My real worry about the loss of levels.

There are those who are gleeful to be rid of levels. Mostly secondary school teachers who know their subjects intimately, and who increasingly find their focus is on GCSE grades. It does, after all, seem daft to have two different systems of assessment in one school. I could probably have supported the abandonment of levels in secondary schools, if only because I think most teachers don’t need them particularly.

But – as the DfE is slowly beginning to realise, hopefully – primary schools have teachers in them too. Removing levels from primary schools leaves us with nothing. We don’t have GCSE grades to work towards (not that we’d want to) and we don’t want to spend 7 years tracking towards an incomprehensible scaled score. Levels may not have been perfect, but they were something.

That said, what really worries me is something else: hurried decision-making.

As schools scratch around looking for the next big thing in assessment, I have no doubts that private publishers are already¬†beavering away at producing something. Now, I reckon I could come up with a system I could work with in a couple of days, that would be at least as useful, and a darn site more manageable than the current levels system. But it wouldn’t sell.

The real worry we face is that each company trying to sell its wares will be competing to be the scheme that looks the best. They will be filled with promises about progress, tracking, accountability and excellence. And the problem is that what looks really good on paper (and some schools will probably buy into schemes before they’re even completed) is often the same thing that becomes entirely unmanageable and unhelpful in practice. By which time it’s too late.

Each company will gladly produce folder after folder. Doubtless many of them will come with discs of software for analysis, and printable graphs, and iPad apps and the like. The impression will be that teachers will just casually tap a few buttons and magically all will be done. Except, in reality those simple ‘tap-a-button’ schemes soon become tap-a-thousand-buttons screens.

Think APP and then some.

No, scrapping levels is a disaster, having no scheme is horrendous, but the real worry is what might come after it – not least because too many of the people buying into the schemes will not be the same people who are expected to use them!


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10 thoughts on “My real worry about the loss of levels.

  1. srcav 13 November 2013 at 10:06 pm Reply

    It’s worrying. As a secondary teacher o have some major worries. How will we measure progress? What if every feeder school opts for a different scheme with different measures? What is one kid has w “giraffe a” and another a “4 red star”, how will this compute? Even if all schemes have the same name for a “level” will they actually mean the same thing? And how are SATs going to work without levels? (I believe they are still in)

    • Michael Tidd 13 November 2013 at 10:14 pm Reply

      The good news for you is that the SATs will still be scored nationally, and will be nicely formatted for spreadsheet purposes as a scaled score, with 100 being the expected outcome.
      The bad news is that the unreliability of KS2 testing will remain, and teacher assessment will be far more inconsistent and so less likely to help you to spot the outlier results.

  2. missmcinerney 13 November 2013 at 10:23 pm Reply

    Cracking blog. Goes back to one of my Critical 3 Policy Questions: ‘Why didn’t someone do this already?” People scrapping levels need to ask why they were created in the first place – and it was for the very reason that you suggest, to give *some* continuity and understanding of progress across the country and across key stages. Gove last week said that “the perfect must not be the enemy of the good” – shame he didn’t take his own advice about levels.

    • Michael Tidd 13 November 2013 at 10:29 pm Reply

      Thanks, Laura.
      The worst thing is, had the DfE bothered to engage with primary teachers they’d have probably found that they were more than happy to see levels overhauled to work better with the new curriculum, maybe even completely replaced. But just whipping the rug out from beneath us? Not helpful!

      • missmcinerney 14 November 2013 at 2:34 am Reply

        To be fair, conversations I heard at the DfE involving secondary teachers also mostly involved people saying they wanted better ones (not scrapping). As did most entries to the consultation. So, if it helps, it’s not just you they are ignoring….

  3. teachingbattleground 14 November 2013 at 7:05 am Reply

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  4. northernrocks2014 16 November 2013 at 10:12 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on Northern Rocks 2014.

  5. Jo Hetherington 4 December 2013 at 9:53 am Reply

    Very late coming to this blog I’m afraid but found it very interesting as it is about the only blog I have come across that discusses the loss of levels in Primary schools. I work in many Primary Schools across the South of England and not one of my schools has even given the whole subject of assessment of the new curriculum a thought. Heads I work with seem to be under the impression that either something will be produced for them by the DfE or the L.A. or as one said to me, ” Well we can just continue to use levels can’t we because we know what they mean!” Am I alone in being very disturbed by this response? Is it because the process of assessment levelling process has become so ingrained in the psyche of all teachers in state primary schools that the effort required to step outside the box is likely to cause a catastrophic mental breakdown? As you have suggested, Heads will probably latch on to the first commercial product that comes along ( especially if it comes in glossy packaging) regardless of whether it is really fit for purpose in an attempt to tick the next box.
    What really disturbs me, having been a Year 2 moderator for the last seven years and last year a Year 6 one too, is the lack of real understanding about assessment in primary schools. The current system is totally flawed as both you and Joe Kirby and others have pointed out but if it goes I’m concerned that many primary schools do not have the understanding or capacity to develop anything better.

    • Michael Tidd 5 December 2013 at 6:58 pm Reply

      I share your concerns entirely, Jo. The lack of understanding of – or willingness to engage in – discussions about the intentions, process, models, methods and outcomes of assessment is quite frightening. And as you rightly say, we seem to have reached a point where the profession as a whole seems to simply expect verdicts from on high, and is quite happy to carry them out. We seem to have lost the capability to lead such things for ourselves in too many places.

  6. […] scale. Or if we think it can be solved by a private organisation producing a glossy folder (which they inevitably will at some […]

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