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Do we really need nationally standardised levels?

(19 Posts)
Itshouldntmatter Wed 15-Jul-15 09:44:06

Right, I am not totally sure what the answer to this question is, but I can't help thinking that NOT having nationally standardised levels is a good thing for education and teachers and therefore children. My concern about levels, in the old format, is that they feed the competitative spirit that many have about success and achievement. However, by applying nationally recognised levels so young, it almost classifies children from the second they start school. It also means that people strive for those numbers rather than being able to look at a bigger picture in terms of learning, including curiosity, creativity and independence. It is natural for parents to want their children to do well, but filling children's heads with facts is a very poor substitute for knowledge and understanding. My child is in y1, so I have never had the old levels, and there is a big part of me which would love to know if she is working at y2 level in some things, and where exactly she is. But I think it is probably a healthier learning environment not to. It also means I have to trust her teacher. But education needs more trust of teachers. My best teachers in what the government would call the dark days of the 70's and 80's were phenomenally creative and I learnt to reason, explore and have fun with knowledge. I want my children to have that. I can't help thinking a removal of the set levels will help. I'm just curious to know what other parents and teachers think.

QuiteQuietly Wed 15-Jul-15 10:10:38

I agree in spirit, but not in practise. I am not bothered about where my children are nationally, but want to know if they are progressing appropriately. And woolly reports saying above/below/achieving age-related expectations tell me very little. DD2 left reception unable to read "cat on mat" - yet they said she had exceeded the reading standard. DS can be a bit of a bright button in some areas - I want to know if they are working on his weak areas and continuing to develop his strengths. As a parent, the old system at least meant I could see where people were progressing and where they were stagnating - I could then ask about support at school/home and work on next steps. The levels attempted to treat my DC as individuals not as vague appendages to the class hive-mind.

RafaIsTheKingOfClay Wed 15-Jul-15 10:24:04

I think it's probably much easier to think national levels are a waste of time if you suspect your children are doing OK.

If you suspect your child is behind and the school are fobbing you off with platitudes about how they are fine and school is about more than just learning, then a nationally comparable level might just be a good starting point.

noblegiraffe Wed 15-Jul-15 10:56:02

They will be assessed against national standards eventually. You don't want to be completely ignorant until that point of what the likely results will be.

Itshouldntmatter Wed 15-Jul-15 12:16:16

Quite I totally agree that we want to (and should) know how our children are progressing, but surely that is about the teacher telling us your child can do x, y & z, and they are working towards a, b & c, and once they have achieved a, b & c, they will moving towards d, e & f. That tells a parent something about what a child is learning, and if they are still doing x, y and z and the end of a term, and making no progress on a, b & c - then the parent can ask and expect to be told why. The only thing national levels do is give us a method of comparing one child with another.

Rafa I take your point about children who are behind, but surely if a child is given 'emerging' or what ever the phrase is, the parent knows that they aren't meeting expectations? Again, if that were phrased in the context of what they need to know (e.g. a, b & c), then a parent would still know a child is not achieving what they should. I'm still not sure why a nationally comparable level is necessary.

noblegiraffe I agree children will be assessed against a national standard eventually, and where as for decades it wasn't until secondary school, now it is in Y1, Y2 & Y6. Although these were intended to be checks, probably on teachers ratings before then, what they really are is a focus for extensive swatting in many schools. I have heard many secondary teachers I know state that SAT results are always inflated. I've read on here Primary School teachers complain that that is offensive. But when A-level students get to university, their results are considered largely inflated compared to many years ago. That isn't to say that they are 'easier', I don't think A-levels are easier. But they are now taught as an exam to pass, and there is extensive swotting and drilling for that information only and so some (many) of the broader 'thinking' skills are lost. We didn't used to compare performance until secondary school, and I do not see why parents really must have comparisons before then. Who does it benefit?

Bunnyjo Wed 15-Jul-15 12:42:13

We are creatures of comfort and it will take a while to get used to a new system - as schools are free to choose how to report progress to parents, there will now be a plethora of reporting styles; ranging from some schools rigidly sticking to the old NC levels (that do not fit the new NC), to schools using a wide range of descriptors such as emerging/working below, secure/working at/achieving/expected or exceeded/mastery/working above Age Related Expectations.

Whilst I agree that emerging/expected/exceeding doesn't tell a parent what parts of the curriculum they are progressing or need to focus on, I do not believe that knowing their child was a 1a, 2c, 3b or 6c did/does either. Knowing my child was a 3a or whatever didn't tell me what parts of the level 3 and 4 curriculum they were secure on; the detailed reports and parents' evenings told me that.

