@debrakidd if you ask any Scottish education observer they’ll tell you that the scots typically define almost all they do against Eng
— Jonathan Simons (@PXEducation) May 19, 2015
After reading this tweet the other night – and then having to clean porridge and haggis off my sporran for the next hour, obviously – a worrying irony began to seep through. Of course it’s beyond ludicrous but the fact that I thought of nothing else for a good wee while kind of worries me. In addition to reading David Didau’s post on Assessment, I realise that we tend to get on our moral high horse about education in Scotland. David opens his post with this:
“With the freedom to replace National Curriculum Levels with whatever we want, there’s a wonderful opportunity to assess what students can actually do rather than simply slap vague, ill-defined criteria over students’ work and then pluck out arbitrary numbers as a poor proxy for progress.” @LearningSpy
Sound familiar? About twelve years ago, at the inception of the Curriculum for Excellence, that’s where we were too. And I worry that we’re making a fumbling, stumbling, crumbling arse of it.
If you ever speak to the originators of CfE these days, those who wrote the original ‘vision statement’ for our Brave New World of education, they look on in amazement, perhaps despair, at the explosion of what I’ve previously called an Eight Word Manifesto into a massive bureaucratic nightmare of assessment criteria. It seems we’ve sleep walked into this and our now waking up into a world which, far from being decluttered, is more rigid and confusing than ever. And while pupils – and parents – need to know where they are in terms of their learning, we should be very careful about how we use that opportunity.
The eight words became ‘levels’ because we needed to assess progression. But that wasn’t enough so within each subject and and within each level we had to create ‘Experiences and Outcomes’ or Es and Os as they’ve become known. We now have a system which has more ‘levels’ than ever before. Even the levels had to be broken down into ‘Developing, Consolidating and Secure’. No-one seems to be able to pinpoint where the things came from. But we all use them. We all forget. We all become compliant. Before long, the optimism and hope of the original documents will become a distant memory.
The problem arises when the language of the Es and Os become the language of the every day; the language that we use to frame just about everything we do in schools and everything we say to parents, pupils and, even worse, to each other. Language becomes embedded and we no longer have to reference the documents. We are using Levels. We never intended to do so but it’s happening at the moment and we don’t seem to be able to do anything about that. So, like the tweet at the top of the page, I do think of England and their new adventure of “No Levels.” I trust that they will do a better job of it than we have.
I hate for this post to sound so negative. I am still incredibly optimistic about the direction of much of we’re doing in Scotland but the assessment part isn’t working in the way we intended it. We are in danger of missing a massive opportunity to alter our approach to assessment. The Language is too important to take for granted. It defines who we are. But rather than us defining ‘almost all we do against England’ perhaps England will be watching closely and learning from us. We may well be attempting ‘to map a mystery with a metaphor’ – see David’s post again – but if we have to create a new language to do so then we change nothing.