The Education Insider: Every Pupil an Individual
In her ninth post for us, education expert Jodie Lopez looks at why, in a life after levels, there is no need to attach a one-size-fits-most label to each child, and how we can use that to our advantage and really personalize the curriculum for each individual.
When I was a class teacher, back in the days when levels were in existence, I taught a very mixed Year 3 class, academically speaking. My maths lessons had to progress a child studying at P4 level and a child working on Level 5 work, and everything in between. My literacy lessons aimed to teach one boy how to write his name and another how to effectively use passive voice in their writing – and the full range between.
They all made 2 sub levels progress per year, of course. That was the expectation and, therefore, the reality. My P4 in maths became a P6, my 4B became the 5C. My children who were a 1C in writing became 1As, one way or another. But these are huge subjects. What did those levels really mean? Can a child really be a 1A in EVERYTHING to do with Writing? It’s unlikely. Pupils, just like adults, have a range of strengths and weaknesses, things they prefer to focus on and things they prefer to avoid. One child loves punctuation and will shoe horn it into writing all over the place. Semi colons and exclamation marks in every sentence. Another child lets the creative juices flow and you are lucky to find a full stop per paragraph. My 1C child wasn’t actually a 1C in maths. That’s a huge label to chuck at a massive subject. He was probably a 1C in a lot of the number aspects. He probably lacked a secure grasp of number bonds. He could tell the time better than anyone else in the class though. And don’t mess him about when money comes into the equation! His real life skills far surpassed his ability to pass tests in the classroom. The old levels system did not allow those skills to shine as a separate entity though.
This is, however, one of the key strengths of the loss of levels, and the new curriculum, yet it still hasn’t been harnessed in most schools for those pupils who need you to harness it the most.
I am speaking predominantly about children with SEND, but also any child who is falling behind or struggling with the curriculum at the relevant year group. On your tracking those children seem to be always simply labelled as “below” the expected standard, or you may have decided that they will work through the Year 3 curriculum even though they are in Year 5.
That’s fine in many ways, especially for those with SEND. It is important to assess their starting point and work on aspirational but essentially achievable targets, which may well mean targeting a Year 6 child to reach the end of the Year 4 curriculum with security at age 11. As long as they are given the opportunity to reach their full potential there is, of course, wiggle room with teaching a child with SEND content and skills from a year group below their actual age.
However, in the majority of schools this is still done in a blanket way – i.e. they are taught maths at Year 4 curriculum stage even though there may actually be some elements they could do from the Year 6 curriculum. There may also be some gaps at a Year 2 stage. There is no longer a need, with a life after levels, to pigeon hole these pupils and their results anymore. Try and approach each strand, and indeed each objective, on its own merits and assess each child against the objective. It’s hard to do if you are used to (and we all were) seeing that child as the “2B” or the “Year 3 curriculum” child across the subject. It’s a huge mind shift but one which, once you get into the stride of it, will be hugely beneficial as part of planning as well as for the child. Sometimes you will find you are working on objectives that the child can access alongside their same aged peers, saving you extra work on differentiation. Progress in the books, any notes you use and when talking to the child themselves is all the evidence you need to show this in practice.
Where they do have gaps they, of course, need to be addressed. But now that there is no need to attach a one-size-fits-most label to each child we can use that to our advantage and really personalize the curriculum for each individual.
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.