We’ve had curriculum change, exam change, SEND change, assessment change, all within a very short period. In addition, there are a dozen commissioned groups looking at different aspects. While change is definitely in the air, teachers, up and down the country, are seeking to make sense of the whole, so that their children don’t suffer. While policy makers might be engaged in bodging the whole, schools and individual teachers will do what they have always done, sought to make it all work. It may not be perfect, but it will fit together, with regular reviews to check that is so.
The trouble with the changes is that, realistically, a great deal of effort has gone into making things work, over and above the day job, as curriculum has been reformed, assessment systems created, or bought, either way demanding considerable time for real understanding.
The biggest issue is that the system is not holistic, and as a result, contains holes, through which potentially vulnerable learners might fall, not necessarily at school level, but through misunderstandings; the law of unintended consequences.
Assessment, to me, is the biggest bodge/botch job of all, in that a National system was cast aside, ostensibly because it was misused for data and because “parents didn’t understand it”. In reading the first draft of the proposed National Curriculum replacement document with the attainment target statement to essentially know and understand the contents of the curriculum, suggested, when assessment was hived off for schools to make decisions, that it had been done so in order that the curriculum could stand as read. So, however it is dressed up, in effect, children either achieve or not, with different “levels” of achievement, as a scaled score or in words. As this is based on an examination outcome, there is still room for children to have gaps in their learning, as long as they get a pass score.
The former was something of a waste of time, in that it felt unstructured and over-generalised in scope. Maybe this was for the lay audience, but there were several ex-heads and teachers in the audience, as well as well-informed Governors. As assessment change was flagged up a couple of years ago, to be at this point with advice was significantly disappointing. Clarity was not forthcoming, nor did it appear that it would be, in the short term.
Assessment, seen as something to be done at the end of a period of study, to me is the weakest form of assessment.
Assessment for Learning, I have argued in a number of blogs, should inform all decisions. Starting with general knowledge of children, plans are created with structured tasks that enable the teacher to engage with the learning, asking the right questions to elicit thinking and to unpick any issues arising, to adjust to evidence then to reassess the journey based on outcome evidence. All this to be against a general background understanding of what can be expected of children of a similar age. End testing might check the specifics of what has been retained in knowledge terms, but to test all that has been covered often proves very difficult. Like all MOTs, it is also only really valid on the day of testing.
The visit to the Special School raised the issue of record keeping. This school, as it takes serious SEN needs, will require good understanding of the learning needs of the children who will be coming. Equally, they are required by the authority to have a system of their own for assessment, and, having selected their preferred model may find that any transfer back to mainstream will require interpretation or equivalence checking to support the transition.
Equally, the ITE trainee, while they pick up the needs of this school, may find that, in a second practice and in their first school, they encounter significantly different systems. Of course this will apply to any teacher moves.
Given the current complexity in the system as a whole, could there be a time where teachers choose to stay in one year group, to avoid having to relearn the curriculum for another, as well as having growing confidence in their assessment abilities, based on their experience of outcomes? This could mean that schools then need to find specialists in a particular year, within already limited fields of candidates, or be prepared to allow a significant settling period. There will be issues with short term cover, as supply teachers grapple with different systems.
I wonder who will get the blame for any botched system changes?