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Tim Oates, the reasons for scrapping levels: AIBU to think this is a load of patronising doublespeak?

(42 Posts)
diamondage Tue 09-Dec-14 12:18:05

Thank you mrz for linking to this video of Tim speaking about the scrapping of levels in the thread titled: Does lack of levels mean poor progress shrouded? This is not, however, a TAAT.

It seems that Tim Oates (currently on the Cambridge Assessment Executive Board and previously of the QCA) had some very interesting things to say about why levels were bad and therefore required scrapping:-

1. Children negatively label themselves using levels. Of course children are completely incapable of knowing who finds subjects easy or hard without those bad old levels, so that's a quick win as self esteem will soar without levels. Never mind those new terms, below national standard or working towards national standard.
Win one.

2. Levels encourage undue pace to achieve maximum progress. In the past, with levels, children were apparently moved on without a deep, secure understanding. The new curriculum is a fundamental change due to teaching fewer things in greater depth, along with teachers ensuring children are ready to move on.

Of course any previous issues of undue pace and a lack of secure understanding was, most definitely, the fault of levels. Extra efficiency has been assured by issuing the new performance descriptors, which set out what pupils must achieve, i.e. the "national standard", without waiting to see what most pupils achieve after a reasonable period of being taught the new curriculum.

Do not dwell on the fact that the new curriculum has many things that were being taught to older children now being taught to younger children . This will not be the same as undue pace to achieve maximum progress because children will be taught at much greater depth.
Double win!

3. Levels are an 'odd idea'.
a) because test scores have low validity. This has been dealt with in the new curriculum by scoring the new tests differently wink which will ensure their greater validity.

b) APP was flawed due to being a best match, so that children were moved on before all concepts were understood. Teachers, you know it's true, and if you couldn't understand those bamboozling levels, what hope did us dim witted parents have?

c) Thresholds. Children could achieve L4 by being just in L4! This, of course, was the fault of levels and had nothing to do with where the threshold was set. It is good to know that there are no thresholds in the new national curriculum or the performance descriptors. The terms below national standard, working towards national standard, national standard and mastery, are in no way synonymous with thresholds. Just like the scaled score of the new tests - no thresholds there either.
Triple winneroo!!!

4. Other nations, that perform so much better than the UK in PISA, don't have levels. Whatever they use, it's not levels, nor anything like levels and therefore we can all see that previous poor performance in PISA was caused by those pesky, bamboozling levels.
Grand Slam!!!!

A final message to teachers from Tim:

You need to assess more, much more.

But differently, because in the past there has not been enough assessment of the right kind.

Previously you have not had to be experts in assessment - but now you need to be in a way you haven't been before. You need to think hard and choose questions that probe your pupils to see if they have really understood an item or body of knowledge you are teaching. What is required is rich Q&A that probes the knowledge of your pupils; along with probing and supportive learning.

Although you don't need to think that hard because there are hundreds of GCSE questions which you can use with kids of all ages even very young ones. These questions can be used to support learning and to assess whether your pupils have understood the ideas you are teaching.

And this is a really important and new approach.

End of Tim's message.

So whilst I brush the pile of egg shells away, let me hear you say hallelujah.

Our children are saved by the scrapping of levels. Watch us rise through PISA by deep, secure understanding, plenty of probing, no levels (stop using the old levels until you have new levels, there are to be no new levels (apart from those documents being created that look remarkably like old style APP grids but populated with the new curriculum)) and get searching for those old GCSE questions - our primary kids are ready!

This post précises excerpts of the video for effect.
This post is ironic and tongue in cheek at multiple points - I trust you can tell which points.
I apologise for the length of my post, but, given the content of the video, I just wanted to get it all out.

rollonthesummer Tue 09-Dec-14 12:22:00

It's all crap anyway because no schools have stopped using levels anyway. They're either still using the old levels or have bought into an expensive scheme which has created vastly confusing new levels.

ReallyTired Tue 09-Dec-14 13:22:05

I think there is confusion between passing exams and assessment for learning. Tim wants teachers to focus on using assessment to find holes in knowledge and fill the holes.

Ds got 5c in maths in his keystage 2 sats. He could answer difficult questions in geometry but could not do division. The school did not care as he is level 5 on paper. I feel that a child who cannot do division by the end of year 6 has been failed by primary.

diamondage Tue 09-Dec-14 14:35:08

ReallyTired I agree that's a problem, however the problem lay with tests, and assessments, not with the old levels, which have division in there along with geometry.

I suppose the thing that bugs me is the idea that levels were the problem and the scrapping of them was critical, otherwise improvements wouldn't materialise.

All the same problems are possible under the new system, with the exception, perhaps, of over inflated results from SATs.

rollon - well quite!

catslife Tue 09-Dec-14 15:43:45

Is he really serious about teachers using GCSE questions for primary aged pupils or is this a (very indirect) way of promoting his own organisations materials.
Come to think of it why have GCSE or A level grades at all surely some of the criticisms of levels would be equally valid if the word grade was substituted for level. You could just give pupils their UMS marks instead of giving out grades. This would take away a lot of the angst for pupils missing out on a crucial grade by 1 or 2 marks.....
IMO the biggest difficulty is with the Y6/7 transfer when secondary schools often downgrade pupils who weren't really performing securely at a particular level, but just scored well on the day of the exams. That is however a problem with all exam based assessments.

mrz Tue 09-Dec-14 17:56:51

Rollonthesummer I don't know of any schools still using levels we certainly aren't (except Y2and 6 who are still following the old curriculum) what sort of school uses a measure that doesn't match the curriculum content?

rollonthesummer Tue 09-Dec-14 18:19:50

Rollonthesummer I don't know of any schools still using levels we certainly aren't (except Y2and 6 who are still following the old curriculum) what sort of school uses a measure that doesn't match the curriculum content

I know at least 5 schools round here who are still using the old levels. We were all talking about it on a course last week.

mrz Tue 09-Dec-14 18:29:27


rollonthesummer Tue 09-Dec-14 18:30:59

I agree. I may hate the system my school us using but at least it matches with the curriculum.

