Here’s a short overview of assessment in George Green’s Arts.

Why Badges?

After some discussion with my line manager back in the summer term of 2015 I proposed a system of assessment based on London Nautical School’s Badges system.  Please see here for how this has worked out for this amazing department.

This approach to  assessment is taken directly from this school. So if you want the see it working well take  a visit to their website!


From tracking to formative assessment. 

When working on this new approach with my collegues I felt the main misconception tended to be around the idea that awarding the badge was somehow the assessment. For me the crucial importance was on how it opened up better discussions of quality both for teacher and student and teacher to teacher. This is nicely summed up by the famous quote from Ron Berger:

Most discussions of assessment start in the wrong place. The most important assessment that goes on in a school isn’t done to students but goes on inside students. Every student walks around with a picture of what is acceptable, what is good enough. Each time he works on something he looks at it and assesses it. Is this good enough? Do I feel comfortable handing this in? Does it meet my standards? Changing assessment at this level should be the most important assessment goal of every school. How do we get inside students’ heads and turn up the knob that regulates quality and effort.”

Ron Berger, ‘An Ethic of Excellence’

The badges helped to refocus everyone on how we create space in the classroom to have these kinds of dialogue in the classroom.

It isn’t perfect and we still haven’t finished our catalogue of models and criteria. Still I think the process has been useful.

Here’s the Art’s Assessment policy in its final incarnation. The badge system is also described. There’s an example at the end of this blog too.

Assessment Policy JUly 2016 final

Here’s an example of the tracking sheet in action.

Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 16.57.20

I really liked the simplicity of recording whether a student has achieved the badge or not. As you can see some badges remained unlocked whilst some badges the majority of the class can achieve. (This spreadsheet has recently been updated and improved by our IT and spreadsheet guru. It now automatically can produce a report summarising all the badges achieved for each student int a class – for reporting purposes)

I’ll return to the Salsa badges in a moment but here’s our basic assessment principles.


Our ten principles for assessment:  

1. Curriculum comes first.

2. Relate assessment to the specifics of the curriculum.

3. Avoid high stakes assessment

4. Use models over criteria, Comparison over absolute judgements.

5. Use critique and descriptive feedback – work together to define the qualities of good work.

6. Oral feedback is an essential, ephemeral process – integral to successful teaching in the Expressive Arts.

7. To capture the workshop nature of the Expressive Arts will require videoing and archiving of work.

8. We need rich formative dialogue based on trusting relationships – feedback that causes thinking rather than emotional reactions.

9: Focus on ensuring that your feedback gets acted upon so that students are given a chance to improve their performance.

10: Start from where the learner is, not where we would like the learner to be – and give feedback that will move the student’s learning forward.



Implementation – support from SLT was crucial. 

I sent a document to SLT outlining the rational behind badges and why I thought it a useful system. As luck would have it 2016 was to be a year of experimentation with assessment systems at KS3 and it was agreed for the Arts to trail this out. In fact PE, DT and Computing also joined us.

Agreement from SLT is crucial and without it the new assessment system would have been impossible to introduce.

Introduction to the Faculty 

I did this quite late in the summer term of 2015. It’s fair to say reception to the idea was received with a mixture of hostility and disbelief. I think we were all exhausted after a long year of change and new developments and the thought of a new approach to assessment was just too much. It was the wrong time to introduce another new idea.

I had some convincing to do.

Summer Holidays

Towards the end of the summer holidays I decided to develop a website to promote the Arts and keep the models and badges together in one place. You can find it here.

Fortunately my music colleague agreed (thank you Travis) to help with designing the spreadsheet and put it together shortly after we got back from the holidays.

Autumn Term to Spring Term 

We trialled a few ideas and added examples to the website. Eventually everyone began to come round to my way of thinking….

Except there did seem many misconceptions with one department even trying to reinvent levels within the badge system. A few more meetings and discussion later and by the Spring term we were mostly aligned…

We have as a faculty a two and half hour session every two weeks as part of our CPL – a great deal of our meetings were given over to giving everyone the time to agree on the main achievements and badges for each SOL. 

