It was an interesting talk, not least because this was someone working right at the heart of Government, so should be able to give such detailed information that everything in assessment would be absolutely clear. I was disappointed, therefore with both the general and specific aspects of his talk.
Take an early slide. The case for change. The removal of levels was articulated as “not consistent with the approaches to curriculum freedoms”. Now, forgive me, but the new NC does not appear to allow much in the way of “freedoms”, especially with the recent suggestions on test expectations.
The second reason was that “expectations are too low” as “fewer than half of those who reach current standard achieve 5 good GCSEs”. Again, forgive me, but is it only the fault of the Primary sector if, during the five years to GCSE that learners do not make the necessary progress to GCSE C+ grades from a level 4?
The third reason also baffled me. That the “current measure does not recognise performance before the end of KS1. As head of a Primary school, we did baseline assessments with our reception children. In the autumn, the County would distribute very thick booklets based on the school data, that showed progress from R to end of KS1 and then from KS1 to KS2. This document supported discussions with Attached Inspectors.
It seemed to me that assessment, at least in the eyes of the DfE and despite acknowledging that “formative assessment is vital”, is simply testing, with a focus on Baseline, KS1 and KS2 in Primary. That’s what they will focus on.
Schools will have the “freedom” to develop (or purchase) an assessment system that suits their school that;
- Aligns well with their curriculum.
- Sets out what children are expected to know, understand and do, and when
- Explains pupils’ progress and attainment to parents
- Can be used to set aspirational targets and wherever possible supports pupils to reach the expected standards.
Where Colin Watson did, in my opinion, fall down, was an inability to describe progress, which is the backbone of all teaching and learning decisions, as understanding the principles of progression and child development supports decisions in planning, “delivery”, engagement, feedback and adaptation of lessons, reviews and subsequent decisions. Progress between the test points is in school hands.
There were a number of different structures on sale during the event, and a couple of providers gave talks. It has been clear to me, from the outset, that, while “levels” as numeric items would disappear from use, the notion of “levelness” could not, as the original level descriptors, in my eyes and in my practice, formed the basis for judgements about pupil outcomes. As an aside, I have yet to see a Secondary School arguing for not using GCSE criteria to support learners. The words matter. It is the description of what progression looks like that is important.
If I was still a headteacher, especially in writing and reading, what I’d want to do would be multi-layered.
See my blog on “One book for all writing in Primary”, as a central principle for improving writing quality.
- First, in order to achieve the new “standards”, I’d be adjusting the end of Key Stage expectations, at least to 2b and 4b equivalence, then adjust the descriptor language to suit.
- Create a development ladder of statements that take the children from the earliest stages through the significant development points. Personal target extracts, on flip-out sheets, would provide the short term goals to be used in conjunction with the writing book.
- Every six weeks, a whole school writing project would result in whole school outcomes. Take to school hall and arrange from start points to the best available.
- Discussions would take place between staff to moderate decisions, using the language of descriptors. The discussion between year 2 and 3 would be especially important, to ensure continuity. The moderation discussion would also be part of internal staff CPD.
- The outcomes would be collated as an internal exemplar reference portfolio. Over time a range of moderated portfolios would develop. Essential for less experienced staff.
- With colleague schools, or an external moderator, to develop moderation activities to validate internal judgements.
- It is conceivable that current data tracking programs could be used to track progress as now, but with an adjusted expectation.
- In this way, a clear narrative can be developed about expectation, aspiration and personal target setting. This narrative will be essential to share with external inspectors or similar.
- The progress of individuals is the significant aspect in all this.
- We have to be in a position to grow children, not just to see how they measure up.