So, farewell then, National Curriculum Levels…

Some very short thoughts and some questions on the demise of levels.

  1. Quo  vadis KS2 SATS? I mean, if there’s no such thing as nationally benchmarked levels, what’s the point?
  2. How will we know if the new “GCSEs” have had a positive/negative/no effect if we can’t correlate their outcomes with a national benchmark earlier in the system?
  3. Progress measures – what will Ofsted use?
  4. Someone’s going to have to re-engineer the Ofsted Dashboard.
  5. Bye bye FFT?
  6. Commercially it’s going to be a bun-fight with everyone selling their own assessment schemas.
  7. Makes the introduction of non-NC linked technology systems easier (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-21683616) *innocentface*
  8. Potentially creates some problems for teachers moving from school to school – having to learn a whole new assessment schema.

Even though I am, as my colleague (correctly) described me today, an analytical type who likes to categorise and order things (and I still say it was meant as a compliment) I can see both positives and negatives in this change, and I can understand the change will be welcomed by as many as it concerns. Whilst leaning over on the concerned side, I am sitting firming on the fence on this one for the moment. There are clear benefits for the student and the teacher. There are issues at the school level. And there are serious risks at the system level.

I like levels. I have never been a teacher when they didn’t exist and I don’t think there is a great deal of experience in the system of working without them. So it will be  a bit of a step into the dark and I can see that my lack of desire to lose them is coloured as much by that fear of the unknown as it is by the known utility of having them. Some of my best friends don’t like levels, so I refuse to be didactic about the issue.

I do think that the DfE statement is a bit disingenuous  – if it is the case that “this system is complicated and difficult to understand” then as a nation we are truly screwed in the “able to understand things” stakes. I also don’t agree that the system “encourages teachers to focus on a pupil’s current level, rather than consider more broadly what the pupil can actually do”. That is a complete nonsense statement. The level is a description, using commonly understood language, of what the student can do.

With respect to the suggestion that “Although schools will be free to devise their own curriculum and assessment system, we will provide examples of good practice which schools may wish to follow”, we are all aware of how quickly this can become a situation where if you aren’t using one of the examples then you aren’t getting through Ofsted.

As with all policy the devil is in the implementation. Done well this could free teachers to develop and use innovative methods of formative assessment. Having said that, it will, in the short term at least, make the job of teachers and schools harder. The very real concern must be that given the extra work this will entail over the coming few years, added to curriculum/exam/structural reform, this could be the bale of hay that breaks the camels back.

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