope that the national picture, with regards to assessment and qualifications, becomes clearer for parents and teachers alike, but in the meantime be rest assured that we have a high quality assessment model for your children at KS3.

Katie Hunter, Deputy Head teacher – Curriculum 

Jane Elsworth, Deputy Head teacher and Director of Research School