To infinity and beyond: a life after levels (and finding time amongst new assessment tools)

Some of you may have noticed that I have written next-to-no blogs recently. After taking a break from teaching to set up the company, I have spent the winter term in a medium-sized primary close to home.

I love teaching: the kids are fantastic; planning exciting lessons or experiments still thrills me; the feeling you get when a child understands and applies a tricky skill is unbeatable. But few things have changed: I arrive the time the school is unlocked, I work through lunch to keep on top of marking and I lose valuable time spent with family and friends.

Over the holidays, I have been able to relax and mull over the highs and lows of the term. Working alongside another teacher in Year 5 and being able to test out new resources (available soon- watch this space) was great, but going through an Ofsted inspection did take its toll.

When it came to planning the lessons, ideas came freely. This particular school bases their curriculum on the IPC (International Primary Curriculum) and carefully chosen texts for English. It sounds perfect.

However, the problem I came across, one that nearly all of you will have encountered in your professional career, is one of money. It is all very well saying that English lessons will be based on certain books, but what do you do when there is no money to buy class sets? How do you ensure that the children still have access to high quality resources? My answer was simple. And time consuming. I decided to take the theme and run with it, writing exemplar texts where possible. But as you know, this comes with a price. Time.

The second half of the term was easier. At this point, we were studying WW2, a subject that kept the children interested in every lesson, and luckily enough we had enough copies of Rose Blanche to go around. I was able to write reading analysis questions that focused on the key skills I wanted to teach: inference, prediction, language evaluation. It meant that I was able to show the children clearly demonstrating, or not in some cases, the skills set out in our assessment manager.

I have worked in two primary schools, and have done some supply in a range of others to see how things are done differently, since the new curriculum was introduced. Notably, the assessment practices in each school were so different they were unrecognisable. In the latter school, the assessment system was a bespoke creation for the school developed by one of their governors. It meant that the school had all of the tools it needed to determine where the children were academically, though they were still in the process of ensuring that the parents fully understood the reports that were sent out each half term. Add in that one of the assessment points was four weeks after the previous one and three weeks after Ofsted, and the workload to input all of the necessary data, both electronically and on paper, was immense.

Of course we assess as we teach. Who hasn’t heard of Inside the Black Box? But duplicating data took the precious little time I had to create lessons of the quality I wanted.

Rose Blanche itself is a short text, and it doesn’t have all of the features I was expected to teach the children. So out came the pen. When the story intrigued the children more than the one we set out to study, I began to question whether it really is possible to expose the children to a wide enough selection of texts to fully develop knowledge and skills before secondary school, and the new requirements of GCSEs.

It is not the fault of schools or the small budgets they receive, or a lack of funding to local libraries. Nor is it due to a lack of parental engagement- it is all of these things- add in a myriad of assessment programmes and it becomes difficult to determine where a child is academically between schools who use a multitude of systems.

The system, in my view, hasn’t been improved by taking away levels, regardless of the reasons for which this happened. Instead, teachers have to learn new ways of recording data each time they move on in their career, with very little to show for it when it comes to professional development.

New Year is a time for resolutions. A time to vow that you will stop procrastinating. A vow that you will spend more time with family. And those probably do form some of my loosely created resolutions that I make in my head but never voice. I certainly would not take back my recent experience of assessment, or the number I have seen (hence the title of this blog), but it has made me sure that the way forward for English with Ease is to create a range of differentiated and varied resources, with easy to use success criteria. (How old-school of me!) That way, whatever your school, you will have quality resources to hand, leaving you to enjoy the art of teaching.

About the author: Now an English consultant, Jill formerly worked as both a secondary Head of English and a primary teacher.

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