Further thoughts on radar diagrams for assessing without levels

My resource for Music Teacher magazine on assessing without levels has recently been published (July 2014), and it describes in detail an assessment system my colleagues at Hayes School and I have been developing over the last seven or eight months. This system is based very much on Martin Fautley’s writing, in his book Assessment in Music Education and his blog drfautley.wordpress.com. I have also had extensive and fruitful conversations with John Kelleher from Wimbledon College, and been very interested in the blogs of John Finney and Anna Gower.

The resource for MT outlines the way in which we have been using radar diagrams to assess KS3 students. Here is an example:

assessing without levels

The different colours used here show what was done on different dates, and so over time a really detailed picture builds up that enables me to plan future lessons and give great feedback to the student. The crucial thing with these diagrams is to get right what is being assessed. So, to mix my metaphors in a completely gung-ho fashion, the content of the spokes of the radar is really important.

Using these radar diagrams over the last few months has provoked further thoughts about spoke content. Last Friday we had a department-based PD day at school, so my colleagues and I were able to discuss our thoughts at length. We also looked at John Kelleher’s approach to using radar diagrams, as he had condensed his spokes down to five, and I had worried that our approach was over-atomising. Is 12 spokes too many?

We had other questions and observations that had come out of our use of the radars. ‘Performance matches intentions’ was something that we had had different interpretations of: my colleagues had linked this to what students had written down, whereas I had taken it to be about whether they had rehearsed effectively enough for their performance to be what they wanted it to be. We also found that we mostly gave the same marks for ‘use of time’ and ‘group work’, and wondered whether we should amalgamate these spokes.

Revised spoke content

Having had a look at John’s slimmed-down, 5-point radars, we decided to stick with our 12-spoke model. These are the reasons:

  • Our projects are quite long (a whole term) and over the course of the project we expect students to work on every aspect (i.e. someone will not just be playing the bass line – they may end up doing that, but before that they will have played chords and melody, done some singing or whatever)
  • We enjoyed the lifelong learning skills aspect of our spokes: it fits with our school’s ethos and priorities, and the important thing here is to find a system that suits your school and your students. For us, we really wanted these things to be part of what was assessed. We wanted to tweak the content, but keep this aspect of our system.
  • Although we fear over-atomisation, we felt that having the 12 points gives us a really valuable framework for giving feedback to our students, and tons of great information about their progress over time in all the different areas.

The result of all of this is that we have come up with revised ‘spoke headings’ which are now as follows:

  1. Following instructions
  2. Critique
  3. Responding to feedback
  4. Group/teamwork
  5. Musicality/style
  6. Ensemble

After that, there will be spokes specific to the project, but after extensive discussion we have gone down the lines of elements, such as melody, rhythm, harmony, texture, and structure, choosing whichever ones are relevant to the project and adding specifics such as singing, instrumentation, improvisation and so on as appropriate.

Tweaking the way we use the radars

The effectiveness of working procedures for any system of assessment is of paramount importance – it just has to work, in practice, in a busy and/or chaotic classroom. We had also been puzzling over the ways in which we could put the radars into the students’ domain: i.e. make them work for students as much as they were working for us.

We are making five changes here:

  1. Students working in a group will have their radars on the same sheet. This has meant we have had to formulate sheets for pairs/trios/fours/fives but having them all in the same view, with a space in the middle or at the side for comments that apply to everyone in the group, has proved a real boon to using them in lessonsBhangra assessment sheet
  2. Following on from (1), group sheets will be given to groups while they are working. Instead of us providing written feedback on a slip that gets glued into student workbooks, the onus will be on the students to look at the sheet, make decisions as to how our feedback affects their planning (and objectives for that lesson, if you want to look at it in that way), and make notes on a designated page in their workbooks. Our school is the sort of school that expects to see stuff written down. I have no wish to pursue the idiocy of a ‘verbal feedback given’ stamp, but wanted to put the onus on students and away from us, and give students ownership (even though that term makes me feel a bit queasy) of their feedback
  3. Next year’s workbooks will have a blank radar for each project. Students will duplicate teachers’ radar marks in their workbooks, preferably using a new colour each time as we do, so that progress over time is super-visible to them, us, and anybody else who cares to look. Giving them the sheets while they are working makes this easy
  4. There will be a space on the ‘radar page’ of the workbook for students to keep a running total of their points so far in the project. This makes progress over time really visible, and gives students something to aspire to.radar workbook page
  5. Having such a thorough record of formative assessment during a project makes a big old summative assessment at the end redundant. Hooray! We have spent hours creating summative sheets that look like this:

radar summative feedback

However, the value of these has been mostly in keeping SLT happy, and their impact on students does not match the time taken by the teacher in producing them. So, by making the formative system so thorough, and in the students’ domain, we no longer need to do this, as all this information will be known to students already. All they have to do at the end of the project is record their final mark, and complete a reflective questionnaire online for homework. This will be done as a Google form and will end up being printed out and stuck into the workbook – this replaces a system where we took up valuable lesson time doing evaluations which were not of much use to them or to us (many thanks to Anna Gower for the Google forms idea!).

