Parents, do your level best to fathom this

1st June 2018 at 00:00
Where would we be without the Department for Education's crystal-clear approach to attainment levels?

Do you remember that terrible old system of levels? You know, with the overly simplistic ladder, where students were meant to take a couple of years to move between each band, so all the focus was on those borderline pupils that would help improve results? Awful, wasn’t it?

As the Department for Education said at the time, “this system is complicated and difficult to understand, especially for parents”.

And what a nightmare it must have been for parents, trying to work out whether 5 was better than 4, and…Well, that was about it really, but, you know.

Of course, the other issue was that being a 4 didn’t really tell your parents what you could and couldn’t do, nor your next teacher, for that matter. It just lumped you into a convenient box for which a score could be attached, so nice calculations could be made about your attainment and progress.

Thank goodness we’ve moved on from those awful days five years ago.

Just before breaking up for half-term, we saw the latest release of assessment information from the department. Thankfully, we’ve long got rid of the dreadful 3, 4, 5 system of levels, and replaced them with the much more robust and detailed “working towards standard”, “expected standard” and “greater depth standard” (GDS) approach.

Yes, at first glance it might just look like levels by another name, but clearly GDS is a much clearer message for parents: greater depth within the expected standard. What could be clearer than that? It’s clearly very different from growing development of the expected standard, which is obviously much lower.

But just in case there was any confusion between those two, the department has come up with a simpler system.

New and improved

Under the new system, we’ll still have almost 60 per cent of pupils achieving the expected standard, with nothing to differentiate them. But for the 6 per cent of pupils who have the lowest attainment, they’ll now be conveniently grouped into one of 10 handy categories.

For parents, it will now be much clearer than the old number-sequence system because the new, improved system only uses numbers for some of its categories. Oh, and it uses some of them twice. But the simple way to remember it is that Standard 2 is better than P-scale 2, but clearly not as good as Standard 4, which is considerably better than P-scale 4. Standard 6 is, of course, the highest of the standards, unless you’re working towards the expected standard, which is, of course, higher than any of the numbered standards.

For simplicity, the same system will be used at both key stages 1 and 2, so that parents will clearly understand that the numbered standards are used when pupils are performing below the expected standard, except for pupils who are working towards the expected standard, which is also below the expected standard, but doesn’t have a number, unless you’re aged 11, in which case it’s called Standard 5, but not to be confused with working towards the expected standard (which is, of course, different from the working towards the expected standard that is also called Standard 5) because that’s better than Standard 6. Which, of course, you can’t get if you are 6, because that’s just the expected standard

With that clarity in mind, no doubt parents will be disappointed to hear that the new system is just the interim solution while we await the replacement for P scales, which will begin in 2020.

I have one suggestion they might want to consider: if we’re going to use the same standards for both key stages, perhaps we could just use one numbering system throughout.

It looks like levels 1-10 would just about cover it.

Michael Tidd is headteacher at Medmerry Primary School in West Sussex

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