Every year, during the week of Thanksgiving in the US, IEN highlights opportunities to support some of the organizations that we have featured that are making a difference in children’s lives and in their educational opportunities. This year, we also want to emphasize the drastic needs to support children who are suffering from war, famine, natural disasters, climate change, and disrupted education, and to highlight ways to donate to some of the organizations that are working to respond to those crises, particularly in places like Ukraine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and East Africa.
“What if this is a moment when we can re-imagine education?” But “What if it isn’t? What if, despite the changes wrought by the pandemic, the conditions that sustain conventional schooling remain in place?”
Here, in no particular order, are a few more headlines from the “reviews” of 2021 from some of our regular sources.
OECD’sEducation at a Glance 2021 provides annual international comparisons of education statistics. This year, the report focuses on equity and also highlights the measures countries have implemented to the educational response during the pandemic. This week’s scan reveals the aspects of the findings that media outlets around the world have emphasized. For a comparison, see IEN’s Education at a Glance scan from 2019.
Austria achieved first place with 75.6% in the ranking of pupils who complete upper secondary level with a professional qualification. This value is well above the OECD average of 38.4% and also above the EU average of 43.5%.
About two-thirds of OECD member and partner countries reported increases in the budget allocated to primary schools to help them deal with the crisis in 2020. Compared to the previous year, Brazil had no changes in the education budget for primary education, both in 2020 and in 2021
Even in Finland, students with a lower socio-economic background are more likely to continue in vocational education than in upper secondary school after lower secondary school. Of those who chose vocational education, 59% of the parents had not completed a university degree, compared to 27% of students who chose upper secondary school.
...Hungary is one of the countries that provided targeted support to education actors during the epidemic, such as the state’s continued provision of free and discounted childcare and additional benefits for educators working in disadvantaged settlements for their work to prevent dropout.
The annual Education At A Glance 2021 report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development shows spending on education – ranging from primary to higher and further education – in Ireland accounts for 3.3 per cent of our GDP in 2018. This compares to an EU average of 4.4 per cent and is significantly behind top-performers such as Norway with 6.6 per cent
The report shows that during the Corona period, high schools in Israel were closed for more days than in OECD countries, as were middle schools. High schools were closed for 76 days compared to an average of 70 days in the OECD, and middle schools were closed for 93 days compared to 65 days. On average in other developed countries, however, primary schools and kindergartens were closed for fewer days – 52 primary days were closed compared to 58 in OECD countries, while kindergartens were closed for 36 days compared to 43 days in the OECD.
Stressing the high level of Japanese women’s knowledge and ability, the OECD noted the effects of the strong imposition of stereotypical images for women’s career options in Japan, and the lack of role models in science fields.
In Latvia, the unemployment rate among adults aged 25-34 without secondary education was 19.7% in 2020, which is six percentage points more than in the previous year. This was a higher increase than the OECD average, where the unemployment rate for young adults was 15.1% in 2020, two percentage points higher than in 2019.
In total, women make up less than 40 percent of students on vocational courses—this is more than five percent below the OECD average. Among Norway’s Nordic neighbours Finland has the highest proportion, 51 percent, of women studying vocational subjects followed by Denmark, 43 percent, and Sweden, 41 percent. However, depending on the subject, the gender disparity could vary massively. For example, women made up just 8 percent of people studying electrical engineering. This is around half the OCED average.
According to a new report, 19.9% of youngsters between the ages of 18 and 24 fell into the NEET category (neither in employment nor in education or training) in 2020 – a problem that was exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
In Switzerland there have been concerns that some disadvantaged pupils fell through the learning net during the shutdown of schools in spring 2020 – by not having anywhere quiet to study, access to computers or not turning up to online lessons. Switzerland…was not among the countries that allocated additional funds to ensure resources targeted those who needed them the most.
Universities in England can charge up to £9,250 per year for an undergraduate degree, and even more to overseas students. Scottish students do not pay tuition fees in Scotland, and Northern Irish students benefit from a lower tuition fee cap in Northern Ireland.
