THE BLOG

Life After Levels Can Transform the Way We Teach

17/07/2015 11:34 BST | Updated 16/07/2016 10:59 BST

The election of a Conservative majority government tells us something very important about how we assess attainment in schools - the old system of 'levels', removed last September, won't be coming back. It may be controversial, but I see this as a good thing.

Teachers should not be daunted by this shift. Instead, they must see what an opportunity it is to transform teaching and learning in our classrooms. Teachers will now have greater flexibility in the way that they plan and assess pupils' learning. With the right approach, I believe that this will be hugely empowering, allowing the next generation to maximise their potential and shine in this highly competitive, global world.

The old system encouraged teachers to overly focus on a pupil's current level, rather than consider more broadly what the pupil can actually do. Levels were clearly too simple. They shed no light on a pupils actual strengths. Johnny's level 1c in maths, for example, told us nothing about whether a pupil struggled in algebra, or excelled in fractions. Levels simply gave teachers a blunt instrument, with none of the crucial detail needed to personalise learning.

I like to think of it like this: when many, many years ago, shops began providing customers with automated receipts, these receipts simply gave us a total bill, i.e. £96, but none of the more in-depth detail as to what items cost what. This is a bit like levels - a pupil could be given a level 1c, but we have no idea of what makes up the inner components of this 'level'.

These days, if you go to the supermarket to purchase your groceries, you can expect a receipts that captures that extra layer of detail - you know exactly how that £96 was amassed. There is no reason why teachers should not have a similar means for assessing attainment too.

With the right tools, this is an opportunity for teachers to gain a greater understanding of student capabilities, progress, wellbeing, and the impact of teaching interventions on attainment. By gathering accurate data on the progress pupils are making in the key areas of the curriculum (rather than an overall 'level'), we can finally provide meaningful information to pupils, parents and governors. This is great news for Johnny, as his difficulties in algebra will now be exposed to his teachers and parents alike, and not masked by his proficiency in fractions.

This means that what you teach each child can be targeted on the basis of their abilities and weaknesses, giving each pupil a truly personalised learning experience. This transparency gives pupils (and parents) much more of a stake in their own learning, as well as increased accountability for teachers on the progress of their pupils. Ultimately, it will help drive up standards.

It is understandable that some schools are concerned about change and would prefer to continue doing this the old way - but this would be a huge mistake.

To succeed, we need a change in ethos in our schools - starting with teachers embracing the potential of life after levels. We have taken the decision not to provide a replica of the old system to the schools we work with.

It's time to put pupils first and develop a curriculum and assessment system suitable to their individual needs. The rest of the world won't wait for the children that our old system was leaving behind, life after levels gives us a fantastic opportunity to ensure that they don't have to.