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Languages National Curriculum Levels are completely irrelevant - what are your views?

Discussion in 'Modern foreign languages' started by cjenny658, Jun 5, 2013.

  1. Hi all,

    I am in my 4th year of teaching Languages (2nd year as Head of Department) and in our Faculty we find the NC levels completely irrelevant and are trying to get rid of them.

    As a faculty, we cannot stand the fact that some students manage to get a level 6 by writing a very short paragraph containing all of the level 6 criteria (opinions, connectives, 3 tenses) whilst some students will write a full A4 page of accurate and detailed paragraphs displaying a great understanding of grammar concepts (plural, adjective agreement, use of different subject pronouns, irregular verbs, etc) and will only get a level 4 as it is all written in the present tense!

    Furthermore, NC levels are not used in most private and international schools - there must be a reason for this!

    As stated on the attached doc (part 12), we could get rid of the NC levels as well as FFT targets (which is already the case in some schools) in September 2013.

    My Headteacher said he would consider my request if I can present him with a new way of assessing and reporting students' attainment and progress.

    I have quite a few ideas but would like to know what other Languages teachers think?
  2. curlyk

    curlyk New commenter

    Could not agree more with the concept that NCLs in MFL have become a joke. Level 5 for committing to memory a few past tense phrases on paper , who decided that was right ? And as for sublevels , a total farce !!

    NCLs were intended to be an end of Key Stage assessment tool , not a means of levelling children at every opportunity. Children do not make regular progress at every lesson, week, term , following some mythical progression chart. Well done for standing up for what you know is right. I see a bit of light at the end of the tunnel, just a shame for me that I will not be in teaching after next year, to see the outcome . Good luck .
  3. inarnia

    inarnia New commenter

    The accuracy is the big thing for me. The only references to accuracy in the writing level descriptors are as follows:

    Level 5: "some mistakes"
    Level 6: "a few mistakes"
    Level 7: "occasional mistakes"

    I think that says it all.

    Personally I think as well as being wildly variable and too easy to get without a lot of knowledge, levels are demoralising. A year 7 has gone from being at the top of the school scale in year 6 to the bottom in year 7. Add in that pupils are beginning languages at L1 and you have a potentially G&T twelve year old being given a level 3 target and knowing the scale goes up to 8. No wonder pupils seem to universally believe they aren't good at languages.

    When I went to school less than 10 years ago we got a mark based on how well we had done that piece of work in relation to what the teacher wanted from us. Had we correctly used 'un/una' throughout the writing piece? - Have an A. Have we shown a bit of creativity and used the dictionary for some new words? - Have an A. There were no targets - the target was just to get an A as often as possible. For a lower ability group, the standard for an A would be lower. Everybody could get one if they listened carefully to what was expected and showed they could do it.

    When I came into teaching the level system was one of the strangest changes to get used to. I'm not saying the system I went to school under was perfect but I think in order to raise motivation, pupils of all ages and abilities have got to be able to get the top mark. We need a system where the thing changing as a pupil progresses is the difficulty of the work, not the level they can get.
  4. spsmith45

    spsmith45 New commenter

    I tend to agree with you about the use of levels. One issue is that teachers have got into this habit of levelling individual bits of work rather than having a sense overall of where a child is. As has often been said, they were designed for assessing children at the end of the key stage, not really during.

    I never saw much use for levels and I don't think parents understand them on reports either. I wonder, if they disappear, as has been promised, how the government will deal with the national comparability and accountability issues. I do get (a bit) why it might be useful to place students against some type of national scale and how do you do this without using levels?
  5. I see your point about the national comparability. However, I do not see the point of consistently having to compare results and achievements from one school to another. What's the point? I thought that what really mattered was for students to make progress... But, you are right, I can't change this!

    In France, all assessments (for all subjects, in all schools) are marked out of 20. At the end of each year the students get an overall mark out of 20 for each subject and a total overall mark out of 20. The target for all students is to get at least 10/20. A student who gets less than 10 might have to retake a year (although this system is starting to disappear). On the other hand, a student who gets an overall mark of 18 or more, might skip a year.

    All students know that even if they don't do very well in a test, they can do better in the next one if they put some effort into it. And they find this quite motivating.

    I am not saying that the French system is perfect but I feel like in the UK (or at least, in the couple of schools I have been working at), students really lack motivation and I do understand why: even if they do badly in a test or exam, there are no consequences; so why bother working hard?