A few issues remain unresolved.

Issue 1: Just how do you pitch the difficulty of the Badges to be achieved.

Issue 2: Are we assessing the skill or just the particular outcome from the SOL currently being studied. Can they be the same badge or should they be renamed?

Issue 3: Do students really know what it is they have achieved?

Issue 4: in creative work do models of expectations tend to limit the kind of responses we receive from students? Do students try to copy the model rather than find their own unique voice?

Issue 5: How do we report this back to parents and can the SLT be sure that what the students achieve is really stretching them?

An example from our Salsa unit- Toca Bonito 

Those familiar with Musical Futures will know this as an example SOL from their booklet mark 2.  We choose this SOL as it is challenging and offers ensemble opportunities and some room for improvising.  (AP 1 ) It’s important to maintain the groove which uses some syncopation and interlocking rhythms.

We agreed on three badges  for this SOL (AP 2 – originally 4 but the 4th no-one achieved.)  Three is the maximum we wanted but other departments varied.  At times I argued we should have just one badge with everything else being about how we achieved the main badge. This would result in some students possibly never receiving a formal tracking on their achievements and this was seen as demotivating. So in the end we tended to have a straightforward badge ( 1 point) a more challenging “half way point” and then what we discussed as the main achievement (3 points.)  For our Salsa unit the three badges are basically:

Groove is in the Heart (1 point) playing in time.

Master Blaster (2 points) Knowing your own part really well.

Toca Bonito (3 points) Playing your own part within an extended structure and playing with a sense of style and confidence.

The final badge becomes the example we share and discuss the most. Then as students put together the work we talk about the progress and how they are coming along. We do lots of live modelling as the students work in groups and share what we are after. Students also share and model their own work. Sometimes we might reference the badges – often we just discuss what needs to be done next. In other words lots of  AP 4,  5 and 8,9,10 combined. See below for how this looks:

3 Points

All performers should be in time and play their own part accurately. There should be a clear structure with an introduction, main section, use of the tag.  It should be played confidently and with a sense of style.

If you watch this video you hear the group start with the tag. They play this in unison. Then the drummer plays the main groove and the rest of the instrumentalists join in and play the main tune 4 times. Notice how the players are in time and show a sense of confidence. They are aware of each others parts and follow the structure well.

You can watch it here: (it’s also at GG’s website music badges level 2)

The video is the main reference point for the standards (AP 4) though over time other students are able to share their work as exemplars.

From tracking to formative assessment.

Whilst we continually share the tracking sheet with our students and students do ask what they need to do to achieve the badges the main aim is for the badges to work in the background:

“We are sharing a common goal of excellence. Good assessment is a fundamental part of good pedagogy that is aware of the dangers of reducing complex real life, artistic production and creativity to numbers or abstract criteria.

This is what we are trying to do as a faculty in our approach to assessment – build up our capacity to promote useful conversations with students that move them forward and energise their commitment to, and understanding of the Arts.”


In many ways we don’t need the badges system – for example I never once recorded a level or tracked  assessment formally  in all the time I was HOD in my previous school. (I did enter data but I made it up to show progress) I don’t think it mattered – students knew they were progressing because their music making got better.

However the badges are a way of recording major milestones and achievements and do reveal which parts of the curriculum we feel they have achieved successfully. In this way it is useful to the SLT as long as they don’t need it to show “progress” which it can’t in a straightforward way. For students it’s useful as they know (but see issue 3 above) what they have achieved and what if anything they need to do next. Its flexible – for example we have discussed introducing Onyx specials for a range of more challenging badges and to cater for our complex needs students. Its been good for the department as we can discuss each others work in comparison to our models and this approach has improved moderation. It has opened up dialogue about issues of quality and just how to motivate and encourage all our students to aim high whilst remaining inclusive and responsive to our students.



One thought on “Musical Assessment Without Levels

  1. Thank you for this Jason – it’s a really interesting, well thought out system and such a refreshing change from people producing hideous 9-1 neolevels! Lots to think about here – I may well come back with further thoughts/questions.


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