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Supporting learner progression: assessment guidance

Learner progression along a continuum of learning from ages 3 to 16 is central to Curriculum for Wales. Assessment plays a fundamental role in enabling each individual learner to make progress at an appropriate pace, ensuring they are supported and challenged accordingly.

This guidance outlines the key principles and purpose of assessment. It provides a clear direction for schools when developing their assessment arrangements. In order to support learners’ progress, this guidance also covers the key processes needed for effective learner progression, namely:

  • ensuring a shared understanding of progression
  • transition along the 3 to 16 continuum
  • communicating and engaging with parents/carers.

The purpose of this guidance, and the wider Curriculum for Wales guidance published alongside it, is to help schools to start thinking about designing their curriculum and assessment arrangements. It also aims to assist funded non-maintained nursery settings, pupil referral units (PRUs) and persons who commission education other than at schools (EOTAS) to understand more about the Curriculum for Wales framework.

This guidance details those aspects of the assessment arrangements that we intend to be statutory for schools, as well as those aspects to which schools will need to have due regard when designing and planning their school curriculum. These should not be conflated with activities that contribute to external accountability and national monitoring. Information gathered through individual learner assessment is for use within schools only and should not be collected or published by any external body/party.

The Welsh Government is committed to creating an inclusive education system to help ensure that all young people have access to a high standard of education and reach their full potential. In support of this commitment, this guidance has been developed to take the needs of all learners into account and recognises that their identity, language, ability, background and the support they may need differs given their particular circumstances.

How to use this guidance

Assessment is a fundamental part of Curriculum for Wales and is integral to the learning process. Where reference is made within this guidance to either ‘curriculum’, ‘learning and teaching’ or ‘planning for learning’, assessment is seen as implicit.

This guidance should be read in conjunction with the rest of the Curriculum for Wales guidance for curriculum design and implementation available online at hwb.gov.wales/curriculum-for-wales

In addition to guidance on a range of core learning, the Curriculum for Wales guidance includes information on the principles of progression that span the whole curriculum, as well as for each area of learning and experience (Area). The principles of progression are supported by descriptions of learning which provide more detailed guidance on progression within each Area. These descriptions articulate what it means for a learner to progress along the continuum of learning and provide reference points for the pace of that progression.

Headteachers should use the assessment guidance as a basis for professional discussions and learning within their schools. It will also support discussions within clusters, and wider networks where appropriate, in order to build collaborative approaches for learner progression within curriculum and assessment arrangements. This guidance will also assist those working closely with schools in preparation for the introduction of Curriculum for Wales from 2022.

The responsibility for implementing the assessment guidance will be placed upon headteachers and governing bodies of all maintained schools. It will, however, be important for all practitioners to familiarise themselves with the approach outlined in this guidance so that they are able to implement it effectively from September 2022.

Providers of funded non-maintained nursery education will not be expected to design their own curriculum. Instead, Welsh Ministers will publish a curriculum, including appropriate assessment arrangements, for these providers in 2021 which can be implemented from 2022. Separate statutory guidance to support PRUs and those responsible for the provision of EOTAS will also be published in 2021. Therefore, while this assessment guidance is aimed primarily at schools, other providers may wish to familiarise themselves with it to understand the approach being taken to assessment to underpin Curriculum for Wales.

Assessment is intrinsic to curriculum design and its overarching purpose within the curriculum is to support every learner to make progress. It is integral to learning and teaching and it requires effective partnerships among all those involved, including the learner.

Assessment plays a fundamental role in ensuring each individual learner is supported and challenged accordingly. It should contribute to developing a holistic picture of the learner – their strengths, the ways in which they learn, and their areas for development – in order to inform next steps in learning and teaching. Assessment should not be used to make a one-off judgement on the overall achievement of a learner at a set age or point in time against descriptors or criteria on a ‘best-fit’ basis.

To support individual learner progression, assessment has three main roles – supporting individual learners on an ongoing, day-to-day basis; identifying, capturing and reflecting on individual learner progress over time; and understanding group progress in order to reflect on practice. When planning and delivering learning experiences, schools and practitioners should be clear about the specific role of each assessment being undertaken, and what the understanding gained from assessment will be used for and why. 