The upshot of all of this is that we very much hope that less teacher time out of lessons will be spent producing written feedback, and that students will be 1oo% more aware of the content of their radar on a lesson-to-lesson basis. More responsibility will be passed to the student, which can only be a good thing.

Undoubtedly we will make more changes along the way… future blogs will outline exactly the shape these will take.








  1. Dear Jane,

    I read whatever you write with huge interest, and also am very grateful that you are happy to share your ideas with other secondary music teachers!

    The ‘radar’ diagrams I’ve read about here and also in ‘Music Teacher’ magazine look fantastic, and I’d like to trial these in a Year 8 ‘Jazz and Improvisation’ project next term. However, I’d like to know how these assessments feed into your end of year/end of term/end of half term KS3 music ‘levels’ that are reported to SLT and parents.
    Are a number of the ‘spoke’ descriptors also ‘level’ descriptors? Or do the scores equate with levels, as I think John Kelleher does with his ‘pentagons’?

    I’ve got a golden opportunity to redesign how I assess at KS3 from September, and I am currently exploring different frameworks.

    With all good wishes,

    Rachel Barnes
    Director of Music
    Hackney New School


    1. Hi Rachel
      Thanks so much for commenting on the blog, and taking the time to read my stuff!

      We have gone for a system of ‘level equivalence’ from the total scores. I am hugely disappointed that my school have decided to continue reporting to parents using old NC levels – and clearly any system which converts scores into levels is both arbitrary and laughably lacking in validity. But if it’s levels they want, then that’s what they can have. We won’t be using the levels in the classroom (we haven’t talked about levels with the students for a number of years now – wrote it off as a waste of time and effort!).

      Do let me know how you get on!
      Best wishes


  2. Hi Jane,

    I am currently reviewing how we assess at my new school, and am favouring the idea of using the radar diagrams and really appreciate your sharing, along with many another contemporaries in this field of thought – I understand your decision for assessing many spokes/criteria – but wondered how you then tally this all up for an overview of a students progress over time?

    Many Thanks

    Ruth Lowe
    Director of Music
    Trinity Lewisham


    1. Hi Ruth, thanks for leaving a comment!
      Our projects are quite long (a whole term), so the system here tracks progress over the course of the project in a way that I hope is completely transparent for the students and any observers. Do you mean progress over a longer period? In this case, when doing end-of-year reports and so on, we will look at the total scores for each project, but we wouldn’t necessarily expect these to be going up each time (I will explain a bit more below). On a smaller level, I would also look at where there are particular strengths/weaknesses are on the common criteria – perhaps, for example, a student has improved over time at responding to feedback.

      The reason why I wouldn’t expect scores necessarily to go up over time is that progression is built in to the curriculum plan – i.e. over the three years of KS3 the projects get more demanding. Where we can really push for improvement of marks in the long term is in those common themes – critique, following instructions etc. However as far as the increasing complexity of the projects goes, if someone wants evidence of that then they’ll have to look at the SoL or talk to me about it. After 20 years of teaching, I’m still waiting for anyone (SLT, inspector etc) to ask me those questions: in fact you’re the first person who’s really come close, so thank you!


  3. Hi, thanks for sharing this – I love the idea and it’s one I’ve not come across before. Have you tried this approach with Key Stag 4/5 at all and does it also give such positive results?


  4. Hi,

    I think this system will really work well for our school, students and more importantly for us. I have a huge favour to ask however. This is not musical in any sense but I have spent several hours trying to recreate your circular spider diagram using office programs to no avail – cannot for the life of me reproduce them. Would it be possible to share one of these or let me know how you created the diagrams. Think I may have slight OCD when it comes to the ‘look’ of documents.

    Kind regards, Nia


  5. Dear Jane

    My school have just begun the process of looking at assessing of progress without levels. I have not seen the radar approach before. After reading your blog I am thinking of trailing this to see whether it is manageable within my dept. Before I start creating I wanted to ask whether you would be happy to share you template? Best wishes, Maria


  6. Oh wow, just found your page, This is exactly what I am tweaking now having used radars this year for the first time. I particularly love the group radars on one page idea! It is unfortunate that having got rid of levels and come up with this (I think excellent) system, I have to shoe horn this data into what is effectively levels again! Developing/Securing/Extending/Mastery, all with a -/=/+ sub level. I have fought against this vigorously but lost so I will just have to make it work for me somehow.
    Love this page


    1. Hi Danny, I’m so glad you like the blog! So sorry you’re having to deal with ‘levels by another name’ though – that’s rubbish – especially with sub-levels! All the best, Jane


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