No levels, what do you mean no levels?
No more assessing children as being a 4a or a 5b and trying to make the fine distinction as to whether they have moved from one sub-level to another. Wonderful. Children actually being recognised as young people, not just numbers. Great.
Or is it? We need to know they are making progress, don’t we? A number, a grade or something. Whether they’re our little darlings taking their first tentative steps to nursery, or in their early years in secondary education - they need to know. Parents need to know. Their teachers and headteacher surely need to know. What to do then?
Well, I hear you say, we’ll assess students by seeing what they can do, and then tell them what they have to do to improve. That sounds sensible. No more ‘top marks’ or ‘bottom of the class’ must be good – right? Without the pressure of a grade or a number, without a ranking in their class, students can just focus on making progress from where they are now.
After all, haven’t they done something similar recently with teachers’ lesson observations? Ofsted doesn’t grade lessons anymore (well maybe that’s not quite true – but that’s a whole blog all by itself). So, if teachers aren’t going to be judged by grade, and are going to be given formative feedback on how to improve, shouldn’t we be offering children the same courtesy?
They are still learning, they need encouragement not labelling. Formative assessment must be the way forward.
But how do I then know how a child is performing compared to others nationally, or even in their class for that matter? It’s all very well knowing what s/he has to do to improve but where does that fit in the greater scheme of things? More importantly, how does the child know?
It’s a big bad competitive world out there and it’s no good wrapping our children up in cotton wool and just being nice and fluffy with them. Maybe we should do so at the age of five, but at 15 or 18 we need to know where they stand compared to others, and they need to know where they stand too.
We should not patronise them. It’s no good thinking you’re on course to be a doctor this year if your A-level attainment is in the bottom 10 per cent of attainment nationally. That is not to say you won’t get there one day. You may be making great progress. But we are lying to our children if we aren’t honest about where they stand and what their realistic options are.
So, let’s do the good stuff; the formative, supportive, how-to-improve stuff most of the time. Then, sometimes, as they get older, let’s be realistic about where they stand and use summative assessment in subjects (and that doesn’t have to be a test or exam).
That still leaves a number of questions, however, about what it is important to assess and what we want for our young people from education. Qualifications are obviously part of the answer, but education is wider than that.
What makes people happy? What gets them jobs? What does the CBI say is important? What do mental health charities say is important? Perhaps we need to assess how well students are doing in these areas and what progress they are making.
There is lots of evidence to say those things are a good indicator of how successful and happy our young people will be.
And if we go down this road, how should we do so and who should have the results – young people, teachers, parents, Ofsted? Pause for thought.