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Monday, 17 July 2017

Life without levelling - hell or happiness

With the advent of the new Conservative government Primary Curriculum in 2013 came the announcement APP and levels were going. They've been gone now for a little while and some of you may miss them like an old comfortable sweat shirt and others are indifferent. But why get rid of them?

Now I know I'm going to say something fairly controversial but the new Primary Curriculum isn't particularly that bad... Yes it has some awful things like only studying History pre-1066 or an insistence on reading words per minute. We all knows every curriculum has it bad parts but on the whole its very much looks like professionals have developed very clear reasoning behind their decisions, whether or not our own children can actually achieve the expectations. For example, the Maths curriculum is an excellent example of knowledge and skills being built upon each other. 

But and there is a gigantic BUT. Opinion, school data pressures, ITAFs and private companies plague clear assessment of the children's actual ability. Coupled with the moving goal posts of scaled scores (especially KS1) makes determining a child's ability in comparison to another impossibly hard. 

Opinion

Inevitably, during the Spring Term, around May,  I will receive another totally new pupil. Whilst this in it's self is not a problem, finding out what the child already knows and where they are in relation to meeting the expected standard is difficult. I will claw at the last school for every scrap of information.  I will pour over books and any data that I'm given. Yet every time I am led to inexorable conclusion, that my judgements and another schools does not match. Now, maybe I'm a little bit harsher or possibly another school is generous in their judgements - who can tell? But the two things I do know is that interpretation and opinion play a role and my in-school judgements match the test conclusions 9 times out of 10. Now you could say I'm being egotistical here and by saying I've nailed it but it isn't about that. The point is, even with moderations,  the pressure on schools and teachers to achieve good results combined with the KS1 and Foundation Stage Teacher Assessment mean that a incredibly wide variety of interpretations can be given for one child's attainment. You could argue, what about LA external moderation - everyones dreaded fear. But we all know when we are likely to get moderated due to the fairly obvious rolling rota that is no secret. Teachers can tighten up their judgements on that year and go back to the free hand the next.

School Data Pressures

Value added and progress measures are becoming more prevalent data pressures have become ever more important. Constant judgements are given by teachers, every term or more likely every half term to see where the children are at. Talk about whiplash for teachers. Largely most teachers I know have the heads buried in data - why because it is tied to performance management and making the next pay threshold. What's wrong with that you may ask? Well nothing in the sense of sensible data to plan relevant tailored learning experiences combined with a tough rigorous pay system that rewards progress and achievement is good overall. But no one is on a level playing field and many people are on the receiving end of others. Year 2 and Year 6 are completely on the receiving end, with very little places to go. This is especially for Year 6 which are tested at the age 11 and what they get is what the get - no teaching judgement required apart from writing. Foundation Stage and Year 2 can if they want to override their data to look exceptional but this presents a snowball effect throughout the school. Year 1, Year 3, Year 4 and Year 5 have cart blanche with whatever school system they assess on. Little testing and no exemplar is available for these years to accurately determine the children's attainment. I'll outline an example below:

Say a Year 3 teacher is given the performance management target of ensuring more middle attainers become higher attainers in order to achieve their next increment. Then, lets say this teachers goes hell for leather trying to achieve this. Now, as this teacher is a human being and not infallible,  lets say they are an NQT and have their first child but their target is not being met. A situation now arises - I need more money for my life but my class are not playing ball and cannot meet this target in some areas. How tempting a situation this is!

A chain reaction begins...

1. No one really understands the school assessment system as its new, its not national and how can you be proven wrong - I'll just move them up a step or even a couple. No harm no foul!
2. A meeting ensues - the teacher maybe challenged and like any colleague is treated with respect and their judgement is accepted - probably even applauded!
3. Next year comes the year 3 teacher has their increment and a new class. Yay!
4. Year 4 teacher is given a similar task with lower attainer meeting middle attainment, yet finds they are having to back fill knowledge and skills the children should know.
5. But wait Year 4 teacher needs their increment of pay they have 3 mouths to feed at home. Those original children now higher attainers need to at least need to meet expected progress.
6. Those children who are lower attainers are moved higher and now are middle attainers and why? Because they must meet the standards or surpass the gauntlet set down by the previous teacher.
7. Year 5 teacher does exactly the same.
8. Year 6 teacher now has a class that have stunning attainment from their previous years curriculum yet none can actually do so - result SATs ultimately undos the children and Year 6 teacher is bereft of success and money.

Now obviously I'm engaging in hyperbole but, I have seen this happen again and again. Well you might argue management should be picking up this. Well they are! But between the increased load of thousands of other requirements and quite frankly scary level of social work they take on, time is at a premium. Trips, British Values, looking for terrorists, extra whole school events, safeguarding, new school initiatives, data sifting, parent complaints and covering staff all take up a dizzying amount of time. But without which Ofsted would deem the school as not meeting the grade.

ITAFs

This stands for Interim Teacher Assessment Framework. Essentially a list of bullet point markers which bares close resemblance to the curriculum however, doesn't always quite match. Some points are particularly detrimental as they may hold a child back from really what they can do. The tight fit model, a move away from the best fit model used at Foundation Stage, unnecessarily impedes children's real attainment. For example, if a high attaining writer shows all the requisite qualities of being at greater depth but cannot join handwriting they cannot be awarded the GD standard. Whether they are able to actually join their handwriting due to fine motor skills development that will only develop over time is thus irrelevant. They have failed!

Private Companies

What I find extremely alarming is the back door privatisation of the data industry surrounding schools. A whole host of data companies such as target tracker and pupil asset have sprung up to provide sometimes excellent, and sometimes dismal services. Furthermore, no system is transferable to another school: meaning if another child came from another school, it would be very hard to ascertain where that child fit in terms of attainment, progress and historical data. A whole dizzying host of academic vocabulary has sprung up like exceeding, excelling, secure, greater depth, mastering, secure+ etc, all meaning different and the same things. Who knows?! Then into the mix comes point in time assessment... A totally different way of assessing children such a 4, 5 or 6 is expected. With behaviour and progress vocabulary of equal array of vocabulary, who knows? And that really is the question who knows? Certainly not the parents...Certainly not the next school...Certainly not the teachers. All this is designed not really for the benefit of the children, but for the benefit of Ofsted to prove however disastrous your results maybe, little Jimmy the disadvantaged child is diffusing the difference because he's a 4 at this point in time!