‘Levels have been a distracting, over-generalised label, giving misleading signals about the genuine attainment of pupils,’ said School Reform Minister Nick Gibb in a speech
to the Reform think tank. They are ‘undependable data’.
If levels are undependable, why are primary schools which don’t reach a target based on levels labelled ‘underperforming’ and forced to become academies? Why do ministers use levels to maintain the fiction that pupils who don’t reach Level 4 in Key Stage 2 Sats are illiterate and innumerate?
announced three weeks ago he expected ‘at the very least – 85 per cent of a [primary] school’s pupils reach a good level of attainment, or are on their way to getting there.’ Cameron speaks of levels but they’re being replaced by ‘national standards’ – the consultation
about these finished in December 2014. The results are expected ‘about 26 February 2015’. There’s no sign of them yet.
Perhaps it’s because responses weren’t overwhelmingly enthusiastic.
believes the performance descriptors will be difficult for teachers to apply and for parents to understand. Publisher Pearson
thought the terminology ‘rather bald’ - ‘ambiguous words and phrases’ could result in inconsistency. The Association of Teachers of Mathematics
thought vocabulary was ‘confusing’ and the descriptors listed content not performance.
18 months after the announcement scrapping levels (now archived
) and before the publication of the consultation findings, Gibb said he’s going to set up a commission
to look at assessment without levels. This, he claimed, ‘will continue the evidence-based approach to assessment that the government has already put in place’. Presumably that ‘evidence-based approach’ includes the Government’s hastily implemented 16+ exam reforms which contradict international evidence. This shows most developed countries have no high-stakes tests at 16. Instead they have graduation at 18 often via multiple routes.
The alleged point of removing levels was that schools would be able to devise their own assessments not linked to level descriptors. Gibb said these are imprecise and asked ‘…what things does someone with the label “level 3” actually know; what things can they do?’ Perhaps he should ask Sir Andrew Dilnot, the UK Statistics Watchdog. He had no difficulty discovering what Level 3 meant from the DfE’s own published descriptors.
‘We lost sight of the original aims of the national curriculum - enshrined in law - that all children should have access to all of the content of the national curriculum,’ Gibb said. He appears to have forgotten his Government allows academies and free schools to opt out of the national curriculum – at least in theory. But national tests will be linked to the national curriculum. It appears, then, opting out means the ‘freedom’ to opt in.
Gibb claimed he’d been listening to teachers. ‘For the last 2 decades, schools have argued that central prescription and formal assessment have impacted negatively on standards.’ Scrapping levels means less central prescription, he argued.
This speech is another example of Government doublethink – no central prescription but national standards will be mandatory measures; academies have freedom but it’s freedom to do what is expected; levels are misleading but ministers use levels to enforce academy conversion, sack heads and spout falsehoods.
The results of the consultation and the Government’s response has been published
. As suspected, the response was not positive.
For example, a ‘significant proportion’ (74%) of respondents felt the proposed performance descriptors were confusing.
76% of respondents felt the performance descriptors were not effectively ‘spaced’ and this could lead to inaccurate and inconsistent judgements.
69% felt the descriptors were unclear and not easy to understand.
38% felt the performance descriptors reflected the new national curriculum, 39% disagreed and 16% weren’t sure.
The Government’s response:
It acknowledges the concerns but appeared to diminish these by saying some of those who disagreed were ‘stakeholders’ who wanted the new system to work like levels. This, said the Government, was not the ‘intention’. The Government will, however, work with ‘experts’ to ‘determine the most appropriate course of action’ to address these concerns. It has established a Commission (which was publicised before the consultation response was published as noted above).
The National Union of Teachers
welcomed the Minister's awareness that 'schools were drowning in data'. However, it was concerned that the commission would provide copious examples of 'good practice' but which were not grounded in principled arguments of the kind recommended in today's Donaldson Report
in Wales. NUT wasn't inspired by Gibb's example of 'good practice' which had pupils sitting 15 exams a term. This would 'not fill teachers with confidence' in Gibb's 'direction of travel'.