The price of freedom...?

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Learning without levels. Liberation at last!

 I joined the teaching profession in 1989. My first class was a wonderful mixed year 5 and 6 at Christ Church CofE Primary. It was also the first year of the National Curriculum. The first shelf of my classroom cupboard contained one file after another, detailing the National Curriculum for each subject. The second shelf held A3 file stacked on A3 file. These were the tracking sheets for pupil progress. Every child had a grid for each subject. Each grid was divided into levels and sub-levels. A dot in the box meant a glimpse of that sub-level. One diagonal line indicated the pupils had reached that point and a second line, forming a cross in the box, showed that they had secured it. Which brings us to the third shelf in the cupboard: plastic boxes full of cross-referenced evidence for the attainment of pupils. The hours spent filling in the grids and worrying about whether that part was glimpse, achieved or secured!

Move on to Curriculum 2014 and its goodbye attainment targets in the old sense but, the expectation of measured progress and attainment remains. A number scale at the end of year 6 and a corresponding but much abbreviated number scale for GCSE attainment.

So measurement in some form remains but in other respects there is considerably more freedom.

 On 11th June we will be holding the final NQT conference in a sequence of three in partnership with the University of Sussex. One of the keynote speakers is Martyn Vandewalle, head of school at Wroxham Primary School, and there is already great interest in this from the NQTs and the head teachers who accompany them for the celebratory final session. His school is renowned for the innovative education philosophy of Dame Alison Peacock. In an interview with the BBC she made it clear that she perceives real opportunities in the new curriculum for us to re-evaluate where we stand in teaching and learning, and to develop the constructive momentum that comes from effective collaboration. I have encountered schools taking a range approaches to this change, all of them seeking the best route for their young learners. Some are trying to do this in isolation. Others are adopting a highly collaborative approach. The range of strategies is huge.

 Thomas Jefferson is generally thought to have coined the phrase that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, and that would seem to be true of freedom from levels, sub-levels and a restrictive understanding of a learner’s development within a pre-set hierarchical structure. If we are to liberate learning from that straight jacket we must also take responsibility for being alert and agile in anticipating and meeting need.

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