The New Primary National Curriculum and Life without Levels
By Dr Beth Clarke, Headteacher, Hill West Primary School
My name is Dr Beth Clarke and I am Headteacher of Hill West Primary School in Four Oaks, Sutton Coldfield. Teaching has been my passion since I can remember as has further study and on-going learning. I completed my Masters in Education in 2003 and went on to gain my Doctorate in 2012. Much of my research has involved how children learn best and how we can create the optimum environment for children to succeed academically and holistically.
Why have levels been stopped?
The Government were clear that with the introduction of the New Primary Curriculum National Curriculum, levels that were historically used to measure attainment and progress would disappear and not be replaced. Schools have been asked therefore to design their own assessment processes and language to describe progress and attainment of pupils over time. Over many years of use teachers, parents and pupils to some extent, have learned to aspire to a 2B or better at the end of Key Stage 1 (Infants) and a 4B or better at the end of Key Stage 2 (Juniors). With levels having been written out of the new national curriculum a new language of assessment needs to be created in schools.
What is life after levels?
Schools are now working hard to develop their own assessment systems but were encouraged to retain the use of levels while they were designing their new systems. Most schools will be well underway now and probably introducing their new systems to pupils and parents. Most schools are going to judge pupils’ progress and attainment against objective criteria as opposed to ranking them against each other. In order to ensure that their assessments are accurate and robust schools are finding ways to moderate children’s work externally with staff from other schools and settings to ensure consistency. Many school are focused on making sure that their assessment is driven from the curriculum and the teaching taking place in class.
How does the new method differ?
The new method of assessing children is different to the old method in four ways.
- No longer is the assessment of children and the curriculum focused on the pace at which children whizz through it. Many thought under the previous regime that the rate of progress, or how fast pupils moved through the levels, had become more important than pupils’ understanding of the curriculum. This also led to the rather bizarre situation where, despite having a national expectation, it became expected that pupils exceeded the national expectation.
- Levels only ever provided a best fit description of a child’s attainment and as we all know a best fit is not always a secure fit.
- At the end of Key Stages in particular, average marks in tests were used to determine the level children were working at. This was not always accurate or a reliable measure.
- Now assessment is based on “depth of understanding”, or “mastery” of all of the key concepts of the curriculum.
Will the new methods of assessment differ from school to school?
Yes the methods of assessment will differ from school to school as will the curriculum on offer. Although there is only one primary national curriculum, schools are encouraged to devise a local curriculum that runs alongside the national curriculum. This means that children will be assessed on slightly different criteria depending on the school they attend. Of course there will be similarities in practice but these similarities will be just that. The process will be quite different and unique to every school.
If so, how will we know if the new methods are working at our school and if they are ‘right’? How will we compare with other schools?
Comparisons with other schools will definitely be more difficult for parents now. Having said that of course, external testing will continue to take place and children will be measured against the Early Learning Goals in Reception, the phonics screening check in Year 1 and standardised assessment tasks and tests in Year 2 and Year 6. These measures will be comparable from school to school.
I’m used to levels. How will I know if my child is making progress? Will we still get ‘grades’?/tests?
Yes it is very likely that schools will develop something that replaces levels so that they can talk succinctly to parents and to children about their individual progress. There will be a far greater emphasis however on what a child can do against a set of established criteria and what a child needs to accomplish next. The government have just published interim teacher assessment frameworks for the end of Key Stage 1 and 2 that outline the expected standard for each child nationally.
My child has always excelled at levels. Will the new system be challenging enough for my child?
The new system will still require schools to assess children’s learning and next steps but encourages them to think about learning in terms of mastery for all children. Mastery learning refers to the approach originally developed by Benjamin Bloom in the 1960s. In summary this means you should break learning down into individual units and students must demonstrate mastery of each unit before being allowed to move on to the next. The founding assumption is that all students can achieve mastery if they are supported to do so. Mastery does not, then, refer only to high attainment.
My child requires additional support at school. Will they be able to understand and keep up with a new method of assessment?
Your child shouldn’t need any additional support in school. Schools have had time to understand the requirements of the new national primary curriculum and teachers have been assessing progress and attainment since the age of time. All that has changed is the way individual schools will talk about this.
Will children still be assessed throughout/at the end of the year?
Children will continue to be assessed from lesson to lesson, week to week and month by month. Schools will continue to monitor the progress of individuals and groups and respond to those children that need additional consolidation or practise as well as those that need greater challenge.
What will it mean to pupils and parents?
Pupils and parents will have to learn a new language of assessment along with their school. Schools will need to share with pupils and parents what it is their child excels at and what it is that their child needs to do next. We believe that if children are confident about this then they are able to progress with application and have a greater ownership of their learning. At Hill West we began this transition by developing a progressive learning journey for our children from Reception through to Year 6. We spent a long time looking at the new National Curriculum requirements for each subject in turn and, taking into account our local context, developed a list of criteria or learning outcomes. This clearly maps out what we expect children to learn in each year group and in each subject as they progress through school. It sets aspirational outcomes for their end of year targets. We of course, needed a succinct and efficient way to talk about the progress of individuals, groups and classes within and across school. For this reason we have assigned a point score to each group of objectives so that children can talk about where they are and where we expect them to be in the future. There is a minimum expectation here that all children will achieve their next steps quickly and use and apply these in a range of lessons and learning activities. For us this means that mastery or accomplishment can happen at any point in the year and is not solely something that can be achieved at the end of each academic year when children have achieved all of the expectations for that year group.
What can parents do to support their children?
Parents should have open communication and dialogue with their school through their child’s class teacher. Ask your school to explain their approach to assessment without levels and find out where your child’s strengths and weakness lie so you can best support them at home.