The current state of national assessment arrangements reminds me of an old joke about the country that decides to change on which side of the road traffic should drive. To smooth the process, it decides to adopt the change gradually with trucks driving on the new side of the road on day one, cars following on day two, buses on day three…

So, although the DfE says that the current system of levels used to report attainment and progress will be removed from September 2014 and will not be replaced, nearly a quarter of schools are running old National Curriculum Levels and new systems in parallel, while a further quarter plans to retain the current system of levels[1]. We also hear from the Standards and Testing Agency (STA) that pupils will receive National Curriculum levels in KS2 SATs results in 2015; and that teachers of Y2 pupils should assess children against National Curriculum levels in the end of KS1 tests.

This desire to cling to the known and knowable is inevitable. Understandably, schools are worried about how Ofsted will reach an inspection judgement in a world without levels, despite the reassurances of the Chief Inspector that, "Inspectors will not expect to see a particular assessment system in place and will recognise that schools are still working towards full implementation of their preferred approach.[2]" And, let's be honest, accountability frameworks are very powerful levers that governments pull in order to shape the way schools work, whatever ministers may say about giving schools the freedom to innovate and make their own choices. The proposed new attainment floor standard, for example, will require primary schools to get at least 85 per cent of their pupils to the equivalent of a Level 4b. That's a tough target. According to a CentreForum study, only 10 per cent of schools would achieve it.3]

Let's put aside for a moment concerns about accountability, as there is a good deal of agreement that 'Levels' had become almost the sole currency of achievement, with some pupils more "concerned for 'what level they are' than for the substance of what they know, can do and understand."[4] The tail was undoubtedly wagging the dog[1]. Many of you, therefore, will be pleased that this generalisation of labelling could disappear and will be eager to take the chance to redefine what assessment means. Equally, many of you may be concerned about the potential for inconsistency and lack of rigour.

As we move towards an educational world without levels, rather than clinging to the old side of the road, maybe this could be an opportune moment to review where you are in relation to the following:

  • Consider the nature of progression. For example, does your curriculum embody progression in its content, in how the content is taught and in how pupils are helped to overcome misconceptions and misunderstandings?
  • There are quite a few proprietary systems emerging to fill the gap left by the removal of levels. Consider the relevance of these to your curriculum. Do these genuinely support a coherent, well thought through approach or are they merely replacing one labelling system with another?
  • Whichever side of the road you may find yourself on, it is clear that we are now in a period where the fundamental nature of assessment, feedback, parental communication, and progress-tracking is under scrutiny and review. The outcomes of the 'Commission on Assessment Without Levels'[6] will be eagerly awaited…

    [1] Source – http://davidpott.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/capita_sims_-_infographic_-_removal_of_levels.pdf

    [2] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/note-for-inspectors-use-of-assessment-information-during-inspections-in-201415

    [3] http://www.centreforum.org/assets/pubs/progress-matters.pdf

    [4] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/175439/NCR-Expert_Panel_Report.pdf

    [5] Cliché alert!

    [6] https://www.gov.uk/government/groups/commission-on-assessment-without-levels#meeting-dates

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