Last week, IEN rounded up headlines from articles trying to make sense of what happened in education in 2020. This week, we had planned to look ahead at predictions for what might happen in education in 2021. Instead, we found numerous articles discussing how educators have been and could be talking with their students about the insurrection at the US Capitol incited by Donald Trump. A few of these articles also explicitly discuss the racism made visible both by the insurrection and the responses to it, and we encountered several other articles that talked more broadly about the teaching of controversial topics in the wake of the insurrection.
Given the elections in the United States on November 3rd, this week IEN scanned the headlines and found a few links to news stories related to education both before and after voting took place.
In addition to summarizing the presidential election results so far (using the headline “Trump sets U.S. on course for institutional crisis”), Politico’s Global Translations provided links to headlines from around the world.
The74 continues to curate a live blog with updates on key education related votes across the country, including results of state and local elections for governors, senators, and school board members, along with outcomes of several different ballot initiatives:
This week’s post features an e-mail interview with Amanda Heffernan, a lecturer in Educational Leadership at Monash University, Melbourne.Having previously worked as a school principal and principal coach and mentor for Queensland’s Department of Education, Amanda’s key research areas include leadership, social justice, and policy enactment.
Amanda Heffernan: I’ve been working from home since early March when Australia’s restrictions were put into place. Our state government’s advice was that if we can work from home, we must work from home, to stop the spread of COVID-19. After the first week or so I realised how much I needed to stop horror-scrolling through the internet and the news, and found routines that let me focus while still taking note of the state of the world. I’m fortunate in many ways, in that my husband is also an academic and began working from home at around the same time, so we were able to establish an easy-enough routine of work that could shift with the rhythms of how academic work ebbs and flows throughout the semester.
Being an academic often means being mobile, so while I moved to Melbourne a number of years ago (Victoria, Australia) to take up an academic position at Monash University, the rest of my family are in my home state of Queensland, Australia where it seems to feel much safer than it does in my chosen-home state of Victoria. Active case numbers in Queensland and other states are incredibly small, while ours rose so quickly and posed such risk that we have now been placed back into strict lockdown for 6 weeks (only permitted to leave our homes for work, compassionate reasons, outdoor exercise, or grocery shopping). One thing this experience has done for me is make me really realise how far away I am from ‘home’ even though I am still in Australia. The ways our different state governments & communities responded to COVID-19 meant that we all had very different experiences of the last few months. But – with that said – I am so grateful that we are in such a fortunate position in Australia, in comparison to a lot of other countries.
IEN: What’s happening with education/learning in your community?
AH: Universities (for the most part) are working online where they can. My Master’s students are mostly studying while working so they are able to use our critical educational leadership courses as a way of understanding and reflecting on their experiences in dealing with rapidly changing policy and community conditions at the moment. Schools here worked online for a few weeks, while remaining physically open to children of essential workers. As of June 9, schools were back in face-to-face mode, with really careful structures around social distancing where they can, though this is understandably incredibly difficult in many circumstances. School drop-offs and pick-ups are carefully managed, there are extra cleaning procedures in place, and staff are required to socially distance in their staff rooms. Many people are expecting a shift back to online learning in the future – and a back and forth of online & face-to-face until a vaccine is found.
IEN: What do you/your community need help with?
AH: One thing Australia’s schools need help with is making sure that their work is being recognised by the public, politicians, and the media as being incredibly complex right now. The public discourse about schooling and education has shown some increase in appreciation from parents and carers who have realised how difficult the job is after trying to support their children through remote learning, and seeing how much work teachers are putting in to try to make sure students remain connected and supported. At the same time, though, we saw schools being treated as a political football between conflicting goals from our Federal and State governments, with the Federal government wanting schools to remain open, while Victoria’s state government closed them to flatten the curve. Teachers have been positioned in the middle of these tensions, and have had to respond quickly to changing requirements and directives.
One thing Australia’s schools need help with is making sure that their work is being recognised by the public, politicians, and the media as being incredibly complex right now.
Earlier this year a research team I am part of at Monash University, launched a research report that showed Australia’s teachers across all states and territories felt undervalued and that it was having a significant effect on their intentions to stay in the profession. Teachers need to be publicly recognised as experts and professionals who are doing an exceptional job in incredibly difficult circumstances right now. We’ve already seen the economic effects of the pandemic affecting employment conditions (e.g. pay cuts or pay freezes, cancelled teaching contracts, staff layoffs) for education workers, after months of putting themselves at risk and being considered ‘frontline workers’.
