How Do Schools Feel about Removing P-Levels? (Guest Post)

Sponsored Blog Post (Ad) By Dale Pickles 

A pupil’s time in education is crucial and will shape their futures through positive and negative experiences. Schools must help pupils achieve their best possible outcomes, but also develop them as individuals and help them grow. When it comes to pupil progress — especially SEND pupils — some people would like a blanket formula to identify “good progress”. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. 

In this post, BSquared — a leading software expert that provides schools with the ability to accurately track and assess pupil progress  — discuss the findings of their “Are You Ready for the Removal of P-Levels?” webinar and some ideas for future development.  

Changes to the Assessment Criteria 

Last year, the government announced a new approach that would completely replace “P-levels” by 2020 as a way to measure the achievements of pupils working below the end of key stage assessments (SATs). While the pre-key stage standards were introduced in 2018 and used for the first time in the 2018/2019 academic year, the new approach for more complex pupils is still yet to be decided.

P-levels have been used since 1998, but following a system review, executive headteacher Diane Rochford recommended they should be scrapped. This is because P-levels are a reflection of the old national curriculum levels system no longer used in mainstream education.

The government has since admitted the measure didn’t work because it concentrated on linear progress, which is “not always how children with the most complex needs progress”.

The new Seven Aspects of Engagementapproach had been designed to focus on pupil progress in specific areas — such as awareness, curiosity and anticipation. This approach was initially developed through a Department for Education (DfE) funded project led by Professor Barry Carpenter in 2011. Officials said the new assessment would “enable every kind of progress made by these pupils to be identified”. The trial that concluded at the end of 2018 didn’t agree.

“We’ve used it [28-point scale] as a way to give us some data because we knew we needed to report on it. But actually, it doesn’t really tell us anything.” — Feedback from a school involved in the pilot.

“What we kind of thought was that you were writing things down for the sake of it and I’m not sure who the target audience is, because it’s certainly not the teacher, because any teacher who is worth their metal, they’re doing that in their head, all day, every day” — Feedback from a school involved in the pilot.

A number of schools involved in the trial flagged the fact the new approach DIDN’T identify all the different kinds of progress their pupils’ made.

“Several schools drew the conclusion that the only way that they could use the seven aspects for summative assessments was in combination with other tools, for example, tools such as B Squared, that record a wider range of achievement steps, including social and physical characteristics, as well as engagement. They felt this way because in their opinion, the seven aspects approach did not cover all areas of pupil development, and because of their perception that assessments only reflected a ‘snapshot’.” — Page 48, Piloting the 7 aspects of Engagement for Summative Assessment: Qualitative Evaluation

Shortly after the release of the consultation, the DfE changed the timeframe for implementation. The new approach for pupils not yet engaged in subject-specific learning will be introduced in the 20/21 academic year, not 19/20 as initially planned.

At the time of writing, we are currently waiting on the announcement that the “7 aspects” will be replaced with the “5 lenses”. This was due for the autumn term 2019 but has been delayed due to the election and will hopefully be released during the first term in 2020.

How Do Schools Feel about Removing P-Levels?

BSquared’s webinar provided an ideal platform for teachers to discuss the impact of removing P-levels and the introduction of new pre-key-stage standards. As with anything of this nature, the opinions of the teachers present were positive and negative. Here are a few examples of they feel about the changes:

Daunted and Anxious: Some teachers feel “a little daunted” and “anxious”, while others felt unsure about how they will assess SEND pupil progress once the changes come into effect. And then other teachers gave even less favourable responses to the planned changes.

Teacher Workload Issues: One teacher voiced concerns about “going into the unknown and how it will look and how the school will progress and what they will expect from teachers and workload”. Excessive workload is the number one reason for teachers leaving the profession, and the pressure it causes is a significant influence on the national teacher shortage. With new changes on the horizon, teacher workload is something that needs consideration and monitored if there is any hope for longevity.

Provision Cuts and Staff Pressure: A special school can pool resources and work collectively to make the changes work, but a lack of additional funding means cuts are needed elsewhere. What happens to a Special Educational Needs & Disability Coordinator (SENCO) in a more mainstream setting? How can a mainstream SENCO with limited time and funds develop new ways to assess pupil progress for SEND individuals? SEND pupil progress tracking and assessment tools need to be advanced and robust as they are a vital resource for providing evidence for Ofsted inspections or other reviews. A mainstream SENCO will be under immense pressure if there is minimal support, guidance and funding at their disposal. 

New System Provides Freedom: Some teachers are more positive and believe the new system provides schools with the freedom to assess the progress of SEND pupils in a way they feel is suitable. Teachers and Senior Leadership Teams (SLTs) could then develop an approach that meets the specific needs of their school and pupils. However, they recognise the costs of doing so. One teacher said they feel “worried and excited”. Excited by the prospect of more flexibility, but also worried that a lack of meaningful conversations could have a negative impact.

A Need for More Guidance: The overall feeling was teachers are looking for more support and guidance from the DfE and other organisations. Following the webinar, several respondents felt their understanding of the changes had improved and therefore made them less concerned than before. The primary concern is how they will be able to demonstrate progress within the key stage. 36% said they would be moving away from P-levels, whereas 64% were still undecided. An interesting point that’s worth noting is no one said they would definitely be sticking with P-levels. At the moment, schools use P-levels to monitor and report annual pupil progress. So when the changes come into effect in 2020, they need to find a new resource for ongoing assessment.

Is Technology the Answer?

In the digital age, the evolution of modern technology has provided the means to revolutionise the business world, many aspects of everyday life and, of course, education. When it comes to the latter, technology offers schools many different ways to update or enhance their various systems. So, as P-levels are on their way out the educational door now’s the time for schools to embrace efficient and advanced ways to track and assess pupil progress — and there are tech-based options available that are well worth exploring. 

Tracking and assessment software provides an invaluable tool for monitoring pupil progress in real-time. Whether a school needs to assess mainstream or SEND pupils, this type of software can provide the platform to analyse data in a more in-depth way, using filters to establish realistic assessment or goal systems for all students. While this will cost more than paper-based systems or excel spreadsheets, the investment of software will save both time and effort across the board, and in the process provide a system that can truly benefit every teacher and student. 

Bsquared  provides schools with comprehensive and easy-to-use pupil progress assessment software. Their evidence-of-learning platform makes it straightforward to record and share vital data, helping to reduce teacher workload.

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