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Assessment case study Durrington High School

The removal of ‘levels’ offered an opportunity to create an assessment system which was relevant to students and one which reinstated the importance of assessment, rather than it simply being a number or letter. The previous ‘levels system’ had become overcomplicated, with staff, parents and students, rarely aware of how progress was made from one level to the next, let alone between sub-levels. In addition, students, parents and staff were all too focussed on the actual number/letter of the level rather than what learning had taken place, or what learning needed to take place in order to improve further.

The new ‘Assessment Without Levels’ approach has been designed to allow teachers at Durrington, to gain control of their assessments and to focus their assessments on the core concepts and skills they believe are essential to their subject. The Durrington High School ‘Growth and Threshold’ model of assessment also allows for an easier transition to key stage 4 with a greater emphasis placed on the skills and core knowledge needed to be successful at the end of key stage 4, during key stage 3. This has allowed the development of an assessment regime at KS3 which develops and broadens students’ understanding of geography while maintaining a 5-year plan of how that pupil will be successful at the end of key stage 4.

The Durrington ‘Growth and Threshold’ model has four thresholds; Excellence, Secure, Developing and Foundation and is loosely linked to the Solo Taxonomy approach.

Each student is assigned a baseline threshold on entering the school, which is the minimum threshold that they will be expected to reach by the end of key stage 3. Students are not told of this threshold, to avoid labelling students and to avoid setting an ‘artificial’ ceiling on pupil progress. After each assessment ad at each reporting phase, students are told whether they are making better than, less than or expected progress. It is important to note that the success criteria for a ‘Secure’ threshold in year 7 only equates to the success criteria for ‘Developing’ in Year 8 and ‘Foundation’ in year 9. This is to ensure continued progress from the students and to avoid students being content with achieving their ‘threshold’. Following this whole-school approach the Geography department identified four main themes to be assessed during key stage 3:

  • Atlas, map skills and interpretation
  • Sequence of formation
  • Structure and classifying
  • Case study explanation.

Our key stage 3 curriculum has been created so that students will be assessed, at least once, on each of these four themes within an academic year, and at least twice over the key stage. This allows us to interleave skills and knowledge within our units of work as well as to track pupil progress over the three academic years. This document (PDF) shows an example threshold descriptor for the ‘Atlas/Map skills and Interpretation’ threshold. This allows you to see how the threshold skills progress within each ‘threshold’ and from year 7 through to year 9.

Assessment system in practice

This focuses on a Year 8 scheme of work (PDF) titled ‘Landscapes’ and to focus on the ‘Rivers’ section of this unit of work. This was taught in the Spring Term and that it clearly shows the development of knowledge from key stage 3 to key stage 4. The assessment is focussed upon the ‘Sequence of Formation’ theme, which is an important element of our GCSE specification, thus highlighting the importance of embedding key skills at key stage 3 to allow an easier transition to key stage 4.


Here are exemplar pieces of work from year 8 students on river landforms. These exemplify the full spectrum of assessment thresholds (PDF) (Excellence, Secure, Developing, Foundation). Elements of progress have been identified. It is important to stress that the threshold descriptors are used as a ‘best fit’ process, rather than a simple ‘tick box’ assessment. Therefore, an ‘excellence’ piece of work does not have to be ‘perfect’ and will have elements where improvement can take place.


Hannah Knox, Subject Leader for Geography at the Angmering School reflects on Durrington High School’s approach to assessment (PDF).

‘A major strength of this approach is it is school-wide. This means that this is accepted and expected by students and the teaching staff have managed a culture shift this year. The knowledge and skills sections of each assessment provide continuity throughout key stage 3 and this allows clear links to the GA framework throughout. By drawing on the skills down from GCSE, this also allows a strong foundation during years 7, 8 and 9.’

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