As such, I am not particularly bothered that the NC levels have been 'scrapped'.

shebird Wed 15-Jul-15 14:20:04

I agree OP and have posted on another thread about this. It is something I feel very strongly about. My experience of growing up in another country with no ability setting or levels had led me to believe that the current system here just is not working.
I have never found the levels particularly informative as they were still only a guide as to whether your child was below, average or above. If you want to know how your child is doing then listen to the teacher to find out what they do well and what they need to improve on.
The idea of labelling a such young children as level x or y is divisive and often becomes a self fulfilling prophesy. The levels are based on certain boxes that need to be ticked and not always ability, intelligence or desire to learn. They do not take into account that the child might have the ability to tick some of the boxes in the next category and often the child is prevented from doing this work because they are in a set working at that lower level. How demotivating is it for a capable child to be cutting out words while the rest if the class is writing, having been put in the lower set because he or she does not tick the box for punctuation or connectives. The gap increases and the child is demotivated. How many children actually move on from the bottom sets in year 2?
Children are also very aware of their position in the class, I have often heard conversations between my DDs friends saying I'm a level x your on the bottom table your only level y. How sad is that.

mellicauli Wed 15-Jul-15 14:27:27

Spare a thought for the poor social worker tasked with tracking the academic progress of all the children in care. How are they supposed to work out if those children are making the correct level of progress? And how can we identify if one particular group are being disadvantaged by the education system as it stands, if we can't compare progress of one child to another?
It just seems such a backward step to me.

As for trusting teachers, they are not being measured. The progress of the children is what is being measured.

Even without levels, my reception age child knows exactly who the academic high flyers are and who the stragglers are. Competition is in the blood of most young boys.

QuiteQuietly Wed 15-Jul-15 15:30:29

A child could get "emerging" in all subjects every year, but it doesn't give a clear breakdown of whether the gap between his attainment and age-related expectation is closing or widening. I'm happy with emerging every year as long as progress (however slow) IS being made, but this scrappy reporting system doesn't give me that information. I am having to go through paragraphs of "I can" statements to try and work out what is missing and compare it to how much was missing last year. Some childrens' attainment simply cannot be measured against age-related expectation.

And don't kid yourselves that your children are no longer being measured. They are still accumulating APP points, or having boxes ticked on RAISE, or being measured in some other way by the school. All that is happening is that this is being translated into 3 or possibly 4 woolly categories for parents.

shebird I also grew up in a country without setting or levels. My older brother (who had a head injury at 2 yo) was left to his own devices in the corner and left school with nothing more than a bigger shoe size. What makes the UK supposedly a more civilized country is that we accord the right to education to all children and attempt to deliver it. Removing levels and information about levels is a first step on the road to not even attempting to deliver proper education for outliers.

shebird Wed 15-Jul-15 17:16:35

My issue levels is that it can sometimes be obstructive to outliers who are pigeonholed as being in particular category and not fully able to realise their potential as they are constantly working behind. It is also hugely time consuming for schools and teachers to be constantly recording and evidencing every move a child makes when this not always for the child's benefit but for Ofsted and DofE. This time would be better spent in the classroom.
Evidence from other civilised countries such as Finland support the theory that mixed ability teaching is more successful. Mrz had some interesting links to studies about this, perhaps she could share again. I would love to hear some teachers views on this.

shebird Wed 15-Jul-15 17:25:54

I am sorry to hear of your brothers experience Quite,while I support mixed ability teaching I realise that extra support in this situation is still vital for those who need it so that they can access to same curriculum as their classmates.

QuiteQuietly Wed 15-Jul-15 17:44:29

I don't have any issues with mixed ability teaching. But parents need data so they can support and advocate for their children. Schools need to know what is working and what is not working. They need to be aware of groups of children who need additional help - that is why they continue to gather data. Some schools and teachers are better than others at communicating this data to parents.

I agree that pigeon- holing is unhelpful, that children on lower ability tables in reception frequently stay there for the rest of school and vice-versa. But not giving parents a proper indication of achievement and progress can only exacerbate this. With knowledge, we can attempt to help improve skills.

In reception Dd2 left unable to read anything but with exceeding in reading. This year she has finished y1 with achieved expectations. There is no acknowledgment that she can now read simple books and that reading has greatly improved - by this woolly categorisation she has lost ground, not gained it.