Supporting individual learners on an ongoing, day-to-day basis

Assessment should focus on identifying each individual learner’s strengths, achievements, areas for improvement and, if relevant, any barriers to learning. This understanding should be used by the practitioner, in discussion with the learner, to ascertain the next steps required to move learning forward, including any additional challenge and support required. This should be achieved by embedding assessment into day-to-day practice in a way that engages the learner and makes it indistinguishable from learning. This allows the practitioner to respond to the individual needs of the full range of learners within their classroom on an ongoing basis.

Identifying, capturing and reflecting on individual learner progress over time

Assessment should support practitioners in identifying the progress being made by an individual learner, and recording this, where appropriate, to understand their journey over different periods of time and in a variety of ways. This includes developing an understanding of how a learner has learned, as well as what they have learned and are able to demonstrate. Reflecting on a learner’s progress over time will enable practitioners to provide feedback and help plan their future learning, including any interventions, additional support or challenge which may be required. This should include both immediate next steps and longer-term objectives and goals that the learner should work towards to help keep them moving forward in their learning. It can also be used as a basis for communicating and engaging with parents/carers.

Understanding group progress in order to reflect on practice

Assessment should also enable practitioners and leaders within the school to understand whether different groups of learners are making expected progress. This should be used to identify strengths and areas for improvement in both the school curriculum and daily practice, including consideration of how the needs of learners as individuals have been met. This important focus is a means for schools to ensure their curriculum, and the learning and teaching, helps raise standards as well as helping to raise the attainment of learners from disadvantaged backgrounds. It is not about external reporting, but about a school understanding what it needs to know about its learners in order for them all to maximise their potential, and identifying specific challenges and the support which particular groups might need. This understanding will also contribute to a school’s process of self-evaluation and continuous improvement.

Awarding external qualifications

While this guidance focusses on learner progression from ages 3 to 16 at a school level and a classroom level, assessment for the purposes of awarding external qualifications is different in nature, as external qualifications have a greater level of external control and prescription. Assessment for this purpose is outside the scope of this guidance.

External qualifications will be developed to reflect Curriculum for Wales and help to realise its ambition. Qualifications Wales is currently considering the development of future qualifications. More information can be found online at qualificationswales.org/english/qualified-for-the-future

Who needs to engage in the assessment process?

Active engagement between the learner and practitioner on a regular basis is at the heart of supporting learner progression. To be truly effective, all those involved with a learner’s journey need to collaborate and work together. The foundation for this engagement and partnership is establishing:

  • where learners are in their learning
  • where they need to go in their learning
  • what needs to be done for them to get there, taking account of any barriers to their learning.

Schools must design, adopt and implement a curriculum that enables learners to realise the four purposes, providing for appropriate progression for all learners. Therefore, supporting learner progression is a matter for consideration by individual schools. To fully support progression along the 3 to16 continuum, schools should also work collaboratively in their clusters and, where appropriate, across wider networks.

The main participants in the learning process, of which assessment is a fundamental part, are leaders, practitioners, learners, parents/carers and external partners. More information on each of these main participants is detailed below.

Leaders

The role of leaders is to establish a strong learning culture which supports and challenges practitioners to enable learners to make appropriate progress. This should be achieved through:

  • creating an environment based on mutual trust and respect, rather than one focused on compliance and reporting
  • enabling practitioners to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to carry out their role in assessment effectively
  • developing and embedding processes and structures that enables practitioners to develop a shared understanding of progression
  • ensuring the development and review of a curriculum which affords opportunities for practitioners to plan purposeful learning that addresses the needs of each learner
  • ensuring there is a clear picture of learner progression within the school that is understood by all practitioners – a process that should not lead to additional burden being placed on practitioners or learners
  • considering how additional challenge and support for the learner can be best provided, including working with other partners
  • encouraging engagement between all participants in the learning and teaching process in order to develop effective partnerships
  • ensuring that due regard has been paid to the statutory requirements and guidance for assessment, and that practitioners are taking account of this in planning learning and teaching and within daily practice.

