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No levels in schools

(54 Posts)
treadwater Fri 24-Jul-15 00:42:15

If we're not having levels in schools anymore, what are we having to measure progress - does anyone know where can I read about new system in layman terms?

ReallyTired Fri 24-Jul-15 01:00:49

Every school has its own system. I could give you a link that explains what my daughter's school up is doing, but it would be of no use unless your child is in a Hertfordshire lea school.

JemimaPuddled Fri 24-Jul-15 01:10:29

Most I've heard about seem to be going with W's - working levels in relation to age related targets. So they're reporting whether a child is working above / at age related / working below expected level. In reality in my authority we're still using nc levels as a rule of thumb to guide too, just not reporting as such iyswim.

var123 Fri 24-Jul-15 09:59:59

The working at, below or on target is open to abuse imo. The interpretation of the national curriculum targets by both primary schools my children went to were:-
only the bottom 20% work below the "expected" level"

and theoretically, only the top 20% were above the expected level. Leaving 60% working "at" - but I think there is a big difference between at no. 21 and being at no. 79....

However, then the school would take it further. You had to be below the minimum level to be working below - so still the bottom 20%, but now anything even slightly above the minimum cut-off was called "working above expectations".

So, in the end it was:-
lowest 20% were "below expectations"
Next 20% (say) were "working at expected levels"
and 60% was "above expectations"

So, you have a genuinely clever child, and you want the teacher to teach him /her throwing in the odd day when the work offers some challenge, but all you got was "they are working above expectations" and you knew that only meant they were being set more challenging work than the bottom tow tables. However, at least you could argue in terms of sublevels progress, but now you can't because the new system can cover everything up.

(I realise I've not explained this very well- hope you get my meaning anyway!)

ReallyTired Fri 24-Jul-15 11:09:29

As a parent you need to be very hands on to know if your child is achieving as they should. Such a system is very unfair on parents who want to take a benign neglect approach. I want to know that my children are progressing. Our LEA has its own system of sub levels, but its kept secret from the parents.

Pipsqueak16 Fri 24-Jul-15 17:06:13

Our school has now got about 6 different levels of progress against year expectations ranging from well below expectations (or words to that effect) to mastery level. Unfortunately I think it doesn't help you understand your child's actual progress, especially if you have a gifted child who you would expect to be working above in year expectations. Whereas previous national curriculum levels could be linked to concrete outcomes beyond the individual year group.

JustRichmal Fri 24-Jul-15 17:17:06

I understand what you are saying Var. Both a child getting level 4a and a child getting 7c at the end of year 6 could be said to be working above expected level of 4b. However, both are now grouped together with one set of differentiated work for the higher set to suit all. There is no specific reference any more to measure a child's level of ability.

I would really like more parents of children who are far ahead in maths (or occasionally other subjects) in state school to take GCSE early. Perhaps if enough do, the government would then get the message that just because we do not pay fees, we are not going to settle for the dumbed down mediocrity provided by the state, just so those in private schools can still take up a disproportionate number of top university places. Stepping down from soapbox now. smile

usedtobeboss Fri 24-Jul-15 17:18:32

I think that should still be possible, depending on the system adopted by the school. DS's school has the age related 'stages' (with beginning, developing, secure, exceeding - I think) but it's possible to be working within a stage other than the relevant chronological year group. For example, DS has just finished Y5 but some of his assssments were '7 beginning'. I think the system is Rising Stars.

var123 Fri 24-Jul-15 18:46:26

Thanks, Justrichmal! That is exactly what i was trying to say!

Usedtobeboss, I don't think that will work unless the teacher in questions wants to be honest with parents of a G&T child who she isn't challenging. Those labels are just words. The old system had words too... core, core plus, extension, extension plus (there was a fifth one: core minus??!).

You get three groups of children in the top set:
(a) the ones who are there by the skin of their teeth and really the only justification for them being there is to give their ego a boost;
(b) the ones for whom the normally-differentiated work represents appropriate challenge
(c) the one or two who can do the differentiated work blindfolded, with their hands tied behind their backs and a Lions v Christians fight to the death happening less than a foot away from their desk.

Both my children are type (c) when it comes to maths, but both get precisely the same differentiated work as the children who are only a little above average. This new system does not help children like my two at all.

MsInterpret Fri 24-Jul-15 19:03:10

Richmal: Both a child getting level 4a and a child getting 7c at the end of year 6 could be said to be working above expected level of 4b. However, both are now grouped together with one set of differentiated work for the higher set to suit all.

