In June of 2013, Michael Gove (remember him?) announced – with no prior warning – that levels were to be scrapped, and schools left to design their own systems of internal assessment. With no national framework, no time, no funding and no guidance, schools had 14 months to design an assessment system for a curriculum that hadn’t even been published at that point.
At the same time, of course, it became clear that a completely new system would be needed for end-of-key-stage assessments. Because of the staggered roll-out of the curriculum, and the fact that statutory assessments take place at the end of the year, the Department for Education had more than twice as long to get its house in order. It had inside knowledge of the framework, the benefits of its full machinery, and no restrictions on what it did…and three years later, we’re still waiting.
The gall of the DfE last week in simply republishing this year’s failed interim framework is astounding. The contempt shown by ministers in doing so is remarkable. No apology, no explanation, just a statement saying they’re still working on it. Yet hardly anyone seems to have complained.
Why isn’t the profession up in arms? Indeed, a huge number of teachers seem so resigned to the department’s incompetence that they were merely relieved not to have any more change.
That would all be fine under the “if it ain’t broke” idea… except the system is well beyond broken. It has been a disaster, which the department has failed even to acknowledge.
The whole framework is riddled with the same problems as levels, but exacerbated by its circumstances. We were told levels had to go as they encouraged teachers to race through the curriculum, forcing children into the next band: guess what happened with the new writing framework?
Schools minister Nick Gibb said levels were vague and imprecise. But I saw endless disagreement this summer about what each local authority considered to be “most” words spelled correctly. We were told levels were too confusing for parents to understand. I challenge anyone to explain how the changes made this year – in which we report seemingly random numbers and codes to parents alongside vague descriptions like “growing development of the expected standard” – have helped to improve parental understanding.
The one statement which we can almost agree about is that we have moved away from a best-fit system to something different. But I’ve yet to be persuaded that that’s an improvement.
And clearly this is the case for the vast majority of teachers. A quick poll I carried out on Twitter suggested that barely one in 10 teachers actually follow the “secure-fit” rules when it comes to science assessment; hardly a cue for retaining the system.
The advantage of a secure-fit model is supposed to be clarity about what a child can and can’t do – but clarity for whom? We don’t actually report to parents exactly which strand of the framework meant that a child didn’t reach the expected standard. We have no way of differentiating between the child who could do all but one bullet point, and the child who could do nothing. We won’t transfer any of that information to secondary schools, who will receive only the vague and unhelpful band descriptions. We are stuck with all the flaws of levels, and none of the advantages.
And that’s before we start on the variations in quality of moderation across authorities, or the precision with which schools apply the rules.
Three years after the initial announcement, schools have made huge strides in improving the quality of assessment to support education. Isn’t it at least reasonable to expect the DfE to apologise for not managing to get its own house in order?
Michael Tidd is deputy headteacher at Edgewood Primary School in Nottinghamshire
This is an article from the 22 July edition of TES. This week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here
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