The Education Insider: Have we been looking at this the wrong way?

In her fifth post for us, education expert Jodie Lopez talks about the fear of accountability. Are schools putting the data before the curriculum when looking at Life after Levels?

On Saturday 5th November I was an attendee at the Learning First conference at Sheffield Hallam University. If you have not heard of the Learning First movement yet, it is worth a look at their website to find out more. This was the second time I was able to make it to one of the conferences and it was a fascinating, thought-provoking and reassuring day, in equal measure. I am sure I will be referencing a few of the talks in this blog over the coming weeks as there was a lot of information to mull over.

For today, however, I wanted to write about the last of the speakers from Saturday, Stephen Tierney. Stephen is Chair of the Heads’ Roundtable and author of Liminal Leadership.

Stephen said one thing in particular which kept me thinking all the way home: “Life after Levels is primarily a curriculum issue not simply a data issue. Too many schools are rushing to create new labels (which don’t mean anything)” I have worked with a lot of schools over the last two years and discussed their school (commercial) curriculum choices with them in light of the changes since 2014. A lot of the discussions have centred on the data the curriculum gives, which is natural considering that my main role has been supporting the use of the assessment system so I have never really thought much about that. However, looking back, I now realise I have only once or twice had conversations which included discussions about the actual content of the curricula in question. Only a couple of schools have talked to me about how their teachers feel about the curriculum itself and/or any complementary teaching resources alongside it.

So it has made me think about the conversations I have had and wonder – perhaps schools are putting the data before the curriculum when looking at life after levels? Certainly the majority of the concerns I hear from head teachers and teachers are around how the resulting data “looks.” Even when they have talked about adapting the off-the-shelf curriculum to meet their needs it has usually been based on considerations such as workload or data, rather than how they find the objectives/content itself. There is a still a lot of concern over whether a child has achieved a certain stage at a certain point of the year – much as there was with levels.

Why is this? Has the fear of accountability infiltrated so far that the loss of levels became a scarier notion than the idea of learning a new curriculum? The two things happened at the same time but it does seem that assessing without levels has taken the forefront of discussions – in fact the conference on Saturday was aimed at looking at life after levels, yet ended with Stephen reminding us that actually it’s the change of curriculum that we need to focus on first. I can fully understand if the accountability is the deciding factor in most schools, and there has been a lack of top-down support from the DfE to help schools transition to life after levels.

Some schools have gone down the route of writing their own school curriculum. I wonder if those schools have naturally, therefore, put the curriculum first rather than the data? It would certainly be interesting to try and find out.

It is no doubt not nearly as simplistic as that and there are many factors at play here which will influence a school. If you are a school in Special Measures maybe the pressure to show “good” data will force your hand somewhat? It may also depend on your Local Authority or MAT who may recommend a particular curriculum or even have written one for you to use.

What is the case in your school? Did you have a choice of curricula for 2014? Why did you choose the one you have? Did you write your own? What were the main considerations when you did?

Jodie is an award winning ex-primary teacher who now works as a Freelance Edtech Consultant. Her interest in using technology in education has led to her working with a number of educational technology businesses since leaving the classroom. Most recently she has been Head of Education for an assessment system provider and has specialised in helping schools to transition to the new curriculum and leaving levels behind. Follow her on Twitter here.

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