How 14 Oxfordshire Schools Transformed Formative Assessment with RM Compare

Primary students in the classroom


Church Cowley St. James is a school in Oxford with nearly 500 pupils. There are currently 45 languages spoken by children representing 48 different nationalities and approximately 30% of the student body are on a Special Educational Needs register.

Why Pilot RM Compare?

With such a diverse student body, finding collaborative, adaptable approaches to learning and assessing is key. Headteacher Steve Dew also found traditional marking not only time consuming for teaches, but as having little impact on pupils’ learning. As a result, the school began working with other schools and RM Results to pilot RM Compare to assess a Year 6 written task.

What Does This Mean for Assessment?

By using our natural ability to make accurate comparisons, this reduces the time spent assessing work. This in turn creates a more manageable workload and reduces teacher fatigue. Comparative judgement is most useful for creative, open-ended subjects like English, music and art as it allows for a higher level of evaluation across a range of tasks.

How Does it Work?

Two essays being compared next to each other

All schools were provided with the same instructions and had a week to complete the task, and a week to make judgements. This was a written narrative task based on a video stimulus. After task scripts were uploaded, teachers were guided to their personal judgement page where two anonymous pieces of work were placed side-by-side and assessed for best fit against simplified criteria. A unique algorithm is then used to intelligently select, and pair work based on previous judgements – displaying a reliable rank order in significantly less time. This allowed schools to see where pupils sat within their individual school but also within the cohort of schools participating. Accordingly, it provides a collective, professional consensus of what ‘good’ looks like.

"It allowed us to moderate and benchmark writing across a group of schools. RM Compare made it easy for us to connect."

Steve Dew Headteacher, Church Cowley St. James School

The Outcome

RM Compare provided insight into students’ skills that aided with overall student development. At the same time, comparison of the teachers’ judgements helped with continuous professional development (CPD). For the schools involved, RM Compare gave universal benefit by boosting pupils’ attainment, aiding in strategic lesson planning and reducing assessment bias associated with traditional approaches.

School reporting showing students' position in the rank, and a boxplot graph comparing schools performances

What Next?

Following the successful pilot of RM Compare, Church Cowley St. James School has traded formal mark schemes with RM Compare to assess writing across Years 1-6, ten times a year. This transformation allows pupils to produce their ‘best’ piece of writing rather than being assessed solely on one standardised end-of-year test.

Five additional schools in the area have now adopted a similar ‘whole school’ approach to formative assessment.

The flexibility of RM Compare facilitated collaboration between the schools and demonstrates its adaptability for written tasks and scalability for any size cohort.


To help other schools benefit, Steve now provides a programme of events through AssessProgress that offers two National Moderation sessions. The first is a whole school National Moderation of Primary Writing that includes all year groups completing 2 written tasks over the academic year and the second: National Portfolio of Writing Assessment in Year 6 that seeks to use RM Compare for Moderation to Assess a portfolio of Year 6 writing over the year as evidence.  The Year 6 scheme meets the DfE requirements for the end of KS2 Writing expectations.


“We had previously led local partnership moderation and were looking for a valid way of assessing writing, reducing the time it would take to get everyone involved. RM Compare for Moderation gave us the ability to work and achieve our goals in a completely different way. It’s such a simple process and had really positive feedback from all the teachers and headteachers involved. Each teacher receives a comprehensive overview of all of the children’s work, so we are collectively raising standards in a very collaborative way. Due to the inherently more natural comparison process, rather than marking each piece of work against a mark scheme, we found that the time spent assessing the work was reduced, creating a more manageable workload. RM Compare gave us a much more reliable assessment and far greater insight into each child’s strengths and weaknesses.

The assessment method is also fairer, helping to combat common assessment biases and reducing the impact of any unintentional preference caused by the assessor knowing the child. It helps to boost the attainment of learners and improves the teacher’s judgements, as they have a clearer view of what good quality writing looks like, leading to better professional conversations between teachers at school. The tool is very flexible, so it has been straightforward for us to implement it however we choose. It allowed us to moderate and benchmark writing across a group of schools that otherwise might not have had time or capacity to work together. RM Compare for Moderation made it easy for us to connect”.

Steve Dew – Head Teacher, Church Cowley St. James School