Posted on 04/03/2015

A level playing field

As I am sure many of you are aware, schools across England are either preparing for or getting used to life after ‘levels’.

It is a topic hitting the headlines in education. A teacher-led commission headed up by former head of the London Oratory School, John McIntosh, is being set up to help primary schools find new ways of assessing their pupils’ progress. And schools minister Nick Gibb wrote an article last week outlining the reasons behind ‘no levels’. He argued that the fast improving countries around the world do not use levels – Singapore, Hong Kong, Massachusetts and Finland. What they do is focus on key areas of the curriculum to ensure secure knowledge and understanding.

I agree wholeheartedly that levels were not always an accurate measure . The whole point of assessment is to show what a pupil knows, understands and can do. It’s not to get a child to meet certain criteria in one level in order to move them onto the next – in too many cases, this has resulted in teachers teaching to levels. However, I think it is throwing the baby out with the bath water to abolish a standardised levelling system completely. Things will get too messy, and it will be impossible to benchmark how well pupils are doing locally and nationally until they sit their GCSEs in Year 11. It will also be difficult to assess attainment when pupils enter the school in Year 7.

At FBS we’re trying to take the best from both approaches to assessment. We are using levels, but these are designed to tie in with the new GCSE levels 1-9 (with 9 being the highest), so that our boys can start to understand, and work with, the currency that really counts.

FBS boys are assessed on these criteria from Year 7, so they know the standard they are working towards from the start. We have used prior attainment to set aspirational targets for their GCSEs, and working back from this, they know what they should be achieving at the end of every term and year they are in FBS to keep on track. If they are not, interventions are put in place – boys’ progress is discussed every fortnight with departments and weekly in SLT to ensure underachievement is detected quickly.

But we’re not teaching to these levels. With the extended day and the way our curriculum is set up, especially from next year, we have time to really engage our boys in deep learning – that is, a secure knowledge, sound understanding and firm grip of each subject – and this is reflected in the level they achieve. This way the levels mean something and clearly show what the boys can do. They are backed up by the work in their books, questioning in lessons and their response to feedback in their books. We want to make these levels meaningful to parents, helping them to understand how they can help their boys’ progress further.

We want our levels to be meaningful and purposeful. Our approach is best illustrated in how we’re getting the FBS Enterprise Diploma set up. We are working with universities and businesses to find out what they want an 18 year old boy to look like. We then work backwards from 18 years old to 11, and establish what that boy needs to do over seven years. The diploma will acknowledge subject knowledge and understanding, and also enterprise skills, social enterprise projects, business ventures, co-curricular activities and Christian characteristics – all along the same lines as the new levelling system. We’re aiming for the diploma to be accredited by universities and valued by businesses, and awarded at the following stages:

– Bronze – Level 6
– Silver – Level 9
– Gold – A Level Standard
– Platinum – Exceptional undergraduate standard

As well as working with our ‘upstream’ partners on where our boys need to be at 18, we are also working with primary schools to find out what our boys are capable of when they arrive at FBS. We want to share with primary schools our approach to assessment with the aim of achieving a smooth transition from KS2 to KS3.

Put simply, we want to know what our boys can do when they get to us, where they need to be by the time they leave us – and then spend the seven years they are at FBS ensuring they all can, and are, getting there. But from a level playing field.

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