As an Osiris presenter I really enjoy meeting enthusiastic teachers in towns all round the country. And, know what they’ve all got in common? They are all anxious. Now, before you start thinking I’m over-stating it, in what other profession are the workers consistently anxious to do their job better? And not just better, but Better and Better. That’s why we go on courses, learn from the experts, enjoy the craic and benefit from professional dialogue that really challenges us. Of course there are other anxieties, many of them starting with O; but it’s the enthusiastic commitment from dedicated professionals that secures success.
It is a real privilege to write this blog – and I’m sorry that I’ve been simply too busy to keep it as regular as I’d like. It was also a privilege to visit the Osiris team at Raithby Hall recently, to discuss a new course for Year 6 teachers worrying about teaching a curriculum without levels. At the time I suggested that there might be enough mileage left in this for one more blog – so this is it. And I promise not to mention life without levels again (although I’ve got my fingers crossed just in case).
I’ve worked with a lot of teachers, and even inspectors, lately who still don’t get this. So this is one final attempt to say that the end of levels really does make sense, whatever your anxiety about letting them go. Sure, I know it’s going to take a bit of adjustment but this is a real opportunity to break free of a convenient, but nevertheless artificial, construct that traps us in a stultifying regime of labelling children as A. B. C, D, E and F. Yes I know that’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 but what’s the real difference? Trust me, moving to a norm-referenced testing regime is not the same as the bonkers criterion-referenced system we have just seen the back of.
I met a fab leadership team recently, resolutely and determinedly turning an improving school into a great one but there they were, banging on about level this and level that and obsessed by average points. Look chaps, it’s all very laudable – and yes it’s familiar and measurable, but what are you doing? Tell me, where do these levels come from? You say, ‘we’re staying with levels until something better comes along’ but, with the greatest respect, this is dinosaur talk. I’m writing this bit very slowly and clearly: there are no more levels!
It really won’t do the kids any favours if you continue to try to squeeze them into some level-shaped box. This new curriculum is about – and I know I’ve said it before – fewer things at greater depth and consolidation before progression. It is no longer about pushing a child screaming over a precipice of new knowledge without having a foothold on essential key concepts. It’s about nailing – really nailing those concepts because when a child really really gets it, it makes progress a natural state. It’s exciting! Okay, it’s a bit scary too but it’s the dawn of a new cliché.
Of course, we are going to have to devise transparent ways of measuring kids’ progress – and the cynics will mutter, ‘it’s just levels by another name’ but it’s really not. It’s going to take some time before we have a sensible way to describe a pupil’s progress through key concepts. Of course it is – if you go back that far, look at the pig’s ear we all made of tracking progress through levels when they were first introduced. The doomsayers thought them the devil’s spawn then, but we got used to them. And now we’re going to get used to not having them. And, if I never hear a teacher say, ‘let’s up-level this writing’ again, I will dance in the streets!
I’m about to start the next round of training days on The Future of KS1 and KS2 tests and, as I travel round the country, I know that, for some I’m pushing at an open door while others still need convincing. But the reality is that we have to think beyond levels; they have gone – and they are not coming back. I have never understood why Year 2 pupils had to take SATs this year because they will be given a level that they really don’t need. When we get the Year 6 levels at the end of term it closes a door on the past. So, let’s look to the future.
Okay, piece said. Let’s change the subject. We’re all getting a wee bit frit of the new Ofsted framework so, next time, let’s think about the implications of a Common Framework and how frequently schools are likely to be inspected.
To follow @adept_education on twitter, click here.
The Education Monkey
John Viner has enjoyed over two decades of successful leadership and is now an additional Ofsted inspector and educational consultant. He provides the inside knowledge that headteachers and school leaders need to self-evaluate their school efficiently.