And so September comes again with its fresh autumnal winds and shortening evenings reminding us that change is afoot. Each new school year brings us new challenges but this one does so in spades. After several years of discussion, consultation and piloting, the rubber is about to hit the road in the world of life beyond levels and, for the first time in many years, children’s achievements in Year 2 and 6 will be reported in a new (as yet undefined) currency. Anyone who still belongs to the ostrich camp must now remove their heads from the sand, at least long enough to read the new sample papers, and appreciate the difference in challenge that children will face in their end of Key Stage tests and the significant implications this has for classroom practice. The goalposts have moved; the game has changed, and rightly so. Repeating what has worked in the past will not bring success in the future.
A brief (and over-simplified) examination of ‘success’ within that retro age of levels gives us two contrasting possibilities. Were schools sitting pretty in the league tables because their children had acquired deep and meaningful knowledge, skills and understanding through a rich curriculum which meant that they were able to sail through formal assessments with ease? Or were ‘successful’ outcomes bought at a price of intense test preparation, coaching and booster groups which had children jumping nicely through the hoops of Year 6 assessment, only for this shallow and quickly acquired knowledge to be lost without trace by the time they arrived at secondary schools four months later? And were OFSTED astute enough to see the difference between these realities or brave enough to report on it? This dilemma, of course, is part of Tim Oates and co.’s compelling case for removing levels that was argued for so eloquently last year which has led us to this new dawn.
Either way, the removal of National Curriculum Levels provides us with a chance to think differently about what, how and why we teach and assess in our schools. I believe this is an important opportunity for us to fundamentally reform and evolve our approach to classroom practice to ensure that we are teaching children the right things in the right way so that they are equipped with the relevant knowledge, skills and attributes to succeed in the turbulent waters of the 21st Century; it is one that we should grasp with both hands.
But our window of opportunity is likely to be brief so seize it quickly, as the OFSTED wheels are about to start turning again and will quickly reveal the inevitable (and probably preventable) problems with inconsistency on inspection that declaring a free-for-all on measuring pupil progress will bring. Odds are surely now very short on the re-introduction of a common ‘in-school’ measure by either OFSTED or the DFE which may then return the debate to annual percentage gains and KPIs rather than learning and children.
But September is no time for scepticism or pessimism; it’s a time for us to be inspired by the latest leg of adventure in making learning more irresistible for children in our schools and to be optimistic about what the year might bring. I believe it’s the time for us to find the conviction and courage to evolve our schools away from the narrow academic focus that our paymasters demand, legacy of a bygone era. Rather than simply finding a new way to measure the 3 Rs, surely this is now the time to establish a progression around the wider range of skills, competencies and habits that young people need to succeed in the modern world.
Never has the case for taking such an approach been more compelling, with leading academics, researchers and schools now all talking this common language. Studies such as the ITL Research (Innovative Teaching and Learning) and the CBI report: First steps: A New Approach For Our Schools all tell us that employers and governments across the world need the next generation to be educated differently; to have more than the ‘basics’ which too many current school systems are entrenched in across the world. But what are these skills? Hasn’t everyone been talking about 21st Century skills for so long it feels out of date? And now we’ve been in the 21st Century for 15 years, isn’t it about time we got this one nailed down?
There are several models that schools can reach for when looking for a starting point. The Campaign for Learning has championed the ‘Learning to Learn’ approach for many years and the ‘5 Rs of Lifelong Learning’; Guy Claxton’s ‘Building Learning Power’ is used by thousands of schools and the recently formed ‘Expansive Education Network’ offers resources and CPD/networking opportunities for schools. School Leaders within our Multi-Academy Trust have spent a great deal of time over the last 12 months researching, exploring and discussing which strategy to take and have adopted 21CLD (21st Century Learning Design) as a model to drive this broader approach to education. 21CLD is an approach built on the ITL Research Project and authored by Maria Langworthy which offers the following six dimensions of global learning. Helpfully, this model has also developed a series of rubrics and resources for teachers which unpick progression through these areas to support planning and assessment. This resource is also a product of the must-read ‘New Pedagogies for Deeper Learning’ paper, authored in 2013 (Fullan & Langworthy) which is a wake-up call to anyone who thinks the status quo in education system is OK as it is.
My teaching staff at Simon de Senlis have all read ‘Educating Ruby’ over the summer, by the inspiring Guy Claxton and Bill Lucas, which provides a robust and well-informed argument that there is a bigger picture to education than just chasing the numbers in academic subjects and is a call to action for us all to do more in this area. We spent part of our September training day talking about the implications for this and how we will use 21CLD to drive our planning, teaching and assessment in the future. This is a big change for teachers and school leaders who will, over the course of this year, plan, teach and assess these dimensions of learning more explicitly. The professional conversations were rich and we consolidated our collective belief that each of these areas of child-development should be viewed as equally important, with ‘Knowledge Construction’ encompassing the academic focus but encouraging the deeper approach to learning and greater cognitive challenge that is now explicitly required within the National Curriculum and demanded of children within end of Key Stage testing.
Times of great change can cause unrest and uncertainty in schools but also offer a time for our staff to grow professionally as we develop new practices, learning from our mistakes along the way. A wise man once told me that complex problems are rarely solved with simple solutions and so beware the quick fixes and neatly packaged solutions that are being offered off the shelves. I’ll be writing more each month to talk more about how this approach evolves throughout the academic year and how the schools that I’m fortunate to work with are meeting the same challenge.
Simon de Senlis Primary are hosting an event on the 15th October to look more deeply at aspects of the 21CLD approach as part of the Microsoft Showcase Schools UK tour.
This is free and you can sign up online at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/developing-a-schools-digital-strategy-free-15th-october-2015-tickets-18532702813