We also need help from our politicians and policymakers remembering that education workers very rightfully have concerns about their own health and safety and the safety of their own families, as well as their school communities. There’s a real tension for teachers who want to do the best for their students while still being at risk themselves in their workplaces.
We also need help from our politicians and policymakers remembering that education workers very rightfully have concerns about their own health and safety and the safety of their own families, as well as their school communities.
IEN: What resources/links/supports have you found most useful?
AH: Something I have found useful is reading Monash Lens – it’s a collection of analysis and commentary on current issues by experts from our university, and it means I have access to a range of perspectives beyond just my field of expertise and interest.
IEN: What are you reading, watching, listening to that you would recommend to others?
AH: I’m reading Twitter a lot, after carefully curating my news feed. I’d recommend Pat Thomson (from the University of Nottingham) and Anuja Cabraal‘s Virtual Not Viral website and twitter chat for anyone who works with postgraduate research students, and for anyone completing a PhD in the current circumstances. It’s not just for graduate students – it has important points to think about for anyone working in research right now.
I’ve been revisiting Foucault over the last few months and would recommend a book I recently read: Feminism, Foucault, and Embodied Subjectivity by Margaret A. McLaren. It’s almost 20 years old now but does a fantastic job of positioning Foucault’s work within feminist perspectives.
I’d also recommend anything that gives a little bit of escapism and nostalgia right now – I’m one of the millions of people who have been playing Animal Crossing on the Nintendo Switch, and I’ve been working my way through Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Albums of All Time as part of my work playlist.
We came to COVID-19 off the end of a summer of ferocious bushfires that covered much of the country and many of our schools and communities were affected. Teachers and leaders have been working non-stop since the end of 2019, many of them have been personally affected by tragedy and loss after the bushfires, and they haven’t really had a break to rest yet.
IEN: What have you found most inspiring?
AH: Seeing how the teachers and school leaders I work with have risen to the challenges that COVID-19 keeps throwing their way. We came to COVID-19 off the end of a summer of ferocious bushfires that covered much of the country and many of our schools and communities were affected. Teachers and leaders have been working non-stop since the end of 2019, many of them have been personally affected by tragedy and loss after the bushfires, and they haven’t really had a break to rest yet. They shifted to online learning, then shifted back once schools returned face-to-face, and now they face an uncertain future with our numbers starting to rise again. Their dedication and their efforts mean our students have been connected and supported through all of this.
This week’s post features an e-mail interview with Neha Raheel, (@NehaRaheel), Manager, Learning Experience & Assessment Design, Partnership Schools, at The Citizens Foundation (TCF) in Pakistan. Neha was also recently selected as a WISE Emerging Leader for her work at TCF. As described in an IEN post in 2019, TCF was launched by six friends in Karachi Pakistan who saw education as a key to addressing a wide range of social problems. Since establishing five new schools in 1996, TCF has developed a network of over 1600 schools in Pakistan.
TCF, as an organization, had announced that at the discretion of the Heads of individual departments, we were allowed to begin working from home from March 16th onwards, so my colleagues and I have been doing so since then. My team and I work on curriculum and assessment design for TCF’s Public-Private Partnership schools (340+ schools adopted by the organization from the governments of Sindh and Punjab, with a mandate to improve access to, and quality of education).
Work from home has presented a whole host of challenges for us. We started this project by working with a team of content developers: part-time employees whose main task was to help us create lesson plans for the Teacher Guides that we are currently designing for our Partnership schools (a majority of our Partnership contracts mandate us to use the government’s syllabus, instead of the one designed by TCF for its flagship schools). These content developers do not always have access to technology (they create handwritten content for us, which is then typed at the Head Office). The quality of the lesson plans has always been heavily reliant on feedback; which pre-COVID, was given and discussed in weekly in-person meetings. Since these meetings can no longer take place in person due to the lockdown, we have been struggling with shifting the feedback sessions to take place over phone calls (a lot of people who work part-time with us do not have access to a laptop/computer or a stable internet connection at home). We also had a lot of drop-outs from the project because the women that we work with simply could not cope with the demands of managing their caregiver duties with a part-time project. As a result, we had to innovate and come up with an alternate recruitment and onboarding strategy. We are now relying heavily on the grace and magnanimity of a team of volunteers who graciously have agreed to assist us with our work on various projects (1100+ people have applied to volunteer with our department in the past month, alone). We are still grappling with the task of working remotely, not only within the team, but also with our volunteers.
