With the DfE rolling out more changes as they love to do, this year we have seen the majority of schools move to the ‘no levelling’ system. This article takes a look at the reasons for this change, and outlines some of the best alternatives for schools and teachers to use instead.
The powers that be deemed the old levels to lack both precision and cohesion in reporting; resulting in an erosion of trust between primary and secondary schools, and/or labelling children based on their linear progression. Many teachers have complained for years about the inequality of the levelling system using the Einstein quote: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
The 2014 Primary Curriculum wants schools to find alternatives to using standard levelling; meaning that schools are encouraged to focus on ‘fewer things in greater depth’, to secure learning which persists outwardly, rather than relentless, over-rapid progression, as we did in the past. Revisions to the curriculum are stated in year-by-year blocks; giving teachers the wherewithal to track lines of development through key areas of subjects, and remove some of the less linear elements. This move sought to create a more level classroom, in-line other high-performing systems across the country.
A selection of some of the best alternatives to levels
Varied learning challenges
Children are set work with varied challenges and varying levels of difficulty. This difficulty can be based on Bloom’s Taxonomy to get a better and more in-depth analysis of the child’s level.
1. If a student is only able to memorise and remember something they have learnt, they will be at a lower level.
2. If a student is able to then apply that knowledge in practice, as well as provide analyses and understanding of the topic, they will be working at a higher level.
3. On top of that, if a student is also able to explain and evaluate a task in depth, and start to add their own creative thinking to a challenge, they will be working at the highest level, by showing a true understanding and comprehension of what they have learnt.
In order to assess true understanding of key ideas and essential knowledge, we as teachers can explore students’ ability to engage with the detail of learning. Identifying if a child has understood what a metaphor is, or understands the difference between odd and even numbers, or finding out if they can explain why (length x width) gives the area of a square, is a more accurate and comprehensive assessment of true ability than just labelling them with a ‘3b’ or a ‘4c’.
Children sit on tables according to colours, where the teacher is aware of what level or ability they have, but this is not expressed to the children. So for example a ‘top’ group may be blue, a middle group may be ‘green’ and a bottom group may be ‘red’.
This can mean two things:
1. Ipsative learning is the idea of measuring a pupils progression based on their previous performance, i.e if they have improved on their previous mark or understanding, then they have gone up a level. This allows each child to have their own unique levelling structure which is based on them getting better, without comparing them to other students using a linear progression scale. A the end of the day, each child is an individual who should be assessed individually and not be compared to others. The most essential outcome of education is improvement, not slotting pupils somewhere on a standardised levelling scale.
2. Ipsative learning can also mean allowing pupils to measure thei own understanding of a topic by giving them a two-choice question, such as ‘do you feel confident with this, or are you struggling with it?’. Although very limited in its scope, this method can be a very good tool to use as an extra measure of your class progression, by looking at how many pupils move from ‘struggling’ to ‘understanding’. It is also a way to quickly grasp the general ability and understanding within your class.
This is similar to the second ipsative learning technique, but has one extra option and is designed for whole class participation. The teacher set ‘Aims’ for sections within each topic and students hold up traffic light sticks (green, amber or red) to indicate how well they have understood these aims. This allows you to focus on secure understanding, instead of speeding through topics, something which the 2014 Primary National Curriculum encourages.
This system involves using a programme which documents and tracks where each child is performing across the school, and throughout their whole school career . This is continuous formative assessment, which forms a more realistic picture of progression and position within the Primary Framework. Any one of the above techniques can be used to measure this performance.
Many of the above approaches encourage children to independently place their own understanding of their ability; fostering more secure decision making. Not just in the classroom, but beyond in the rest of their lives, as they are being given the choice to think about and analyse their own performance and ability.
Some of these ideas and strategies are still being formulated, so many schools may be sticking with the old system, but what this new work means is that schools have the option for innovation; invention and real revolution in implementing their own systems. So long as children are being given the option to really understand and explore certain ideas within the curriculum, and improve on their knowledge and understanding then real learning is taking place; increasingly more of which should be focused on life skills, learning skills and appropriate independent investigation.