This week I gathered at an Optimus Education conference in London along with over 400 primary teachers and leaders to consider just how we move forward with life after levels. So what did we all learn?
Firstly, let me confess that I think it’s a sign of how things are, that I was a keynote speaker. The reality out there is that schools have so much change to manage at the moment – from the new curriculum and SEN code of practice, to infant school meals and sports funding – that few can devote the quality time needed to devise and create an assessment system to replace levels. That means up and down the country school leaders are looking for guidance and inspiration. Significantly, that guidance is not coming from the DfE, and so it is often down to individual schools and leaders to share what knowledge they have. Thus it is that I have found myself in a situation of being more knowledgeable than average.
Conference began with a welcome and summary from Mick Walker – formerly of the QCDA – followed by Annabel Burns from the department. Ms Burns did an admirable job of delivering the departmental message of freedoms for schools, summarising the landscape in which we found ourselves and the apparent rationale behind it. She also kindly clarified for colleagues that the new accountability framework will require schools to meet either the new attainment floor standard (85%+ at the ‘expected standard’) or the new progress standard to avoid the perils that accompany falling “below the minimum standard”. It has since crossed my mind that we still don’t really know how progress will be measured during the transition years (essentially 2016 to 2023) while we wait for the new reception baseline
victims students to work their way through the system… but that was only one of many questions that seemingly remains unanswered (unanswerable?) about this brave new world.
After I’d spoken about the pitfalls and opportunities ahead, the floor was opened to questions; understandably, most of these were directed at the expert from the department. The result was some clarification (checked against the public document released in March) about which subjects would be subject to teacher assessment, and some further confusion about how this would be done. Ms Burns explained that there would be “several” performance descriptors for KS2 Writing, for example, but appeared to imply that teacher assessment for other areas didn’t need them because there would be test scores for teachers to use (perhaps indicating the department’s view of the value of teacher assessment). She then clarified that in fact there would be single descriptors for Reading, Maths and Science creating a binary choice for teacher assessment of these subjects: either a student has met the expected standard… or they haven’t. No room for nuance here: that is apparently to be provided by the new “precise” scaled scores.
But enough of the DfE’s role. I presume that they draw straws to attend such events and then after the event head back to try to iron out the latest issues that schools have identified. The real strength of this event was to be the sharing of good work already begun in schools.
I was glad to be able to attend a presentation by the headteacher and assessment coordinator of Hiltingbury Junior School, who have been awarded one of the DfE’s Assessment Innovation Fund grants. Their school has been working on a model of assessment ladders showing objectives for core subjects. Creating simple booklets of the ladders they have begun to share assessment directly with children throughout their school and were sharing that model in their locality. The ladders certainly looked purposeful, and seemed to broadly meet the 7 Questions I’d previously set out – or will do as the full system is rolled out. Schools would be able to adapt the model themselves hopefully, with materials being made available free through the TES website due course. Certainly something worth looking at, and it was a great opportunity to see these in advance. My only question is one I frequently have about assessment in primary schools: why the widespread obsession with ticking things off exactly three times?
Later, having spoken again myself about approaches I’d taken to assessment, it was a chance to hear Bruce Waeland (@htbruce) about parental engagement in his school. He was honest enough to state that his school had not yet begun to implement a new assessment model, but it was clear that he had plans for keeping parents on board when he did.
Inevitably, the nature of workshop choices at conferences means that I missed some things I’d have liked to have seen. Andrew Carter of South Farnham school in Surrey presented his school’s model, and I’m hoping to what Dame Reena Keeble has to say about the model used at Cannon Lane in Harrow when the conference is repeated in Birmingham next month. It certainly seems that school-to-school partnership is the ideal path of travel, since the DfE clearly intends to offer little outside the accountability framework. Perhaps events such as this will become more common as schools take the lead?
Optimus Education Conference: Effective Primary Assessment after Levels
The Optimus Education conference will be repeated in Birmingham on Wednesday 18th June. For details of the day, see the link here. Readers of this blog who wish to attend the conference can obtain a 20% discount by booking with promotional code: MTIDD