Agree these children are being grouped together in reports but surely there would be explanation and detail in the accompanying comments in each section. Also I think it's unfair to suggest that they would only be given one set of undifferentiated work to the whole group. Even within a set there would be a range, no? All teachers are constantly assessing during lessons, which then informs their planning and teaching of the next session.

var123 Fri 24-Jul-15 19:29:51

Even within a set there would be a range, no? NO.

Or at least not in my experience of across primary and (outstanding) secondary.

FuzzyWizard Fri 24-Jul-15 19:40:32

I'm a teacher and HOD and am currently rewriting our assessment structure. I feel quite positive about it but do think if a department or school isn't doing it well it could be a nightmare for schools and parents. We spent a lot of time hashing out what we thought the expectation should be for every assessment task at each stage in the year and then worked from there. This means that as every assessment goes by it becomes slightly more difficult to reach the "expected" level so progress is inbuilt. It's also really important that the right marking and feedback is in place as the "expected" band will be quite broad and if your child is at the top end of the band you may need to check their exercise books to monitor their progress clearly. I will draw up a letter to parents explaining the terminology that they can expect to see in their child's feedback and what would indicate a lack of progress. So for example terms like "competent" vs "confident" would indicate where in the band they are sitting.

ReallyTired Fri 24-Jul-15 19:50:15

Some of the best schools in the country have never had national curriculum levels. Infact life without levels existed in state schools twenty two years ago.

Sometimes describing a child as a level 4a encouraged a fixed mindset. In the past more able children were accelerated to the next year's work rather than extended side ways. The pressure to make sure children made "progress" meant that sometimes foundations were not laid adequately.

FuzzyWizard Fri 24-Jul-15 20:14:09

I should also have added that our exceeding expectation band is likely to be quite small (perhaps 2-5 individuals in a class of 30) it is designed to be a band for the gifted and talented so it should be easy for parents of those children make progress as they will quickly fall off the band if they don't. For example in order to reach this at the end of y7 in my subject they have to begin making judgements about the utility or reliability of sources and offer some support. By the end of year 8 that becomes well supported judgements with valid criteria applied. By the end of year 9 well supported judgements about relative weight of evidence based on a range of criteria. It's those in the middle to top end of the expected band in my school whose parents will find they have to look a bit further than their child's ARE status to get a good idea of their progress.

FuzzyWizard Fri 24-Jul-15 20:16:59

The words "to see" have disappeared from my post confused

treadwater Fri 24-Jul-15 20:29:54

more confused than ever! lol

var123 Fri 24-Jul-15 20:38:43

Fuzzywizard: This is what happened to Ds1 in the year (8) that he has just finished.
In maths, he started year 8 on a 7A. It was the highest score the school had ever had in year 7, and was largely due to the introduction of primary schools teaching level 6.
However, although he was in the top set, and he wasn't the only 7a, most of the others in his class were still learning level 7 material. So, there was no teaching of the level 8 curriculum at all, until I pointed it out in February.
The teacher responded by setting aside 30 mins twice a week for two weeks to teach Ds1 some level 8 material. She invited three others but only DS turned up. For one reason or another, only two of these sessions took place, so he had an hour's 1-1 teaching.
I also taught him at home, working through past papers. I would estimate that I spent about 2-3 hours in total explaining things and helping him work through examples. Then he spent another 4 hours or so practising what he's learned on his own.
Then a couple of weeks later, Ds1 sat a school exam and got 8A.
After that the teacher resumed having the whole class do exactly the same thing again. Towards the end of the year, the teacher made a start on level 8.
Again the teacher was asked to differentiate sufficiently, but nothing changed. Occasionally, Ds and some other children were offered extension work. Ds says it was only marginally less easy than the regular classwork.

I spoke to the HoD a few weeks ago asking for assurances that things would be better next year. I even had suggestions for him about how this might be done (having learned at my own work to come with solutions not problems). He rejected my suggestions on the spot and spoke about extension work.

Honestly, is this acceptable, in practice, if not in theory? All things being equal, DS should do well in his maths GCSE, and maybe that's all I should be asking of the school?

