There is a radical concept in urban design known as shared space. It involves the removal of kerbs, street furniture, and painted lines in order to blur the boundaries between traffic and pedestrians. The idea is that if you merge the various zones of use in the urban environment - pavements, cycle lanes and roads - people become more aware of other users and more conscientious towards their fellow citizens as a result. And it works! Removing all the features that are designed to keep us safe actually makes us safer.
I promise there is a point to this and I'll get back to it later.
I have blogged before about the highly dubious and misguided approaches we take to measuring progress. That we seek to distill learning down to a baseless numerical value not for the benefit of teaching and learning - for teachers and pupils - but for the purposes of accountability and performance management. Levels - perhaps once fit for purpose - were hacked up into an ill-defined system of sublevels and points, and bundled into neat packages of 'expected' progress in order to quantify learning and satisfy the demands of external agencies.
Points became the currency of scrutiny.
And so, these measures are now part of the common language of assessment and are now so integral to the daily running of a school that it is hard to imagine a world without them. They have come to define the contours of learning. It is perhaps inevitable that when levels were removed we set about recreating them. We needed the numbers to 'prove' the progress even though we knew deep down that the numbers meant nothing. The cage was opened but we quietly closed the door and stayed put.
But we have to measure progress, right? Surely we need to quantify it in some way?
One of the key reasons for the removal of levels was that they often caused pupils to be rushed through content before they were ready. Pupils that were deemed to be 'broadly level 4' therefore reached the end of end of the key stage with significant gaps in their learning.
But if that was a key issue with levels, isn't it a problem with any progress measure? If we are driven by steps, bands and points then isn't there a big temptation to tick the box and move the pupil on? Aren't we just chasing meaningless numbers? Has anything really changed?
This brings me back to the concept of shared space. Perhaps if we remove all the points and expected rates of progress - the street furniture of assessment - we would concentrate more on the learning; on identifying pupils' weaknesses and addressing the gaps. Assessment would then be returned to it's proper state: about what is right for the child, not what is right for the bottom line; and ultimately both the child and school would benefit.
So, maybe progress measures are a distraction and if we concentrate on embedding learning - on consolidation, cognition, gaps, and next steps - then the progress will take care of itself. Perhaps, ironically, pupils would make better progress in a world without progress measures, where teachers are not chained to expected rates linked to linear scales that tempt them to push pupils on before they are ready. We must avoid repeating past mistakes, shoehorning pupils into 'best-fit' bands and expecting uniform progression through the curriculum. Instead let's focus on the detail - track the objectives that the pupil has achieved and assess their depth of understanding. The progress will be evident in pupils' work and we don't need arbitrary numbers to tell us that.
Essentially it all comes down to one irrefutable truth:
If you teach them, they will learn.