Life without levels – How to report?


In the whole ‘life without levels’ developments I’ve yet to see much included on how schools intend to report to parents. Many systems still include ambiguous language that I’m not sure will be much better for parents to understand or require so much explanation that the appendix explaining the report becomes longer than the report itself.

I propose that reporting to parents should only include information that is informative, useful & formative for parents. Here is a proposal based on what I think parents may prefer ( if you’re a parent please tell me otherwise) and which makes reports authentic & hopefully less time consuming. I work in secondary and think that this could work in the majority of secondary contexts. Primary colleagues may have to adapt.

Self reporting

Who is the person in the whole of the learning process that needs to understand the most about what the student has learnt and what they need to work on? I think it is the student themselves & therefore propose they write their own reports.

These reports contain no levels, no numbers and no edu-jargon. They won’t be telling you they’re a ‘master’ at X or ’emerging’ at Y. They will be real life examples and honest reflections from the students themselves.


If you went whole school on this system you could ensure that steps along the learning are used in format that can be easily accessed when it comes to report writing. For example, a student log of successes throughout the term or whenever a student completes a key piece of work they have to reflect on it with key questions etc

How to do it

I’m a big fan of Google forms. You can easily set up a set of questions for them to answer. They type in their responses and it automatically enters into a spreadsheet. Don’t forget a question on their name/surname. They can always draft and edit in another document first. They could even peer check etc The idea is that once it goes into the form it is pretty much perfect. This will require patience and training on the teacher’s part but it does get better!

The beginning of a form

The beginning of a form

What they would write

The questions I would ask students include (in no particular order):

  • What have you enjoyed learning about this term?
  • What has challenged you this term?
  • What have you worked on this term which you have seen yourself improve on? How did you achieve this?
  • What is your attitude to learning? (we have a scale) Why do you think this? Do you think your teacher agrees? Why?
  • Has your attitude to learning changed from last term? Why?
  • What do you need to do to improve?
  • Look at your target from last term? How have you worked on this? Do you feel you’ve improved? Why?

You may also want content/subject specific questions.

They should write it in the first person, writing for their audience & following correct SPAG rules. The whole thing itself can be used as a part of them developing literacy. You could even challenge some by asking them to include particular vocabulary. You may allow higher level literacy students to write more freely. You know your students and what is best.

Encourage students to use the language that is used in the particular element i.e the descriptors for the attitude to learning, or success criteria etc

A simple exemplar

A simple exemplar

What next?

You will have a spreadsheet of responses. Depending on your preferred method you can print or read on screen. Do a spell check. Do a content check. Take in what students are saying. Are there common themes you hadn’t considered? What might the coming term include for the class/that student to support them? Do you need to book a conversation with them? Do they need to re-write it? ( they’ll only do this once!)

Once all checked and your happy then you either give it all to your data manager who may be happy to deal with it or if you use SIMS you can easily import the data straight into a mark sheet. If a whole school process then it would be easy to set up to make it as smooth as possible.


Self reflection – The processes itself is a great way to get students to look at the reality of their situation. Some students are quick to deny any involvement in their own behaviour or work and this forces them to look at themselves. It is rare for students to not have self realisation, some may and then decide to try and lie but it is rare they cannot see the reality.

The student owns the comments. No surprises – I regularly have students say ‘Miss, what have you written in my report?’. Well they shouldn’t be asking because I write the truth but does this tell us that teachers can be variable in what they write? If they’ve written it they own it. It’s THEIR report.

It reduces ‘teacher/edu speak’ so parents can understand – No acronyms or ambiguous language allowed. Let’s allow students to say it like it is in a professional but useful language. If we use the right language with them then they can also use it themselves.

It’s ‘quick’ – The biggest time consumer is the proof reading. Is that shorter than pondering & writing 100’s of reports?

The teacher proof read is an important process in itself – You get to find out how they’re feeling and how they see things. How often do we get to find this out from all our students? Particularly those of us that teach 100’s of students.

Possible drawbacks/problems

Students not knowing what to write – Constructing a record of learning along the term will help to reduce this. Sentence starters can also reduce this.

Students choosing not to write the truth/most important issues – I find it fascinating that they would choose to do this and I reflect on their attitude and why they’re avoiding the issues. This reflection should help them to move on not chastise. They may need a 1-2-1 discussion. In my experience once they’ve done this once they become much better at it the second time!

Getting access to the technology – If it was school wide then all staff would need all students to complete it in 2-3 week period. Access to technology could hinder. Solutions include setting it for homework ( maybe after a couple of rounds), or allowing them to use their own phones ( if not already allowed).

Students with certain needs not being able to do it easily – This is where support staff can be trained to use the questions to discuss them with the student. With support of the teacher a colleague can work carefully to elicit the student’s thoughts. They could record their discussion or type their responses as they speak. Or if they have supportive parents ask them to support as part of homework. It could even be part of their PEP review.

They don’t sit nicely in a spreadsheet with RAG colour coding – No but most of that stuff should be student/teacher/management level only. Parents need the headlines not the inner workings.

I’d be interested to hear who already runs a similar system and/or for people to highlight other potential benefits/problems.

4 thoughts on “Life without levels – How to report?

  1. Pingback: What if we didn’t ever use grades with students? | missdcoxblog

  2. Great idea, but the devil is in the detail. Two concerns spring to mind immediately:
    1. How do you minimise bias in your questionnaire so that the report is a useful record of progress, rather than a list of acceptable, well rehearsed excuses? Examples such as “you cannot control me / the class” or “teacher plans boring lessons or homework, so I am not motivated” come to mind.

    2. I can already fear that in many cases the proof reading stage would turn into drafting and re-drafting. Last year I was teaching more than 250 students. I can see myself already missing deadlines.

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