RE Assessment simplified (at last!)

For a good many years, assessment in RE has been against a series of ‘I Can’ Statements, linked to notional levels, similar to those in the pre-2014 National Curriculum. Now, as a National Society (Church of England) school inspector, and assessor for the RE Quality Mark, I encounter school after school that is struggling to make sense of assessment in RE. This is often because they are confused about the use of the I Can statements and don’t understand how the ‘levels’ in RE can stand up in a world where NC levels have gone.

My colleague, Emily Norman, and I have now created a simple change to the existing system, which merely simplifies what we already have – it keeps the familiar but makes it manageable. The materials for this, including assessment Excel sheets for Years R to 9, have been placed online and are freely downloadable from:

This simple view is based on the following key principles: –

1. It is important to acknowledge that Attainment Target 1 (learning about religion) and Attainment Target 2 (learning from religion) are essential components to RE planning but they are part of a child’s overall development in the skills and understanding of RE. Therefore, they should be a part of any assessment system but not necessarily separated. The separation is a function of planning and formative feedback rather than summative assessment.

2. The way that the I can statements are laid out is against the RE Council’s Six Areas of Enquiry. This makes every sense because it aligns the development of skills in RE with the content. Our table, therefore, includes the REC’s key question which underpin each area. This makes it easier for teachers to see how pupils demonstrate their understanding. It also blends the current thinking about the content domain and the cognitive domain and so aligns with NC approaches.

3. It is no longer appropriate to think about Levels in RE or in any other subject. Therefore, our table is laid out in age-appropriate expectations, with an additional line for Year R, and an indication of when pupils are working towards (WT) or working at greater depth (GD).

4. To depersonalise assessment, since it is the teacher who is making the judgement, the first person references in the old I Can Statements have been re-written in the third person.

It is a key principle of assessment that pupils do not progress linearly and there was tendency to use the I Can statements as a ‘best fit’ system which expected linear progression. Therefore the most sensible approach here is to acknowledge that pupils progress at differential rates and reflect this in whatever assessment recording system we use. Then it would be simple for teachers to highlight the relevant statements. Where this is used robustly, of course, they would be able to identify evidence that the statement applies. Thus assessment can be much more forensic than the rather hit-and-miss system that sometimes characterises a school’s approach.

Ours is not a revolution, more a sensible revision, but we hope that it will help schools to bring the RE assessment into line with other subjects, rather than still expecting some kind of artificial levels. Also, we see AT1 and AT2 as planning tools, their impact on pupils’ thinking is reflected in the statements.