So the other day I asked Alison whether she had given any thought to what would happen when National Curriculum Levels are no longer the official measure of progress.
“I think that each stage in a pupil’s learning should be given a colour, so that everyone can tell what level they’re at.”
I couldn’t help but observe that this certainly sounded like an Art teacher’s response. Where Alison is seeing colours, will the Maths teachers be calculating quartiles and deciles, the Science teachers be selecting symbols, and the English teachers be debating the most appropriate terminology?
If we put the stereotyping to one side, it is probably fair to say that when discussing how we will assess and report on progress without referring to National Curriculum Levels, we will probably have a case of “quot homines, tot sententiae” – as many opinions as there are people.
Or will we? My impression at the moment is that the vast majority of teachers are simply holding their breath, waiting to be told what to do. This is not because we lack the imagination, ingenuity, inspiration or inclination to sort it out for ourselves. We just can’t believe that they’ll actually let us. And even if they really do, they’ll only change everything again in a few months, so what’s the point?
The point is that as a profession we are so used to being told how to do our job, that we’re in danger of missing the best opportunity we have had in decades to prove that we are actually more than capable of taking the lead ourselves.
Another problem is that we’re now so used to reporting progress according to National Curriculum Levels, that it’s hard to imagine anything else – for some colleagues it is the only system they have ever used as teachers, and also the only one they ever experienced as pupils. This means there is a very real possibility that rather than rethinking the way we assess progress, we will simply rebrand the old levels – with colours, quartiles, symbols, terms or whatever.
If we are going to embrace the opportunity we have been presented with, clearly we must do much better than that. In this post and in those that will hopefully follow, I invite you to join me on my mission to make sure Loreto delivers a more meaningful, more robust and frankly more manageable approach to assessment and reporting. We will almost certainly face many challenges, and some of us will almost certainly be unhappy with the approach which is eventually chosen. My rallying call: don’t complain later – contribute now!
So where do we begin?
First, let’s make sure we know exactly what we’re dealing with. Here is the original announcement from the DfE (14th June 2013). It includes these statements:
As part of our reforms to the national curriculum, the current system of ‘levels’ used to report children’s attainment and progress will be removed. It will not be replaced.
The new programmes of study set out what should be taught by the end of each key stage. We will give schools the freedom to develop a curriculum which is relevant to their pupils and enables them to meet these expectations.
Schools will be able to introduce their own approaches to formative assessment, to support pupil attainment and progression. The assessment framework should be built into the school curriculum, so that schools can check what pupils have learned and whether they are on track to meet expectations at the end of the key stage, and so that they can report regularly to parents.
Outstanding schools and teaching schools have an opportunity to take the lead in developing and sharing curriculum and assessment systems which meet the needs of their pupils.
Here is further clarification (15th January 2014 ):
Ofsted does not have any predetermined view as to what specific system schools should use. Inspectors’ main interest will be whether the approach adopted by the school is effective in measuring what progress pupils are making and how this relates to their expected level of progress.
So, from September 2014 we will still be told what to teach, but it will be up to us:
- how we teach it;
- how we assess the progress that is made;
- how we report on this progress.
The first of those points will largely be tackled at a departmental level, the third will be tackled at a whole school level, and the second will involve a bit of both. It is the last two that I am setting out to address in these posts.
Having established that, the next thing we need to ask is this: what are the principles we will be guided by in coming up with a new approach to assessment and reporting? I submit the following suggestions for your consideration.
- All assessments must be formative – i.e. they not only reveal what has been achieved up to that point, but also help the current teacher and/or subsequent teachers to establish what the focus of future learning should be.
- The assessment feedback must be as easy as possible for the pupils to understand so that they are able to exercise more control over their own progress.
- Decisions about the best way to approach formative assessment should reflect not only the personal experiences of our staff but also the good practice shared by other schools, and the findings of academic research.
- To help the school monitor progress, some sort of mark or grade needs to be awarded from time to time (but how often should this be – does the awarding of grades sometimes detract from the impact of written feedback?).
- It is essential that this mark or grade allows us to establish whether pupils are on track to fulfil our expectations of them.
- It is essential that this mark or grade makes much more sense to parents than National Curriculum Levels ever have (especially since this is the reason for their removal).
- We must adopt a grading system which works for every single subject area.
- We must adopt a grading system which works for every single year group.
- It might well make sense for the new system to link in with approaches to assessment at GCSE level to some extent. In GCSE courses which are taught from September 2015 onwards, candidates will be awarded numbers 1-9 rather than grades G-A*. See here for more details of GSCE reforms.
- Ideally, the system we come up with will ultimately reduce workload as well as improve results.
Don’t complain later – contribute now! If you have any comments on what has been outlined here, please click on the “comments” link below. If others have already made comments, it might well be worth taking a look at what they have said too.