IEN: What’s happening in the communities where you work?
NR: Especially where our Partnership schools are housed, TCF works within communities with some of the lowest average incomes in the country and, as such, the digital divide has prevented us from using traditional education technology-based solutions for distance learning. TCF has, instead, been working on creating multi-grade content for a national TV channel: creating a televised show that focuses on student wellbeing (including physical movement through the yoga/exercise section of the program), joy, and basic literacy and numeracy skills (storytelling section and guided activities/assignments). Students also send in their artwork and assignments to TCF in response to the content broadcast in the program. TCF is also piloting a magazine to assess the effectiveness of paper-based Self Study Materials. The aim is to try to be as inclusive as possible and to try to reach as many students as we possibly can, especially those who are most impacted by the digital divide and learning losses.
At the same time, we are also thinking ahead to what will happen when schools eventually reopen. As such, my team’s biggest project this year is creating Teacher Guides for our Partnership Schools, with the purposes of improving the quality of teaching and learning activities in what are often rote learning based and teacher-centered classrooms; to reduce teacher workload of lesson planning (the majority of our teachers spend the entire day in the classroom, teaching all subjects and, as such, do not find time to research and create learner-centered lesson plans); and to serve as a developmental tool, building teacher capacity. These Teacher Guides are being made for the post-pandemic/post-lockdown world that our teachers and students will return to. The trauma-informed approach to education tells us about the importance of bringing joy, safety, trust, and hope in the lives of learners who have been through a trauma. As our students deal with potential losses of life, learning, and/or livelihood, our focus has primarily been on designing interventions keeping the principles of teacher and student wellbeing at the front and center: we are thinking deeply about how to restore stability, joy, hope, and trust in their lives, while being cognizant of the large learning losses that most of our students will likely face. The curriculum in these Guides, along with the restructuring of the school day, will allow us to include engaging learner centered activities, brain breaks and movement-based activities (to energize students, provide them with processing time, and bring a sense of joy in their lives); opportunities for guided and free play, and meditation and mindfulness activities. We are also mindful of the loss of connection, anxiety, and stresses that students might face in their absence from school (which is more often than not a safe and joyous space for our kids) and we hope that classroom routines such as mindfulness, meditation, yoga, play, storytelling, collaborative pair/group work, gratitude journaling, and understanding, acknowledging, and knowing how to express one’s feelings will restore that sense of connectedness and will bring back joy and hope in the lives of our students when they return to school.
As our students deal with potential losses of life, learning, and/or livelihood, our focus has primarily been on designing interventions keeping the principles of teacher and student wellbeing at the front and center: we are thinking deeply about how to restore stability, joy, hope, and trust in their lives, while being cognizant of the large learning losses that most of our students will likely face.
IEN: What do you/your community need help with?
NR: The digital divide is becoming increasingly tied with learning losses and is likely to result in a widening of the already prevalent achievement gaps in our country. At the policy level, we need to think about ways of lessening the impact of the digital divide on student learning (perhaps beginning with a drive of providing students/communities with access to electricity/basic tech/internet). At the same time, we are drawing our inspiration from several innovative (and low/no cost resource based) initiatives, such as the remote learning work being done by Pratham, India and Teach for Pakistan’s WhatsApp school. TCF is a not-for-profit and, as such, relies heavily on the philanthropic donations of people from across the world. To be able to continue fighting the good fight, we need people to keep donating for the cause, and also (if possible) volunteer their expertise for the various programs that we have. TCF is also actively thinking about the potential increase in drop-out rates once schools open (as evidenced by the drop-outs following the Ebola crisis), especially with relation to the gendered nature of the drop-outs. A question that we are currently thinking deeply about is: How can we re-engage students whose parents might find an extra set of earning hands to be more useful than continuing their education? As we continue working on our television program and pilot our magazine, we would appreciate any and all advice/resources/connections that would help us create, curate, and disseminate content.
