Governing without levels

“As part of our reforms to the national curriculum, the current system of ‘levels’ used to report children’s attainment and progress will be removed. It will not be replaced.”, says the statement posted on the DfE website on Friday (14th June).

@tombennett71’s jubilant. In his blog post ‘the death of levels’ he invites us to sing comic songs while dancing on their grave. Now I love Tom Bennett. Really. I’ve read his books and everything. But I don’t feel inclined to join the party just yet.

So why is that? I have to confess I’m having the same reaction I had when Mr Gove announced the death of the Self-Evaluation Form. I never had to write one of course, but as a governor I found it a really useful document. And my experience across lots of schools told me that some governors only got the information contained in it BECA– USE Ofsted ‘made’ head teachers write it down and expected them to share it. My worry was that some heads would go back to not sharing once the form was no longer an expectation.

My reaction to the death of levels wasn’t that of a practitioner, not that of someone who was having to make sense of and apply the guidance and try to achieve consistency and objectivity in a way that some of the professionals tell me isn’t possible, but that of a lay person trying to hold schools accountable for pupil progress. And I thought I was getting the hang of that but I’m not sure I know how to do it any more!!

And what will RAISEonline look like when it’s not reporting on how many children have made two levels of progress and what value the school has therefore added? We’re heading into a brave new world and I can’t see what it’s going to look like yet. We keeping getting told that the bar is being raised around governance, we’re getting greater scrutiny from Ofsted and from government than we’ve ever had, and suddenly it feels as though the job’s about to get harder. Again.

Or perhaps I’m looking at this down the wrong lens? I find, scanning back over the last few paragraphs, that I haven’t really mentioned the children yet. The DfE’s statement goes on to say “We will give schools the freedom to develop a curriculum which is relevant to their pupils and enables them to meet these expectations. Schools will be able to introduce their own approaches to formative assessment, to support pupil attainment and progression.” Is it perhaps possible that a ‘one size fits all’ approach isn’t meeting the needs of all pupils and that giving the professionals greater flexibility around this could lead to improvement?

Is it perhaps possible that this is an opportunity for creativity and innovation? That by spending time reflecting on how to assess learning in our school, and by governors being involved in these conversations, we’ll gain a greater understanding of what’s happening and how our children are progressing and developing?

Of course it is, but it’s also possible that governors will find new systems confusing, that some head teachers will use the opportunity to give governors less information, or that some of the locally developed systems just won’t work, that we might be letting our children down but that governors wouldn’t be able to tell.

This could be an amazing opportunity to do things better, but there are also risks which, no doubt, governors will be expected to mitigate against.

So forgive me if I don’t put my dancing shoes on just yet….

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