FuzzyWizard Fri 24-Jul-15 20:47:12

I would expect the school to give you a clearer idea of their system in September. If the school is a good one it should be explained to you and you should get a chance to ask questions. (Our head holds clinics for this sort of thing) An important thing to take from it though is that schools should NOT be using a fixed point for setting ARE but a range. So expected should be a range that includes typical performance for that age. It would be odd in my mixed-ability school to see more than about 15-20% in the "below" or "exceeding" ARE band. Any school trying to claim that expected is say a 5b and so everyone below that is "below" and everyone above is "exceeding" ARE has not understood what we are supposed to be doing and will likely fail their next ofsted. We have not used levels as a reference at all in my department- we thought about each piece of work and asked ourselves "what would we expect them to be able to do at this stage?" and then asked ourselves "what would our really gifted students be able to do at that stage?". It's actually Fairly straightforward and common sense.

FuzzyWizard Fri 24-Jul-15 20:55:18

Var: that sounds like poor practice to me. I am an ardent supporter of mixed ability teaching and would happily abolish setting tomorrow. All available research shows it doesn't work and in many schools I think the departments that set (often maths and science) can be quite complacent about differentiation in a way that I (with my GCSE group made up of E predictions as well as those for whom an A* prediction is not challenging) could not afford to be. Last year my mixed ability group of 18 students got more A*s than the hand picked triple science class of 25. I am regularly to by maths teachers that not setting would be impossible and they may well be right but bright kids are often stretched less in top set maths than in mixed ability geography or English in many schools.

FuzzyWizard Fri 24-Jul-15 20:56:07


var123 Fri 24-Jul-15 20:59:27

Ok, thanks for replying. Out of interest, what % of the population - all children across England in the year you are talking about - would qualify as being defined really gifted?

This has been an issue for me. I wrote below about how "exceeding" expectation appeared to be the top 60%. But I'd argue that there is a bigger distance between the top 1% and the top 2% than between the top 10% and top 20% (not that either of my children are top 1%!). The numbers of children in each band begin to drop, but there's no point setting the same work for two children who are both top 10% but one is 90th percentile and the other 98th.

var123 Fri 24-Jul-15 21:08:01

I am not a teacher but it does feel like common sense to separate children by ability. I understand the arguments about the more able children encouraging and maybe inspiring the less able, or providing a challenge for the middle ability group, but for the most able, it just seems like mixed ability means slow pace.

Taking geography as an example, Ds is also good at this but he's in a mixed ability class. The teacher describes something and Ds gets it first time. However, before setting them with work, the teacher re-explains the thing and DS is thinking "why are you saying it again?". then he asks for questions and Ds is wondering why people are asking questions about something that has just been explained twice. Then they get started, and the teacher realises that the least able child still hasn't got it. So, the teacher stops the class and explains it all again.

I teach Ds to be tolerant and patient, but he encounters something similar in almost every lesson day after day, week after week, and the lack of stimulation was getting him down.

FuzzyWizard Fri 24-Jul-15 21:17:15

You are right of course... The top band in our school is likely to be top 10-15%. But within that the level of challenge needed is different. I find that extension work is often not what bright students in my subject need. More of the same is not going to help them progress. I tend to use activities that force them to think more laterally or force them to refine their work and be more precise. So for example- I might set a task to summarise what they have learned in the lesson. For some students saying one or two simple things is difficult and will take them time- others could say twenty things and be sat twiddling their thumbs. Instead I'll make it more challenging by setting them criteria (must include prioritisation, first and second order concepts and a new technique) and a restricted number of words or characters so that rather than what I call the spaghetti approach (chuck everything at it and hope something sticks) they develop skills in selection, prioritising, making the best use of their vocabulary etc. I have a some of very bright (top 1%, off to Oxbridge types) that really thrive on this.
There has been some real nonsense about differentiation, if children aren't challenged or progressing you aren't doing it right regardless of how many "extension activities" and "stretch and challenge" ideas you have put into your schemes of work. If your brightest students are stretched and your least able making progress you are doing it right even if you have none of those things. I've had a very memorable conversation with an ofsted inspector who said he didn't think my lesson had much differentiation but that all of the students made excellent progress. When I asked what differentiation he wanted he suggested some "extension" activities and vocab sheets. hmm

FuzzyWizard Fri 24-Jul-15 21:19:40

Less than 24 hours later his more senior colleague said my lesson had some of the bet differentiation he'd seen. grin

FuzzyWizard Fri 24-Jul-15 21:27:46

Just realised we X-posted. Setting does seem common sense and I imagine that is why it has persisted for so long despite the overwhelming weight of evidence from all major meta-analyses showing that it actually lowers performance. That being said, teachers used to teaching sets will not become excellent mixed-ability teachers overnight and I think that leads to fear of changing things.

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