IEN: What resources/links/supports have you found most useful?
NR: There are several websites that are providing their content/lesson plans/lesson activities free of charge, including but not limited to the following:
NR: Videos/comments/thoughts from TCF school leaders and teachers have allowed me to stay connected with the communities where we work and have also inspired me with their messages of resilience, hope, gratitude, and positivity. Reading about stories of inspiring teachers from different parts of the world has been an additional source of inspiration. Doing a daily virtual gratitude journal with my team members has brought several moments of positivity and gratitude to my life: reading each other’s responses and thoughts about simple and positive moments brings smiles to all of our faces. Playing games (including a Harry Potter themed escape room) and doing mindfulness check-ins with my team as we all navigate work from home and feelings of isolation and anxiety/uncertainty has been both grounding, as well as inspiring, as we all try to collectively navigate the new reality. More so than anything else, my dog (we rescued her a few months prior to the pandemic): the amount of joy and hope that she brings in my life is unparalleled.
Hirokazu Yokota: I was taking a paternity leave from October 1 of 2019 to April 7 in order to take care of my second child (who has just turned one year last week!). As you might know, being a stay-at-home dad is as hard a job as working for the government. Although I enjoyed such things as playing with my son, cooking lunch for my wife and helping my four-year-old daughter with reading and writing letters, I sometimes needed a pastime. That’s why once a week, I was looking forward to having lunch with my old friends – just to chat and do a little catch-up. That has completely changed over the past three months. During weekdays, I refrained from going outside – to avoid getting infected and to make sure that my son and I did not spread it if we had it. What was especially concerning was my son had been sick early in March for nearly two weeks – but his fever did not go as high as the threshold of 37.5 Celsius. Now he is doing fine and has finished the phase-in at a nursery school which started on April 1, but I’m kind of feeling guilty about not being able to continue my paternity leave despite this COVID-19 outbreak.
“What is extremely challenging is that education is the act of human interaction, and now we must stay away from that”
2. What’s happening with education/learning in your community?
HY: Although almost all of the public elementary, junior high, and high schools in Japan have been closing after March 2, this does not apply to nursery schools. Therefore, my daughter was going to her nursery as usual, although I kept her at home for a week or so at the beginning of March. Because the nursery refrained from taking children outside, my daughter seemed to feel stressed, so I oftentimes could not help going to the playground, while practicing social distancing (which, I admit, is very difficult for kids).
HY: Nationally, as of March 24th, MEXT announced new guidelines for the reopening of schools after spring break (e.g. necessary measures for local governments to implement in order to prevent further spread of the COVID-19) and for temporary closures in the new school term (e.g. how to determine whether the school should be closed on a temporary basis, in case of an infection of children, students or teachers. At that time, this policy decision was reasonable given the relatively slow rise of confirmed cases in Japan, although MEXT revised the latter guideline on April 1 to suggest how to determine the temporary closure based on the overall situation in the community, even if there are no infected people in the school. However, due to the recent rapid increase of confirmed cases, the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a state of emergency, which took effect from April 8 to May 7. At first this measure had been targeted at seven prefectures (mostly metropolitan areas), but later was expanded to all the forty-seven prefectures on April 16. Accordingly, on April 10, MEXT issued a notification on the instruction to students who cannot go to schools owing to the temporary closure. In this notice, MEXT asked Boards of Education to ensure that schools couple instruction and assessment by teachers with appropriate learning opportunities at home (based on the instructional plan devised by schools), while taking into account the current status of infection in each area. Additionally, it mentions that after schools open, they should assess learning that occurred at home during the temporary closure and implement measures to supplement the lost learning opportunities. Although schools are supposed to make maximum efforts to ensure learning and to reteach material that should have been learned at home during the closure, schools do not have to cover the same content again if and only if assessments confirm that students fully understand the material (NOTE: this measure is an exception rather than a rule).
