One thing that Year 6 teachers will need to assimilate is that they will no longer be chasing Level 6, or even Level 5. However, the need to demonstrate progress has not gone away and, it could be argued, has never been stronger.
One of the difficulties even the most up-to-date and enlightened Y6 teacher may encounter is a school leadership team that does not quite get the change in what progress might look like and so want to express starting points and progress in levels, or points, or some old familiar measure. And some LAs are still undergoing this transitional thinking. Take Hertfordshire, for instance, where we may no longer speak of Level 3A, 3B and 3C but we do speak of C1, C2 and C3! Senior colleagues cannot be blamed for feeling nervous about this – it’s the climate we work in where jobs are on the line if progress is below it.
The key message – for all teachers, not just those in Year 6 – is that the principle on which the new approach is predicated is that of consolidation before progression. In other words, a focus on the secure acquisition of concepts so that they can be applied with increasing confidence. In the National Curriculum for mathematics it clearly states that, ‘the majority of pupils should move through the programmes of study at broadly the same pace.’ Now, that may change thinking about setting and differentiation. It is, in maths, the development of fluency through problem-solving, of which the product is reasoning. And this curriculum is all about developing pupils’ reasoning. If this works in maths then it will work in other subjects. We develop pupils’ fluency in English through reading and grammar, we set them problems – we might call it writing – and the result is reasoning. Or in PE, we teach ball skills, we set problems such as organising a game and the result is, again, developed thinking.
If we apply this model to looking at progress we might think that, rather than the old model of teaching a concept, setting some differentiated tasks that enable pupils to practice applying the concept and then moving them on, we use a modified approach. This might be similar at the outset; we still need to know pupils’ starting points before we teach them the new concepts. We still need to set up activities that enable them to apply the concepts but now things change. Rather than saying, ’okay you’ve got that, let’s move on’, we are now looking for ways to deepen the understanding of the concept. This idea of deep learning – long a phrase associated with Leuven and the early years – is key. If we see differentiation as deepening conceptualisation and not broadening it then we begin to get the idea. When the concept has been acquired, applied, tested and deepened, then we can move the pupils onto new learning.
That is how we need to see the new understanding of progress. How we capture it is another thing. But it’s a starting point.