Guest post: (How) to level or (how) not to level, that is the question…

Rachel Clarke is founder of Apex Education and works with schools to help develop staff and raise standards. In this guest post she considers the implications for schools of the end of National Curriculum levels…

The removal of National Curriculum levels not only caused educators to question such a thing but also sent shockwaves through the world of education.

Levels gave the nation a clear assessment system that provided a universal, language and framework for teachers across the country to use. However, the removal of such structure also opened up the possibility for schools to think carefully and reassess their assessment systems and procedures. Such an opportunity has been relished by some schools because it’s allowed them the freedom to decide on criteria that best assess their pupils. With many hidden agendas governments set, it is unsurprising that leaders in education are sceptical about the motivation behind such rather challenging changes and the ramifications this will have on the accuracy of measured attainment.

Teachers like order and structure. Knowing the secrets to planning, teaching, assessing and reviewing practice is the ‘elixir of life’ for many. Whilst this may seem strange, this is because teachers like to do well by the pupils they teach and like to use an approach that connects with learners. Thus to take away a structure that has in the main been universally known across the country, has left many confused, unsure and perplexed as to how this is beneficial to measuring the attainment of pupils. With the introduction of performance related pay, how can teachers prove the quality of their practice if schools use different systems? The removal of a nationally known system also makes it difficult for teachers moving to different schools. In interviews teachers will now need to explain the system used at their previous school to demonstrate performance, which is likely to be confusing to new employers.

Transitions of pupils moving to new schools within or across a Key Stage further compounds the turmoil experienced by some practitioners. The more commonly understood levels made it easier for schools to identify the attainment of pupils moving between schools. With the new system and approach, expectations of what ‘working at the expected standard’ looks like varies depending on the differing system used. If the attainment is measured using alternate systems that have varied expectations, surely the attainment data will be inaccurate. This has already been seen for many pupils, who were working at the nationally expected standard in the last academic year and are now working below. Whilst this has something to do with the change in the pitch if the curriculum, many practitioners feel the removal of levels has contributed to this discrepancy.

Many schools have taken the ‘ostrich’ approach and have continued with ‘old levels’ to assess their pupils. Although this may serve a short term purpose and provide some comfort in this unknown time, this approach doesn’t quite fit. The main reason is because the ‘old curriculum’ had a different pitch, aspects of which have been removed, or altered; thus the previous level descriptors don’t accurately measure the attainment of pupils. The DFE have released some performance descriptors that will be used in Y2 and in Y6, however for other year groups, the reliance on Formative Assessment practice is something that teachers need to feel empowered to use. Yes national levels have been useful, however it was a system that was used in a summative manner in the main. Many teachers and school leaders pigeonholed pupils into the ‘4c’ box, or the ‘2b’ box and overlooked the necessity to unpick what pupils could specifically do and what their next steps were. Thus for some pupils the progress they were making was slower than it could have been, had Formative Assessment been threaded through practice and the school ethos.

More training needs to be provided for schools to support them with their navigating through such times, so schools are empowered to think about learning and progress, rather than all the emphasis being placed on the attainment outcomes in isolation. However the government has left schools to find their own solutions with minimal or no support/guidance with the ultimate results: teachers feeling demoralised and confused and pupil outcomes being detrimentally affected by such a lack of clarity.

 

You can follow Rachel on Twitter @ApexEducate or learn more at Apex Education

 

Any questions for Rachel or feedback on the gap left after levels? Please let us know in the comments or via Twitter… 

 

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Comments

  1. A GPS system gives as an accurate and reliable information about where we are which can help us find our way easily to our destination.
    Standardised tests can do the same for education.
    But, what would happen if we use GPS data to set targets, label travellers or create league tables?
    Have we thrown the baby out with the bathwater?

  2. A GPS system gives as an accurate and reliable information about where we are which can help us find our way easily to our destination.
    Standardised tests can do the same for education.
    But, what would happen if we use GPS data to set targets, label travellers or create league tables?
    Have we thrown the baby out with the bathwater?

  3. Nor_edu

    SchoolsImprove ApexEducate the point on interviewing staff for new posts is an interesting one I’d not considered previously.

  4. Nor_edu

    SchoolsImprove ApexEducate the point on interviewing staff for new posts is an interesting one I’d not considered previously.

  5. Janet2

    The results of the consultation about the proposes ‘National [email protected] and the Government’s response have been https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/407178/Performance-descriptors-consultation-government-response.pdf. The response was not positive. For example, a ‘significant proportion’ (74%) of respondents felt the proposed performance descriptors were confusing. 76% of respondents felt the performance descriptors were not effectively ‘spaced’ and this could lead to inaccurate and inconsistent judgements.
    69% felt the descriptors were unclear and not easy to understand.

    Another Gov’t created farce.

     See more at: http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2015/02/school-reform-minister-admits-levels-are-undependable-data-why-then-do-ministers-use-levels-to-attack-schools/#sthash.sfd1nFWr.dpuf

  6. ApexEducate

    Nor_edu I know…how can we judge the performance of others across schools without their being some sort of uniformity? A bit bonkers!

  7. ApexEducate

    Nor_edu I know…how can we judge the performance of others across schools without their being some sort of uniformity? A bit bonkers!

  8. ApexEducate

    Nor_edu I know…how can we judge the performance of others across schools without their being some sort of uniformity? A bit bonkers!

  9. LearntSchool

    ApexEducate Nor_edu I don’t understand teacher’s need for uniformity; can’t they develop & describe their own pedagogy/lessons? Pls Help

  10. LeoToAquarius

    SchoolsImprove ApexEducate “Levels gave the nation a clear assessment system” not in Science, 36 ks3 topics each with lvl criteria=mess

  11. Nor_edu

    LearntSchool ApexEducate they could, but will time be given/ how easy will it be to show/ compare results in other professional contexts

  12. ApexEducate

    Nor_edu LearntSchool I agree. In an ideal world this would be fine but there’s too much importance placed on levels and data, which could

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