Pupil Voice: Life After Levels

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With the removal of levels from statutory assessment and reporting requirements, schools across the country are seeking new methods of measuring and reporting pupil progress and attainment. This ‘freedom’ opens up some exciting possibilities and there are some schools exploring new approaches to assessment.

It is worth remembering that there are schools who have been tracking the achievement of pupils without levels for years (with great success) and the ‘problem’ of levels has been discussed in these settings for a long time. There is a fascinating article here, which challenges many of the assumptions that are embedded within a system of levels and grades (definitely worth a read), which is written by Alison Peacock, the head teacher of one of these schools.

I aim to read more widely about the various examples of leading practice in this area and reflect on the outcomes of existing systems. My main concern surrounding ‘life after levels’ is that many schools will simply replace levels with some other method that quantifies learning. Certainly, I have already heard of many points systems, colour systems and ‘ladders’ that simply continue the dialogue of levels rather than redefining it. If schools are to make the most of the opportunity the removal of levels offers education in terms of reframing learning and progress, leaders must engage with the reading, research and debate surrounding the potential of assessment and monitoring. However, that is for a later post.

Currently, at my school we are considering how we can adapt and improve the way we discuss and set targets with children across KS1 and KS2. As part of this, today I met with our school council members from KS2 to hear their opinions and thoughts on the current systems we have in place for target setting and to hear their ideas for how they could be developed. I was incredibly impressed with the thought the pupils put into their responses to my questions and with the level of maturity with which they approached the subject of assessment. All were able to articulate how they learn, why they think targets are important and how they are useful to their everyday learning.

Towards the end of the discussion, I informed the pupils that the government had decided to remove levels. It was at this point that the children’s perspective of levels shone through and raised some very interesting points that will be taken forward to discuss with staff. Perhaps the most poignant comment was:

You don’t need to know your level, that’s not important, you need to know what to do to get better.

It is this that highlights to me that in any discussion of life without levels, we need to consider what is most important: the learning and progress of all pupils. Before discussions move to how we are going to compare the progress of our schools with other schools locally and nationally (which, worryingly, is where many discussions are starting), we must reflect on what is best in terms of creating stimulating and effective environments for learning where pupils understand exactly how they can take control of their own development.

Further reading:

Creating learning without limits

Learning without limits project

Freedom to lead: a study of outstanding primary school leadership

NAHT commission on assessment (report)

Photo: The sky is the limit by Ron Shoshani

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