Practitioners

The role of the practitioner is to plan for and provide effective learning experiences which are appropriate to the age and development of each individual learner. They should enable learners to appreciate where they are in their learning, where they need to go next and how they will get there. Practitioners should support and challenge learners effectively to ensure they each make progress. This should be achieved through:

  • being clear about the intended learning and planning engaging learning experiences accordingly
  • sharing intended learning appropriately with learners
  • evaluating learning, including through observation, questioning and discussion
  • providing relevant and focused feedback that actively engages learners, encourages them to take responsibility for their learning, and which moves their learning forward
  • encouraging learners to reflect on their progress and, where appropriate, to consider how they have developed, what learning processes that they have undertaken and what they have achieved
  • providing opportunities for learners to engage in assessing their own work and that of their peers, and supporting them to develop the relevant skills to do this effectively
  • developing learners’ skills in making effective use of feedback to move their learning forward
  • involving parents/carers in learner development and progression, with the learner’s involvement in this dialogue increasing over time
  • engaging in dialogue with leaders and fellow practitioners to ensure they have a clear picture of the progress being made within their school
  • identifying any additional challenge or support learners may require, engaging with external partners where necessary.

Learners

The role of the learner is to contribute and participate in the learning process, in a way that is appropriate to their age and stage of development. This will help them to develop knowledge, skills and understanding, and apply them in different contexts. As they make progress along the continuum and with increasing independence learners should be supported and encouraged to:

  • understand where they are in their learning and where they need to go next
  • develop an understanding of how they will get there
  • respond actively to feedback on their learning
  • review their progression in learning and articulate this both individually and with others
  • reflect on their learning journey and develop responsibility for their own learning over time.

Parents/carers and external partners

Parents/carers and external partners have an important role to play and schools should engage with them so that they can support learner progression in an appropriate way.

Schools should encourage and enable parents/carers to:

  • engage regularly with the school and its practitioners in order to understand and support their child’s progression in learning
  • share relevant knowledge and understanding with the school and its practitioners, which will support their child’s learning and progression
  • respond actively to information provided about their child’s learning and, in collaboration with the school, plan ways of supporting that learning within and outside school.

Schools should engage external partners to:

  • help practitioners assess and identify the needs of learners who may require additional support and then help them through the provision of advice and support – this may include specialist educational support and/or support from other agencies (e.g. health services)
  • provide information on learning progression that has taken place and been assessed in other contexts (e.g. for learners in joint placements between a school and another setting).

Evaluation and improvement arrangements and assessment

This guidance is about assessment, which is focused on learner progression. Evaluation and improvement arrangements within the education system are separate but can influence how assessment is perceived and how it is undertaken. We are therefore changing our evaluation and improvement arrangements so that they support the realisation of Curriculum for Wales.

The new evaluation and improvement arrangements aim to drive behaviours which positively support and enable our vision for curriculum and assessment as part of a self-improving system. Practitioners and school leaders should have the confidence to learn and improve their practice continually. This will enable them to thrive in a supportive and collaborative environment that will raise standards and ensure every young person can fulfil their potential.

At the heart of the evaluation and improvement arrangements is effective self-evaluation. This makes a vital contribution to raising the quality of education and standards of achievement. To support this, we are continuing to work with key stakeholders to further develop and refine a National Evaluation and Improvement Resource (NEIR) which aims to bring national consistency to self-evaluation across Wales. It will draw best practice from across the education sector and be of value and practical use to schools in support of their approaches to self-evaluation. It will promote a culture of professional reflection, dialogue and learning, and will have a role in building capacity across the system to support the reform journey.

Self-evaluation will encourage schools to reflect on their approaches to planning, developing and implementing their curriculum and assessment arrangements. It will enable schools to further develop learning and teaching to ensure they are effective in supporting learner progression. These developments, in turn, will then be reflected in daily practice.

More information on proposals for how schools should be held to account can be found online at gov.wales/school-evaluation-and-improvement-accountability-arrangements

School target-setting

School targets should stem from the ongoing evaluation of a wide range of information and the work of the school as a whole, reflecting strengths and areas for improvement, focusing resources on raising outcomes for learners, and supporting progress for all learners.

The Welsh Government has been clear in its expectation that school targets should only be used to support self-evaluation and improvement planning at a school level. They should not be aggregated up to a local authority or regional measure of performance that is then used to hold schools to account. Nor should they be used to draw comparisons between schools; in fact, to do so would be counterintuitive to a self-improving system.

