November 2013
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Life after KS3 levels in history: the elephant in the room

If we only continued using the levels because we couldn’t come up with a compelling alternative that would satisfy SLT, then that alone would be a very good reason to stop using them. We need a different model. We have spent years tinkering with sub-levels but that’s not what we need. We must think more creatively. As Henry Ford said, “If you’d asked most Americans in 1900 what improvement they most wanted in terms of travel, they’d have probably said faster horses”.
One of the central nettles to grasp is the notion of having any common assessment tasks that could be used locally if not nationally. Those old enough to remember the experiments made by SCAA and more recently , but no more successfully by QCA, will realise that these initiatives were very critically received and now lie in unvisited graves! Why? Because they didn’t have the hand of teachers at work. In Hampshire we experimented with some success, with the idea of common tasks, markschemes and wait for it, there was indicative content in the markscheme. There, I’ve said it.
I think its time to put the absurd notion of generic content free levels to rest. If you want some further evidence, how about this anecdote from a course I recently ran for KS3 teachers. I presented the teachers with a closely argued piece of explanatory writing in answer to the question. “Why did the Great Fire burn down quite so many houses”. I then showed them a typed up answer which they all confidently grade level 5. What I hadn’t told them at first, of course, was that this was written by a Y2 in September of their second year of infant school. There were reasons aplenty and ideas were grouped, almost prioritised but this was just a very good explanation- well above average for the age group. That’s all. It wasn’t 4 years of progress.
So what I’m advocating is a serious debate about what constitutes appropriate depth of factual knowledge. What we don’t want is for Gove to do it for us. More anon.

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