Between classes and between schools, once assessment systems are selected, there will still be a need to moderate outcomes, to validate personal and internal judgements.
For as long as the National Curriculum has existed, levelness has caused a problem, both within and between schools. It is a matter of personal judgement. I wrote about this in a post called “Informed teacher judgement =quality assurance”, flowing on from a series of other posts.
It has been a bit of a bee in my bonnet, as I have always seen levelness as a set of descriptors, or criteria, against which it was possible to make judgements, when presented with evidence of a learner’s capability against the criteria. The essence of the teacher role is to know their children. All classroom decisions are premised on this reality.
There is confusion at present, with one source saying that levels are no more, and another making judgements based on levels, which will, in reality, last a couple of years yet, until new examinations become available.
Another confusion was caused by David Laws announcing that level 4b would be the new aspirational target for year six learners, as it was a greater “guarantee” of success at Secondary School.
So, it would appear that we are looking for 85% of KS2 learners to achieve better than the equivalent level 4b at the end of seven years in a Primary School. At first sight quite a task; however, having spent time in inner London Primaries in the summer of 2013, I can say that this threshold is achieved, through personalised approaches, with levelness, as described above, being the tool for tracking, supplemented by APP for very vulnerable learners. Personalisation was the only route for these schools with multiple deprivation factors, because they had to and had developed the capacity to do so…
Where schools do not have multiple deprivation indices, and a more homogenous intake, it can be the case that less need to differentiate is perceived. Children begin to conform to the labels which they attach to themselves, as well as any by the teachers. This can lead to articulation of learning need as moving from one sub-level to another, with no idea of how to do so. This is the poor end of assessment; limited analysis and even more limited articulation, so learning is not progressed.
Whether we have levels or not, children will still be learning to read, write and do maths, in the same way as before. Understanding child learning development has always been the bread and butter of teaching, alongside knowing your stuff. Supporting a child to improve, by careful oral and written guidance, engaging with the journey and coaching and mentoring, should be a part of everyday classroom practice. Sometimes this is shorthanded to simple target setting. These are often hidden inside book covers, so are not available as discussion prompts. A post looks at this issue and suggests a way forward.
Inevitably, at the end of a writing task, a teacher will have to make judgements about a learner’s performance. What will be used as benchmarks, in the absence of levels? What is good enough, or good, or very good, for different ages of learner? Currently, in terms of levels, we have 3c/3b probably at the very good end of KS1, level 5+ the upper end of KS2, with an ability to extrapolate into year 4 as level 4 at the upper end, with levels 2, 3 and 4 being “expected levels” at years 2,4 and 6.
If, over the next term, work was collected, assessed and moderated within a school, with annotation sharing clear descriptors demonstrating the visible criteria, even highlighted, these pieces would become a portfolio of exemplars for future reference. It is likely that something like levelness descriptors would form the backbone of the criteria. If the portfolio also articulated the possible next steps, these would provide guidance to newer teachers, whose first job is to know their children. The methodology would provide a coherence to writing progression, which may be less clear in the new NC. The portfolio would also act as a baseline of achievement from an earlier year, against which to judge the achievement of future years. They would also articulate the “art of the possible”, to any teacher whose expectations might be less than required.
It would also be able to demonstrate to an external review the processes that underpin decision making within the school.
Of course, if the portfolio was shared between schools, there would be a greater understanding of the professional judgements in the two settings. Across a pyramid of schools, linked to Secondary decisions, and more fruitfully, perhaps, to GCSE criteria, the development and decision agenda would be better informed throughout the twelve years to GCSE.