While self-evaluation and target setting within a school may consider information gathered through individual learner assessment, these activities should not be conflated with external accountability at local authority, regional or national level.

More information on proposals for how schools should be held to account can be found online at gov.wales/regulations-governing-school-level-performance-and-absence-targets

The principles of progression and the descriptions of learning, articulated in Curriculum for Wales guidance, are intended to guide curriculum design and learning and teaching, with assessment being an integral part of both.

Assessment arrangements at a school level are a matter for each school to determine as part of designing their own curriculum. This should be appropriate for the needs of all their learners. Within each school’s curriculum, assessment arrangements will need to be designed, planned and delivered in accordance with the following.

  • Statutory requirements – These are the legal duties which must be undertaken by law. The proposed duties for schools are set out in ‘The law’ section of Curriculum for Wales guidance (at gov.wales/curriculum-for-wales/summary-of-legislation)
  • Statutory guidance, including the key principles of assessment (as outlined in this guidance) – These are the elements which headteachers and governing bodies must have regard to when planning for learning at both school level and classroom level.
  • School design – These are the elements that each school may choose to develop and implement to support assessment, in addition to the above. As part of this, schools should consider taking forward collaborative approaches through participation in clusters and wider networks.
  • Individual learner needs – These are the elements which a school may choose to implement to support the needs of individual learners in order to provide additional challenge or support.

There are a number of fundamental matters that schools should consider when designing their curriculum and providing learning experiences in the classroom. These are as follows.

Breadth and depth

  • Assessment should be an ongoing process that is embedded within day-to-day practice and is fundamental to the learning process.
  • Progression in learning is a process of increasing sophistication, rather than being about a body of content to be covered. Progression is not linear and different learners are likely to progress in markedly different ways. Assessment, built into the school curriculum, should recognise this and allow for a variety of diversions, stops and spurts in a learner’s journey.
  • Learners should be assessed in relation to the school curriculum, which will have been designed to reflect the national principles of progression, drawing on the descriptions of learning. Practitioners should assess all learners across the 3 to 16 continuum based on the progression articulated in their school curriculum. In doing so, they should take into account the diverse needs of individual learners.
  • Schools should not undertake specific assessment activities at each progression step to make a judgement about a learner’s progression at a set age or point in time.
  • The purpose of the descriptions of learning is to provide guidance on the pace of progression in order to support practitioners and inform curriculum design and learning and teaching. They are not a series of criteria to be directly assessed against, nor can they be met with single assessment tasks.
  • As part of the learning process, practitioners and learners should develop an understanding of how each learner learns and what their attitude and approach to learning is, in order to support their continued progress and to foster commitment to their learning.

Approach

  • When a learner enters a school at any point, the school should ensure they understand where they are in their learning and the progression they have made to date. This understanding should be used to identify the learner’s starting point and how the school can best move learning forward. Practitioners should take account of information provided by those who have previously supported the education of the learner.
  • Assessment is key to supporting ‘deep’ learning and should be used to identify whether a learner needs to consolidate learning, whether further support is needed and/or whether the learner can progress to the next steps in learning.
  • Observational assessment should be used and practitioners should look for evidence of embedded learning to assess what a learner can do consistently and independently in a range of learning experiences. This should be informed by a good understanding of child development.
  • As learners progress along the 3 to 16 continuum, they should engage more directly in the assessment process. Practitioners should provide opportunities for learners to undertake peer-assessment and self-assessment, supporting them to develop these skills in a way which is appropriate to the developmental stage of each learner.
  • Schools should plan a range of assessment methods and techniques that are fit-for-purpose and support progression across the breadth of the curriculum. Some of these may be distinctive to individual areas of learning and experience, some may apply across more than one area, and others may be specific to learners with additional needs.
  • Assessment methods and techniques should be selected, and adapted where appropriate, according to the needs of the learner. This should take into account the developmental stage and any barriers to learning, ensuring that each learner is able to demonstrate progress in line with their individual ability.
  • Statutory online personalised assessments are designed to help the practitioner and learner understand how a learner’s reading and numeracy skills are developing and what the next steps should be. Online personalised assessments are designed to support learning and teaching and are not to be used for the purpose of external accountability.