Itshouldntmatter Wed 15-Jul-15 18:24:18

QuiteQuietly I totally agree that parents need information about achievement, and information about whether children are meeting expected levels. But I think that information can come from a teacher irrespective of whether they are being required to set boundaries (or tick boxes) set out by the government. I agree with shebird that the current system doesn't allow for the fact that a child might get one part of the level before an other, and may get held back because one aspect of their learning isn't as high as the others. As such, I think that the old levels actually provides LESS meaningful information than what should be provided by teachers. In that sense I agree with you Bunny, although I do think that there are a lot of teachers who do not write particularly meaningful reports.

I would say that the problem of your DD's report in YR wasn't the levels, but the teacher, who was evidently providing basically fake information. Sadly, it is impossible to get a system where 100% of teachers are good, as in any profession there will be some slightly crap ones who slip through. Although it is possible that the teacher was good, but their report writing was rubbish.

However, I am very much with shebird in terms of the massive problems that this levelling creates for any child either at the lower end of the spectrum or those who are likely to take a less standard learning trajectory (not that I think ANY child will always follow the linear expectations set out by the old levels). I grew up here. I am dyslexic, and if I had been subject to levels, and the types of setting that goes on now, I'm pretty sure I would have spent much of primary school in the lower levels. I think that would have probably destroyed my confidence, and I doubt very much I would have achieved the level of PhD, which I did manage. I have to say, there were many problems in the old pre NC system, but I think that the current focus on levels has actually created a poorer system for our children.

MilkRunningOutAgain Wed 15-Jul-15 19:23:12

I am happy without levels. I trust most of my DC's teachers to assess them rationally, there have been 2 or 3 along the way whose judgement I thought poor, but whether they used levels or emerging/ attained/ exceeding is irrelevant to me. it would be great if there was less admin for teachers to do but I suspect schools will be using their own systems to show pupils individual progress, so I doubt teachers will gain much time at all.

As for self esteem, most primaries seem to sit children on top table, middle table, bottom table, and it was this rather than levels themselves that effected my DC's self esteem. Mind you, it's easy to criticise and I can't come up with a better solution.

RafaIsTheKingOfClay Wed 15-Jul-15 19:51:31

I agree with shebird that the current system doesn't allow for the fact that a child might get one part of the level before an other

It does. It's a best fit judgement. It's not supposed to tell you exactly what a child can or can't do. It can tell you roughly where children are in terms of what's expected for their age. If schools are only giving emerging, expected or exceeding with reference to the year group a child is in, it's going to be very difficult for parents of children who are 'emerging' to tell whether their child is closing the gap or whether the gap is widening. They could do it if they were also given the year group that their child is currently working within. But then what you have is just levels under another name.

Tbh emerging, expected and exceeding probably is nationally standardised levelling anyway.

shebird Wed 15-Jul-15 20:32:23

I would also support more regular contact with teachers and more small amounts homework at primary in maths and literacy. This not only consolidates what they have done at school but also keeps parents in touch with their child's work so they can see quickly if there are issues. Levels or not, I find it really frustrating to find out at parents evening that my child not grasped something that was done 3 months ago that has then held them back from progressingangry. If I had known at the time I would have supported this at home and the gap would not have widened but then it is easier to stick a label on them as level 'x' and we are in a constant game of catch up.

Lurkedforever1 Wed 15-Jul-15 20:38:51

I think it needs to be based on a national structure, after all nobody should care where their child is in terms of just their class, but with far more allowance for the teachers input, not just numbers or silly phrases like emerging. I don't actually care what level my child achieves, what I want is to know is that within reason she's being taught and challenged at an appropriate level for her. Saying level 6, or exceeding, or level 2 and emerging really says nothing.
And as an aside I'm in favour of mixed ability teaching providing each child still gets taught in an appropriate way for them and what stage they're at. Not if means holding one child/children back to benefit the rest

GhoulWithADragonTattoo Thu 16-Jul-15 08:29:02

There is an awful lot to be said for national levels. It means we are all speaking the same language and not at cross purposes, whatever that context is.

RedCrayons Thu 16-Jul-15 08:49:43

I have DTs at the top end of primary so they have been through the current system. I have no problem with it as a measurement tool. It gave me the hard evidence I needed to back up that DT1 wasn't making progress and not getting the support he needed. I knew something wasn't right because I had another child of exactly the same age in the house. Most people don't and have to rely on school reports.

As for self esteem, every class mine have ever been in have top table, bottom table dynamic. They all know from the get go who's the best reader from what colour book they get to choose, who's the best at maths, best at football, best singer, best at drawing. When dt1 did the extra reading class with the top table (having been at the bottom for a loooong time) he was utterly and totally delighted with himself.

Having just had two go through says I do agree with your point about teaching to pass exams.

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