How is life without levels?

Last week I was leading a session at York university entitled native speaker orientation. I was trying to explain to the students from France, Germany and Spain who have just started their teacher training here the differences in the various types of schools in the UK.  Of course, this involved looking at how we have reached the current position we are in and tracking back over the past few decades. A number of questions were asked; how children are allocated places, questions about the new academies, school uniform, the current format of exams and about assessing without levels. Any question about the abandoning of levels is a difficult one to answer of course because schools and language departments are at such different stages of finding ways to replace them.

The new Ofsted handbook recognises that schools are at different stages: ‘‘inspectors will recognise that schools are at different points in their move towards adopting a system of assessment without national curriculum levels.’’

The section clarification for schools section is useful. Inspectors do not expect to see ‘‘any specific frequency, type or volume of marking and feedback, these are for the school to decide through its assessment policy.’’

oup_5626There will be teachers reading this blog post who will never have known it to be different. I started
teaching before 1988 and remember January 1987 when the government announced its intention to introduce a national curriculum for all students of compulsory school age in England and Wales and the subsequent rolling out later that year, and in 1988 of attainment targets and programmes of study. Teachers of all subjects have had to work with these levels since then. During my career I have of course dutifully saved each ‘new’ curriculum and PoS over the years and each new relevant examination board specification. I have to make sure now that I date everything carefully as I have several folders with the title ‘New Curriculum’!

So, how is life in your school without levels? I think is always important to consider what our core beliefs about the purpose of assessment are – put very basically – what is it all really about?  In the research report published in September 2014, Beyond Levels: alternative assessment approaches developed by teaching schools, the authors Julie Lilly and Alison Peacock from the Wroxham transformative learning alliance and Sue Shoveller and Dr d’Reen Struthers from the South Farnham teaching school alliance stated: “Many groups revisited their own beliefs about the core purposes of assessment and used this as a guiding strategy as to which area to develop.”

My thoughts are that whatever system we decide to adopt, it should be used for planning effectively to build on the prior learning of our learners to ensure that sound progress is made and for informing future teaching. Do you agree? Teachers should be trusted to know their own students and devise or adopt one of the systems, particularly in KS3 that works for them. If they want to modify what they did before and adapt it well they should feel that they can. Are you a bit concerned though about different systems in different groups of schools and what will happen when a child moves either school or area?

I’m sure we all agree that is good for us all to keep thinking about improving what we do. As I have reflected over the years I realise how much more I still have to learn about the process of learning a language and the teaching strategies that we need to use. It is humbling. The fact that we can learn from each other in our local area, through networks here and abroad is just amazing! I’d like to recommend Chris Harte’s post – I feel the same as he does!

Some schools are looking again at Solo Taxonomy. SOLO – the Structure of Observed Learning Outcome, an interesting model that describes the levels of increasing complexity in student’s understanding of subjects. On this Pinterest board there are some clear posters and clips to watch about this approach. You can see details of this on Chris’ blog.  Some schools are introducing Mastery statements. We can look at these models in relation to languages later on this term, perhaps you could let me know what you are concentrating on.

As a key part of the learning process is feedback, next week we’ll look at what the students say about an aspect of this, DIRT (Dedicated or Directed Improvement and Reflection Time) and how students themselves perceive this.