Recording learner progress

When designing their curriculum, schools should consider what assessment information needs to be gathered and recorded in order to gauge progress in learning, along with when this should take place and in what level of detail.

Headteachers should ensure that the information gathered on learner progression is proportionate and is only used within the school to directly support learner progression and inform teaching. It should not be used for the purposes of external accountability. It may be drawn upon to:

  • inform communications and engagement activity with parents/carers
  • support the transition of learners along the 3 to 16 continuum
  • help practitioners and leaders develop their understanding of progression
  • inform curriculum development and inform future learning and teaching
  • identify where improvement and support are needed as part of the school’s self-evaluation process.

Progression is a fundamental aspect upon which school curricula, and therefore assessment arrangements, are designed and planned. To deliver equity for learners across Wales, it is essential that there is a shared understanding of progression, including expectations around what progression may look like and the pace at which learners may progress. This shared understanding should be developed through both professional learning and as an ongoing process both within and across schools, of which professional dialogue is a fundamental aspect.

Professional dialogue for this purpose provides opportunities for leaders and practitioners to share and reflect on the impact of their school curriculum, their experiences of the learning process and of supporting all learners to progress. This enables them to learn from each other and support a process of continuous improvement. This forms part of, and builds upon, the interactions which take place on a daily basis as part of learning and teaching, e.g. learner to learner, learner to practitioner and practitioner to leader. It will help leaders and practitioners to understand the impact that learning and teaching has upon all those involved.

During the process of developing a shared understanding of progression, leaders and practitioners should consider:

  • how their school has designed its curriculum and assessment arrangements to reflect the principles of progression, guided by the descriptions of learning
  • the impact this has had upon teaching
  • the impact this has had upon individual learners and how this is demonstrated in their progression and the outcomes of their learning
  • the process of learning, i.e. how their learners are learning.

The insight and understanding gained as a result of this professional dialogue should inform each school’s self-evaluation process, helping define future priorities for leadership, curriculum design and learning and teaching.

Professional dialogue within a school

Schools must develop and embed a process and structures that enable the staff within their school to develop a shared understanding of progression as articulated in the principles of progression, drawing on the descriptions of learning and broader Curriculum for Wales guidance. As part of this, schools should ensure that all practitioners have the opportunity to take part in professional dialogue for this purpose within their school. This process should also ensure that this understanding is reflected in the development and refinement of both the school curriculum and daily practice.

This should be an ongoing process that takes account of the full breadth of the school curriculum.

Professional dialogue between schools

Professional dialogue between schools for the purpose of developing a shared understanding of progression should also be a continuous process that takes account of the full breadth of the curriculum. It should build upon the professional dialogue that has taken place within schools, and should enable schools to learn from each other.

Schools must work with their cluster to put appropriate arrangements and processes in place to support this, with each school participating on an equal basis. The cluster should work together to establish the most effective ways of working.

Schools should belong to at least one other group in addition to their cluster, for the purpose of developing a shared understanding of progression. Secondary schools are expected to ensure they are a member of a group which has at least one other secondary school in its membership. This is to support greater consistency in the understanding of progression across the latter part of the learning continuum and ensure schools are involved in meaningful discussions that cover the full breadth of the 3 to 16 continuum.

Professional dialogue involving funded non-maintained settings

Schools should encourage providers of funded non-maintained nursery education to become members of a group whose remit is to develop a shared understanding of progression and to participate in the professional dialogue that takes place as part of this process. This will help both settings and schools to understand learner progression across the full 3 to 16 continuum in a way that is appropriate to learners at all stages of development.

Inputs to support professional dialogue

Professional dialogue for the purpose of developing a shared understanding of progression may consider the following inputs:

  • examples of school curriculum
  • examples of classroom planning
  • examples of learning and teaching activities
  • examples of learning – both processes and outcomes
  • examples of additional support provided.

Examples should not be produced specifically for this process.

Learner involvement

Learners should have an input to the process, where possible, by providing evidence of their progression and self-reflection. Input should be sought from a range of learners and their individual learning progression.

Outcomes

Schools should ensure that the outcomes of this process are considered as part of their ongoing self-evaluation process and are used to reflect upon their curriculum design and planning process.

