Scrapping primary school levels 'has made teacher training harder'

18th January 2017 at 14:23
The diversity of primary assessment systems has created a challenge for teacher training, a seminar has heard.
Student teachers struggle with incompatible assessment systems used at schools they attend for their course

The abolition of primary school levels has made it harder to train new teachers and has damaged their confidence, a seminar has heard.

The government announced in 2013 that it would scrap the system of national curriculum levels, which it said was “complicated and difficult to understand, especially for parents”.

Schools now have the freedom to replace levels with their own methods of assessment.

However, a Westminster Education Forum seminar today heard that some trainee teachers were now confronted with incompatible assessment systems at the different schools they attend as part of their course.

Amanda Nuttall, of the Institute of Childhood and Education at Leeds Trinity University, which trains 360 undergraduate and 100 post-graduate students, said their experience of tests in schools was “quite chaotic”, making it “very hard” to train them about assessment.

Speaking afterwards to TES, she said: “For some of them, it’s a really good experience because they get to see some really good individual systems, but for others, they will go to two or three schools who have very different systems where even the terminology will be very different.

“Some might use ‘working towards’, some might talk about ‘being secure’, and some might talk about ‘mastery’.

“Something as simple as trainees understanding what terms mean and how they might be interpreted in different schools can be quite difficult.

“I don’t think it puts them off [becoming teachers], but I think it affects their confidence.”

She added that teacher training institutions now had to deal with a “divide” between what trainee teachers learned on their course, and what they experienced in schools.

“That’s the challenge – how do we support our trainees. It’s about how we build our trainees’ understanding about what is best and what is most effective.”

Ms Nuttall said her institution was now changing its programme to reflect the new range of assessment systems their students find in schools.

She said this included introducing a "training hub" approach which invites teachers and leaders from its partnership schools in to demonstrate what they do.

“What’s key for us at the moment is trying to build more cohesion between what we are offering at university and what our trainees see in schools. That’s our big focus now, building that cohesion.”

One member of the audience told the seminar that the abolition of levels had left primary assessment in an “unholy mess”, with some secondary schools finding it “very difficult to deal with the different types of assessment” used by their feeder primary schools.

Julie McCulloch, primary and governance specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, said she was starting to see more professional dialogue within and between schools about assessment, but many were still “getting over the hump” of how they make the new system work.

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