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

Finding Success

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I recently stumbled upon this ‘Career Ladder’ banner displayed in a secondary school. It raises many questions in my mind that I think are important to pick apart. Whether you are involved in the realm of education and schools or not, the issues and messages represented in this poster are important to analyse and critique.

What is success?

Success is the accomplishment of an aim or purpose. It is completely dependent upon an individuals background, culture, beliefs and interests and most importantly comes in many different forms. Inevitably, the ideas, questions and comments made in this post are wholly dependent upon an individuals value system and therefore may well present an entirely different view to someone else. It is important to note this before beginning!

This sign presents a picture of how to achieve career success. Is this really the route to a successful career? How many successful people found their success by following this pathway? It would be interesting to dissect lists such as Time’s 100 most influential people in the world list and analyse the members of this list whom followed the linear, results driven, standardised pathway that this banner suggests leads to a successful career.

Traditional stories of entrepreneurial or business success are often characterised by individuals who left school at the age of 16, who performed poorly in terms of academia, or dropped out of university. Obviously, there are many, many successful people in these areas who did indeed follow more traditional routes. For example, the founders of Google both followed education pathways and indeed, found great success! However, while I am obviously not suggesting that schools should encourage their pupils to ‘drop out’ (and I’m not suggesting that pupils should all seek success in the business world), what is clear is that there is more than one route to success, more than one ‘type’ of success and I think young people need to be aware of the range of factors that can influence their routes to achievement.

In my opinion, compartmentalising a pathway to success may actually have the opposite effect. Rather than narrowing young people’s visions of how to become successful, we should open their eyes and minds to their possibilities and to the skills and understanding they will need beyond a Level 4 at 11 years old. Too often, schools can fail to consider the great disparity between skills needed for an innovative and progressive future workforce who can drive the solutions to global problems of the future and those that are being promoted within some current systems of education. Note: There are, I am sure, many schools truly working hard to drive the development of these skills in their pupils with great success. 

In what ways is finding ‘success’ as linear as this? Does this pathway take into account the great variation between what is needed from individuals in different types of career? What reality is there in the messages this pathway portrays? What are the messages to those who don’t or can’t achieve at each stage? How are pupils choices and individual passions represented in this process?

A quick browse of the ‘What is success’ playlist of TED talks and you discover Richard St. John who, after interviewing members of the TED community about how they found their successes, synthesises their answers into several key themes behind finding success.

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Source: http://www.ted.com/speakers/richard_st_john

It is through finding your ‘passion’ and working hard with a clear focus; persisting through criticism, rejection and pressure; holding and imagining big ideas; getting really good at something through practise; pushing yourself mentally and physically; and serving others something of value that St. John suggests individuals can find success.

He goes on to reflect on success as a continuous journey rather than a defined process with clear end.

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Source: http://www.ted.com/speakers/richard_st_john

Would this message support and develop young people into successful people with successful futures more effectively than the current message of our education system? Regardless of your thoughts and answers to that question, what is clear to me is that the one pathway for all approach suggested through this banner is not necessarily helpful in creating innovative thinkers who are going to take control of their own development, find and discover their own focus, their own ideas and truly persist through the range of barriers that they will face on their way to finding success.

Interesting current reading connected (loosely) to this:

Creativity

Just a quick reflection on one line I recently read in a school’s OFSTED report, which said:

Artwork on display and the pupils’ commitment to physical activity indicate that creative and sporting skills are also well developed.

I believe that creativity and being creative, constitutes more than simply producing artwork to display around the school. Whilst I have not read the whole report, and I do not know the school or have any experience of the workings of the school (and I am definitely not attempting to reflect on the school concerned in a negative way), I simply find the idea that well developed creative skills, evidenced through artwork on the walls, reflects a shallow conception of creativity.

Of course, the school may well have a number of different ways of encouraging creativity and I am sure that OFSTED also are aware of the vast discourse in the educational community about creativity and how to develop creative skills. Certainly, I have only just touched the surface in this regard. However, I am using this statement as a starting point for a brief consolidation of my current understanding/thinking.

Guy Claxton (2006) discusses the idea that a creative mentality can be cultivated in schools and dissects the dispositions and habits that creative people hold. Perhaps, for me the most interesting disposition was that of resilience. He highlights that being creative is not always fun. And that it is the ability to deal with frustration and confusion and to not give up when these feelings arise that is key to a creative mind. He goes on to suggest that creative people must be willing to ‘stand out from the crowd’ and think for themselves; these aspects are too often forgotten in schools (very generalised, I know!)

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Perhaps this is no accident. There is certainly a school of thought (Ha!) that believes education is used by governments to control its people; as ‘a mechanized process of inducting young people into the culture of modernity’ (Miller, 2005). Modernity being a view of society as a machine that is managed with the purpose of turning its resources into commodities and profits. Certainly, where educational tradition has been challenged, governments have reacted. The late educator A. S. Neill’s Summer Hill School, where freedom is placed at the forefront of effective learning has, until very recently, always conflicted government ideals – only just receiving a positive OFSTED report having almost been shut down a few years ago.

Lastly (I have gone way deeper than I had planned to so should probably stop soon), in his most recent TED talk, Ken Robinson discusses the idea that we are obsessed with getting people to college (or university) and that we are enthralled to the idea that life and education are linear lines of progression. He promotes a more organic view of education based on principles of agriculture that elevate human flourishing.

How can we implement this practically in our classrooms? Who will lead this revolution? And will it ever be possible to really radically change the concept of education in this country?

Image: BBH Advertising Campaign for Levi’s.

e-health and safety

Having watched this BBC programme on the rise of the web (part of the Virtual Revolution series) I thought I would just consider one of the issues it raises for me.

The programme focuses heavily on the way children are developing in a world saturated with technology and consistent digital advances. Whilst recognising the advances as positive, Dr Aleks Krotoski explores the effect it is having on the physical development of children, their brains and their senses. She suggests that children’s senses are developing to rely on screens and that the web is distorting their view of reality. The reality is that children aged 3-5 in South Korea (the most wired country on the planet) are spending on average 8 hours a week looking at life through a screen. Some older children and adults spend up to 18 hours a day on a computer – a statistic that has led to a national government agency for Internet addiction. Will people soon be attending Internetics Anonymous for counseling on how to cope with giving up life on the web?

It is this shocking statistic that made me think. With children spending ever increasing amounts of time in front of screens, should we teach e-health alongside e-safety in schools? Certainly there is a wealth of information available to the public about effective posture when using a computer, about how to minimise eye strain using screens, but are children accessing and understanding it? As teachers it is our responsibility to ensure the children in our care are developing digital literacy and I would put forward that ensuring medical safety whilst using new technology is a part of this.

I am annoyed by health and safety laws in the public domain as I’m sure a great deal of people are. The fact that a risk assessment needs to be done and an engineer called out before fitting a new light bulb in an office is simply ridiculous. However, if I believe strongly that new technologies are immensly beneficial for children’s learning and I promote their use in school (which I do), I have a duty to keep children in good health whilst they use this technology more regularly too.

Any thoughts?