    I think I got carried away here... Sorry!
  6. This is exactly what I am trying to explain and implement. I did all my studies in France and this is how students are being assessed. Teachers would teach us one or a few concepts/grammar points and then we were being assessed to see how much we've understood and how much we can apply. We then got a mark out of 20. All students, regardless of their ability would try their best to achieve the highest mark possible. The minimum target for all students would be 10/20 which was also reassuring for less able students as it was achievable. When I went to school, there were no sets, only mixed ability groups (and it worked well!). Now we do have sets and I completely agree with what you said: for lower ability group, the standard for an A (or 20/20) would be lower. As you said, it would definitely raise motivation.

    Thanks for sharing your views
  7. curlyk

    curlyk New commenter

    I am not sure the French system would work here.The idea of keeping pupils back a year would not go down well.

    I suspect the current government will want to see some national grading system with which to assess pupils and, of course ,` pupils making progress` is so much the buzz concept with Ofsted at the moment. When I was at school we were put into class rank order after end of year exams, for each subject and in the class overall and this was reported to parents !

    Regular testing and informing pupils of their progress, or of how to improve, is what seems to be happening at the moment , just, unfortunately, dressed up as NCLs. With some pupils taking so long to move from one level to another , sub levels were created to give the pupils the idea they were making progress.
  8. As I said, I don't think many/any schools are still doing it.

  9. In France, on each student's report you can see the student's current mark for each subject along with the highest and lowest marks achieved within this class, which I think gives a good idea to the parents (and student) of how well the child is doing. It also makes it very clear which subjects the student is best at and which subject he has to provide more effort for.
  10. I am an English teacher in a French high school and yes, we still use the marks out of 20 for all year round assessments and students frantically work out their overall averages each time they get their report card! However where foreign languages are concerned it is not these marks that count for passing the Brevet (national exam taken at 15 years old), for several years now we have had to validate skills on the CERF. We have to be able to validate our students in one foreign language at the A2/B1 level for them to be able to pass that part of their Brevet.

    I find this way of assessing a lot more relevant and motivating for the students and one that, if everyone adheres to, is internationally recognised.
  11. spsmith45

    spsmith45 New commenter

    The first problem with the French mark out of 20 is that there are no definitions of what each mark means. There is just a traditional view of what constitutes a good, fair and bad mark. The second problem is that it does not show progress up a scale. So, a child in sixième might get a 14, a child in quatrième could get the same mark but is obviously working at a higher level.

    Whether one actually needs a national scale of progress is a moot point. Beyond KS3 we stop using it anyway.
  12. spsmith45

    spsmith45 New commenter

    Hi Kirsten. The system you describe is, alas, not internationally recognised. The Americans have their own system and in Britain it is not at all well understood by language teachers. I don't know about Asia and South America.
  13. Very interesting. When I passed my Brevet, 13 years ago, we were still being assessed with a mark out of 20.

    How does the new system work then? It sounds interesting and I'd really like to know how it works.
  14. I absolutely agree with you. However, for me, the progress is shown in the feedback/comments you provide the students (and parents) with for each assessment. Eg: Your 14/20 shows that you understand how to form the perfect tense; however, you don't seem to always understand how to use it appropriately within sentences.

    So yes, it means that students may have the same marks whereas they don't have the same strengths and weaknesses. However, does it really matter? What we want is for each student to understand how to make progress.

    I personally don't see the point of consistently having to compare results and achievements from one school to another.
  15. rpp


    Interesting discussion.

    I'd like to ask a question. Are the National Curriculum levels linked in any way to the CEFR?
  16. Incommunicado

    Incommunicado Occasional commenter

    The National Curriculum Levels (and particularly sub-levels) could only be linked to the CEFR if the CEFR were a completely useless, unworkable load of b****cks.
  17. chicabonita

    chicabonita New commenter

    Totally agree. During PGCE we were told this, when I started work I said so in response to the whole-school directive which went on about levelling pieces of work and using sub levels and so on. As you'd expect, I was told to get on with it! It's completely meaningless and the fact that the numbers can be rejigged to meet targets or enhance apparent progress at KS4 just emphasises that.
  18. xl5


    In Languages, NC Levels give practically no credit for the amount of vocabulary a student knows - another reason why they are absurd, in my view.

    My fear, reading today on the DfE website that schools may now move to their own assessment structures, is that Ofsted's clipboard army will now insist on seeing immediately implemented new grids, criteria etc dovetailed in with schemes of work and lesson plans. All ready from the start of term in September.

    errr .... probably best to tell them "We're sticking with the good old NC Levels and their even pottier sub-levels thank-you very much!"

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