CrimboHornedSnowflake Tue 09-Dec-14 18:34:35

We still use levels in my subject but we are outside the NC so can!

reup Tue 09-Dec-14 18:55:52

Are secondaries still meant to be using levels? My son's is. I know as couple of primaries still using them too.

mrz Tue 09-Dec-14 19:25:21

No reup

noblegiraffe Tue 09-Dec-14 19:34:03

Levels, as they became, which was not as they were intended, were complete balls. Sublevels. Individual pieces of work being levelled or sublevelled. Levels being reported to parents several times a year with scrutiny over whether little Johnny had made a sublevel of progress in the six weeks since the last report. Balls balls balls. An illusion of science masking a load of hand waving and fudging. And parents and some teachers bought into it, which was shit.

I felt like a liar writing sublevelled reports that parents were taking seriously when really I was making stuff up. Sure I could justify what I was doing, but the next teacher along could justify something else. And I felt really bad that parents were concerned that little Johnny hadn't missed his end of year target (made up balls) by a sublevel (more made up balls) and as a consequence had grounded little Johnny and hired him a tutor.

So while levels were a useful tool for measuring progress across a key stage, I won't be sad to see the back of the monster they became.

mrz Tue 09-Dec-14 19:36:44

Totally agree noblegiraffe levels grew into unrecognisable monsters

diamondage Wed 10-Dec-14 10:24:17

Noblegiraffe / mrz - surely what you describe is just how people chose to use / abuxe a tool?

The APP grids with low, secure and high made perfect sense to me, capturing how a child will be at different points within different strands (depending on individual strengths and weaknesses) and requiring teachers to use professional judgement regarding how to level them overall.

Whatever the name is, there needs to be a system to monitor what children have learnt and their ability to apply it - at least there does if you want there to be some parity for children learning at different schools and taught by different teachers.

There is a progression to learning, and whilst the progress may go backwards and forwards over certain concepts when knowledge and skills get rusty or take time to become secure, generally there is a forward movement.

I suppose my question would be how is the new system less open to abuse and how is it better than the old system? It's not as if the points between key stages won't get filled in and monitored again. Do you really think the new system means that teachers judgements won't differ?

It seems to me that the problems you describe are just the nature of the beast (people judge things differently) and has little to do with levels, or any other system put in place to monitor progress and learning.

Has moderation also been scrapped under the new system?

diamondage Wed 10-Dec-14 10:33:21

mrz given how quick you are to point out that letters don't make sounds I'm surprised to see you referring to levels having the ability to grow and personifying them as monsters.

Do you really believe the faults described by Tim Oates are due to levels and do you really believe the new "level-less" system is a panacea (especially given all the new level like documents being created)?

mrz Wed 10-Dec-14 18:15:35

Would you rather I said the level system had developed into an meaningles bureaucratic exercise? Ibelieve the previous system of levels was extremely flawed and agree with Tim Oates's assessment of their failure.

noblegiraffe Wed 10-Dec-14 18:39:47

The APP grids with low, secure and high made perfect sense to me, capturing how a child will be at different points within different strands (depending on individual strengths and weaknesses) and requiring teachers to use professional judgement regarding how to level them overall.

Yeah, that doesn't sound like totally subjective bollocks at all hmm. And a load of extra paperwork for teachers too. APP was thankfully ditched before it came near secondary.

toomuchicecream Wed 10-Dec-14 19:00:34

The advice from the county I teach in (large, high achieving) is to carry on using levels for another year - they've even provided resources to match the new curriculum to levels.

mrz Wed 10-Dec-14 19:27:27

Very very scary!

LePetitMarseillais Wed 10-Dec-14 19:35:08

What's scary about a gradual change over as opposed to instant knee jerk?hmm

Frankly I couldn't give a stuff what they do as long as they inform us parents sooner rather than later.

voddiekeepsmesane Wed 10-Dec-14 19:47:09

My child is in year 6 and is part of the last cohort to get levels. Personally I think this 4 tier system below attainment, working towards attainment, expected attainment or beyond attainment is silly and reminds me of Early years attainment, surely children and parents are eyond this by end of KS2.

They say children were pigeon holeing themselves into a level and giving them a "fixed mindset" according to the report. What a load of bollocks. and being in one of these 4 catergories is to going to pigeon hole children??? My child happens to be in the top 10% of his school year and is set to attain level 5A/6 in his year 6 SATs, A working above attainment is not a true representation of where he is at and for those of us that have had to do 11+ unless we go and get them assessed by outside tutors then we would not know whether they were able enough to take the test.

Also really feel for future parents who are looking at schools to send their child to and all the get is a percentage of children that are "beyond attainment"doesn't really give that much information, It's like the senior schools saying they have 90% A*-C GCSEs but actually only have 5% A*-A

mrz Wed 10-Dec-14 20:12:31

Schools have known since June 2012 that they needed to have a system in place for September 2014 to replace levels - hardly knee jerk hmm

noblegiraffe Wed 10-Dec-14 22:14:40

Yeah, but given that when asked what sort of system should be implemented the DfE just shrugged their shoulders, said 'fucked if we know' and then offered thousands of pounds to any school who could come up with something halfway decent, it's not surprising that some schools have waited to see if some other school nails it so they can steal it.

Every school in the country working on this problem individually is such a waste of time and resources.

mrz Wed 10-Dec-14 22:18:12

Now noblegiraffe they were just giving teachers the freedom to use their professional judgement wink

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