3. What do you/your community need help with?
HY: Before the COVID-19 outbreak, our ministry published an ambitious policy package to ensure every student in elementary and junior high schools will have access to an ICT device at school by the Fiscal Year (FY) 2023. The official document in Japanese is here, and English version is here (p23-24) (you might find this article by the Japan Times helpful). Moreover, given the importance of ICT as a tool to ensure student learning during such temporary closure, on April7, the aforementioned policy package was revised so that MEXT can subsidize ICT devices in order for each student to have an access at the end of THIS YEAR (FY2020, not 2023) (p12 here, although it’s in Japanese). Now is the time to fully expand the potential of ICT devices, but when it comes to implementation, there are so many issues to be resolved – from teachers’ capacity to use ICT devices, internet access at home, and from security concerns to measures for tracking student progress. What is extremely challenging is that education is the act of human interaction, and now we must stay away from that. However, at the same time, I’m hopeful that after this pandemic is over, we can find a proper balance between face-to-face teaching and remote learning, and accordingly the desirable roles of teachers/schools in this era.
In this period of turbulence and uncertainty, we, regardless of our own positions, have to collaborate with each other to protect ourselves, our family, our community, and our society
4. What resources/links/supports have you found most useful?
HY: Thanks to the great efforts of my colleagues, our ministry opened a new web portal (in Japanese), to support children’s learning during this temporary closure – just ONE DAY after we asked schools to temporarily close. This website includes such contents as textbooks of each subject, “how to make masks on your own,” “museums at home,” and “my sports menu.” Of course, private companies are working on providing inspiring contents for children – such as NHK for school and Katariba online. Personally, as a father, I found textbooks with intriguing pictures and sounds useful as a tool to help my daughter learn Japanese, math and English.
5. What have you found most inspiring?
HY: In this period of turbulence and uncertainty, we, regardless of our own positions, have to collaborate with each other to protect ourselves, our family, our community, and our society. But I’m deeply encouraged by, and grateful for, the fact that people around the world are combating, to the best of their ability, this unprecedented predicament. It was not until what we take for granted was taken away that it brought home to me that I, and we, are protected by our society. Since I restarted my journey of public service, we as government officers also work from home every two days in order to considerably reduce contacts with other people. Of course, you can easily imagine that while we have far more tasks than usual due to the coronavirus outbreak, we cannot maintain the same productivity as when we stay at the office every day. This reality becomes even harsher when our nursery schools ask parents who work from home to refrain from sending their children – that is exactly the case with me. It’s like going through a long tunnel, just trying to manage two extremely important, but sometimes conflicting, missions – working for the government and being a father of two at the same time. But I know what keeps me going forward in such a difficult time – my sincere desire to dedicate myself to helping those who are affected by COVID-19!
As CEI and UNICEF explain, in May 2014 they began designing and testing strategies to systematically select and support innovative education models. They received over 150 nominations but selected only 5 finalists. The finalists received funding from UNICEF and support from CEI as they tested and strengthened their scale-up models while collecting evidence on effectivenes. The report, Journeys to Scale, describes the challenges and strategies of these innovations from Brazil, Ehtiopia, Ghana, Peru, and Sudan, and lays out clear recommendations for implementers, donors, policymakers and researchers who want to support innovation.
One category of key findings from the report points to the importance of defining what is meant by both “innovation” and “scaling up.” As the report explains,
The five innovations challenged ideas about what it means to scale an innovation, highlighting the reality that scaling does not happen in a straightforward manner and that progress is often accompanied by setbacks. They revealed that the conventional idea of scaling as simply the process of reaching more beneficiaries does not account for steps like the inclusion of new services to an existing package of interventions, the formation of new alliances with government and donor partners, and team capacity building.
Therefore, the authors find that scaling is about more than simply increasing the numbers of beneficiaries, and innovation is about more than the intervention itself. Innovation is about a broader and deeper spread of new norms and beliefs.
In addition to the publication of this report, CEI and UNICEF hosted a Twitter chat (#JourneystoScale) to keep the conversation going. See below for a Storify recap of the conversation.