Role of the local authority and regional consortia

The local authority and regional consortia have an important role in ensuring that all practitioners have an opportunity to participate in meaningful professional dialogue for the purposes of developing a shared understanding of progression. This role should be supportive, building upon the practices already established at school and cluster level, and should not be about external accountability. They will also have an important role in helping to identify and share good practice.

The learner should be at the centre of the transition process. Effective transition is about supporting all learners along the learning continuum, as they move between different groups, different classes, different years and different settings. Ensuring the well-being of all learners should be an important and integral part of the process, recognising the needs of individuals, while also supporting both continuity and progression in their learning. The understanding of each individual learner gained from assessment is essential in supporting this process.

Transition planning

Headteachers and governing bodies should ensure that transition arrangements are considered when school curricula are designed and planned. This includes developing and embedding a robust and effective process for the transition of learners along the 3 to 16 continuum. This should be an ongoing process, which recognises the diverse needs of all learners and supports each individual in their learning journey.

In order to meet the needs of all learners within their cluster, schools must jointly plan to support learner progression, with a focus on effective communication between practitioners, learners and their parents/carers.

This should build upon any curriculum and assessment planning that takes place across the cluster. 
To support this process and ensure the well-being of learners:

  • primary schools should engage with leaders of funded non-maintained settings
  • primary and secondary schools should engage with each other
  • primary and secondary schools should engage with leaders of PRUs.

Secondary schools are also encouraged to engage with leaders of post-16 settings, e.g. further education institutions.

Information shared as part of the transition process should focus on the overall needs and
well-being of the learner. In addition, a clear, holistic picture of the learner’s progression across the school curriculum should be provided to support their continuing journey along the continuum of learning. This should be provided alongside the history of any additional challenge or support provided.

Learner involvement

Learners should be involved in the transition process to provide insight into what motivates them, what their preferences are, how they learn, what barriers there may be to their learning, what their strengths and areas for development are, as well as to suggest potential next steps.

Communicating effectively with parents/carers on an ongoing basis is an important way to foster positive relationships in order to engage them in purposeful and meaningful dialogue. When undertaken well, this can help aid learner progression by helping parents/carers to understand how they can support learning within and outside the school environment. Consideration should also be given to other people who are important for a learner, such as their advocate or social worker.

Schools should develop and implement processes to support effective two-way communication and engagement with parents/carers. When developing these processes, consideration should be given to using a wide variety of different communication means, e.g. face-to-face, digital, written, etc.

In terms of individual learner information, what should be shared with parents/carers, how and when during the school year is a decision for schools. However, care should be taken to ensure that any information provided is done so in a timely, open and fair manner. Information on any support, interventions or additional needs required for the learner’s development should also be shared.

Learner involvement

Headteachers should ensure that learners are provided with opportunities to contribute to the communication process. Where possible, learners should be enabled to gather examples of their learning, articulate their own progress and achievements, and convey their aspirations and views on the next steps in their learning. Ideally this should be a three-way communication process between the learner, their parent(s)/carer(s) and practitioners.

Additional learner plans

Where a learner has an individual learning plan, including a formal individual development plan (IDP), the communication and engagement process should take this into account and ensure the parent/carer is aware of the plan, its contents and any additional support they may need to provide. Formal IDPs should be created in collaboration with the learner and/or their parent(s)/carer(s).

Reporting learner progression

As part of this communication and engagement process, schools must ensure they formally report to parents/carers at least once a year for all learners aged 3 to 16. This should be timed to allow for further discussions to take place between practitioners, the learner and their parents/carers and for next steps to be put in place.

The formal report must include the following information about each learner:

  • their overall well-being
  • their progress in learning across the breadth of the curriculum
  • next steps required to support their progression
  • their attendance.

Schools may choose to communicate the above information through more than one report or on more than one occasion during the year if they wish.
The information provided should be individually-tailored to the learner and be focused on supporting their development and progression. It should not contain descriptions of the topics and learning activities the learner has undertaken, unless this is to provide context. To ensure the information can be easily understood by its intended audience, it should be concise and jargon-free.

While the provision of the personalised assessment reports to parents/carers is a statutory requirement, this is only a small element of what may be provided and should be considered in the context of the wider communication and engagement process with parents/carers.