Replacing national curriculum levels

Posted on 17-03-2014

Life beyond levels? Life after levels? Life without levels?  Lots of teachers, senior leaders and academics have come up with some interesting ideas for what should replace national curriculum levels. Here’s a summary of some of those ideas.

  • Michael Fordham is a former history teacher and now works at Cambridge’s education department. He has written three articles which put forward a possible system for assessing history – one, two, three.
  • Alison Peacock is the head of Wroxham Primary School, who moved away from levels a while ago. In this post she expresses a worry that any list of aims she writes up will become APP under another name.
  • Alison Peacock was also a part of the NAHT commission who recently released a report on this.
  • The NAHT report attracted quite a few comments.  I’m in broad agreement with David Thomas’s post here, particularly the point he makes about how easy it to say you should assess pupils according to objective criteria, and how hard it is to actually achieve this. (See below for Paul Bambrick-Santoyo’s work on this). Gifted Phoenix also commented on it here.
  • Tom Sherrington is a secondary head. I like the focus here on taking actual samples of pupil work as definitions of standards.
  • Phil Stock is an English teacher who has shared his department’s plans. They involve new rubrics for assessing reading and writing, and the use of multiple choice questions.
  • David Thomas is a head of maths and in this proposal he notes that there is a tension between providing teachers and students with useful feedback and providing teachers and students with a system that is easy to understand.
  • Joe Kirby is an English teacher at a London secondary. A lot of the ideas in this post are ones Joe and I have discussed together. This post and this one expand on the issues.
  • Michael Tidd has put forward a proposal for primary assessment here, and has made more specific proposals about a mastery approach to assessment here, with an interesting comparison to a game of Jenga.
  • Alex Quigley has a draft model for assessing English here.
  • Chris Waterworth has written about a possible approach for primary assessment. I’m less of a fan of this approach, as it suggests simply using the current level descriptors and APP grids, just without the levels. The problem with level descriptors is well described by …
  • …Paul Bambrick Santoyo, who has written some fascinating things about the difficulty of using prose descriptions of standards as a guide for assessments. Pages 6-8 of Driven by Data explain exactly what the flaws are.
  • Rob Coe has come up with a list of 47 criteria you should consider before you let a test into your classroom.
  • GL Assessments have two excellent articles on their website about assessing without levels. The first one, here, explains the purpose of standardised tests and how they could feature in a world without levels. The second article, here, offers a case study of St Peter’s Collegiate School in Wolverhampton which abolished levels in 2009.
  • Finally, a bit of light relief: this clip from This is Spinal Tap reminds us that whatever scale we use, it has to have some underlying meaning.
  • 1st May update: the DfE have announced the winners of their assessment innovation fund. David Thomas’s plan, mentioned above, is one of the winners.

I know there are some people who are disappointed that levels are going, fearing that we will lose a common language. I am not worried at all. I’m delighted at how many people are seeing the abolition of levels as an opportunity. I am also much less worried about the loss of a common language, because I don’t think levels really did provide a common language. I have written about this before here. Since I wrote that, I came across this paper by Peter Pumfrey, which shows that a group of pupils who achieved a level 2 in the KS1 teacher reading assessments had reading ages ranging from 5-10. In these circumstances, can we really say that levels provided a common language? Rather, it seems to me that they provided the illusion of a common language, which is actually far worse than having no common language at all.