This week we share a blog post written by Melanie Ehren and Nick Wollaston. Originally published on the IOE London Blog, of University College London, this blog is part of a Nuffield foundation funded research project Dr. Ehren coordinates. The research looks at the Key Stage 2 test in mathematics in England and how the test affects teaching of primary mathematics. The test is administered in year 6 (end of Primary school) and is considered to be high stakes as schools performing below the floor standard are monitored by Ofsted (the Inspectorate of Education), face potential forced academization, and test outcomes are used in (teachers’ and head teacher’s) performance management reviews. The test has undergone changes this year to reflect the new national curriculum, and the researchers have asked teachers (after the administration of the new test) how they are changing their teaching in response to the changes in the test. More info on the project (and a broader introduction) is on the website: www.highstakestesting.co.uk
Here we share the blog post in full. To read the post on the IOE London Blog, click here.
Life after levels: is the new Year 6 maths test changing the way teachers teach?
Earlier this month (5 July), the Department for Education published the results of the Key Stage 2 test for 10 and 11-year-olds. The publication was awaited with more anxiety than usual as this year’s test was the first one on the new national curriculum. One of the major changes in the test is the removal of the ‘old’ national curriculum levels 3, 4 and 5, where children were expected to reach at least a level 4. The level 6 paper for the most able children has also gone and results are now reported as ‘scaled scores’. Each pupil now has to achieve at least a score of 100 to reach the expected standard. It seems like a minor change with little impact on how teachers teach mathematics and prepare children for the test, but recent findings from our Nuffield-funded study suggest otherwise.
We interviewed 30 Year 6 teachers in schools performing both below and above the floor standard in Mathematics. Interviews took place prior to the changes in the test in May/June 2015, and again after the changes in the test in May/June 2016. In the interviews in 2015, levels were one of the key topics teachers talked about when we asked them about notable features of the test that would inform their teaching. They explained how each of the two written Maths test papers would start with easy level 3 questions, have level 4 questions in the middle and finish with the difficult level 5 items at the end. This order of questions according to difficulty level would allow the lower attaining children to access the test, according to these teachers, and would build their confidence in answering the questions and their motivation to do well on the test. Teachers tell us in the second round of interviews, how all the questions are now ‘at level 5’ and how some of their lower attaining children stared at them in horror when opening their test booklet, asking them where the easy questions had gone.
Not only does the abolition of levels seem to have an impact on children’s motivation and confidence in test taking, it also appears to have a profound impact on how teachers come to understand and teach mathematics. Prior to the introduction of scaled scores, teachers would talk about gradually building up the level of difficulty when teaching specific mathematical content areas, such as ‘number sense and calculation’, ‘data handling’ or ‘shape and space’. Level 3, 4 and 5 test items on past Key Stage 2 test papers would help them understand the hierarchical nature of mathematics and how to introduce children to, for example, increasingly more difficult calculations (e.g. moving from one step to multistep problems, or from adding and subtracting whole numbers to adding and subtracting decimals). Resources such as Test Base would allow them to access available questions according to content area and difficulty level and they could simply download relevant questions when teaching a specific skill. Now that the levels have been removed, some of the teachers tell us that they just focus on getting all students to perform at level 5 in number and calculation as this is where most of the marks on the test are given and some hardly teach shape and space at all. These teachers also talk about moving towards a more ‘mastery style’ of teaching where they ensure that all students master the basics before they move on to teach more complex skills or other (more complex) content domains, such as algebra or geometry.
It is too early to know how widespread these changes are and the effect they will have on children’s understanding of mathematics. Our study, however, indicates that we need to keep a close eye on the breadth and depth of what our children are learning as some of these changes may be masked by an average single test score.
A pupil’s scaled score is based on their raw score. The raw score is the total number of marks a pupil scores in a test, based on the number of questions they answered correctly. The Standard and Testing Agency develops tests each year to the same specification, but because the questions must be different, the difficulty of tests may vary slightly each year. This means that the raw scores pupils get in the tests need to be converted into a scaled score to be able make accurate comparisons of pupil performance over time. Every scaled score will represent the same level of attainment for a pupil each year, so a pupil who scores 103, for example, in 2016 will have demonstrated the same attainment as a pupil who scores 103 in 2017. A scaled score of 100 will always represent the expected standard on the test. Pupils scoring 100 or more will have met the expected standard on the test. In 2016, panels of teachers set the raw score required to meet the expected standard on each test.