I recently went on my first course that wasn’t for NQT’s – Achieving Level 6 in Reading and Writing. Expecting to go with my mind blown with what would be expected of 10-11 year old children to reach Level 6 in those areas I was not disappointed. When we discussed the poem Dulce Et Decorum Est as a possible text for a Guided Reading session with Year 6 I was amazed. Not to mention, when looking through the ‘anthology’ that was provided as possible stimuli there were texts in there that I distinctly remembered looking at in my GCSE studies! I quickly realised it was little wonder why nationally the chasm between children achieving Maths Level 6 is consistently larger than those children who achieve Level 6 in Reading or Writing. As I left the course, wide-eyed, it became clear to me that we had work to do.
Level 6 – Why the sudden interest now?
When I was in Year 6 (2000-2001) I was almost put forward for the Level 6 Maths paper – I’ll point out that not being selected for that test has not hindered my life opportunities but more on that later – but I didn’t realise until recently that Level 6 was discontinued until fairly recently. I haven’t had the chance to do research into why Level 6 was brought back but I am fully aware of the arguments to suggest why it shouldn’t have been provided for in Primary Schools. These include:
1. The children going into Secondary with a Level 6 are NOT at a Level 6
Simply put, the children who are trained to jump through the hoops of Level 6 – reading, writing or Maths – do not have the breadth of knowledge of a Level 6 learner…they have just been taught the techniques and heavily-weighted in marks topics that come up in the Level 6 paper they sit. I am of the understanding this is the complaint that secondary educators had and rightly so.
2. It adds more workload/stress to the Primary staff involved
Speaking as a Year 6 teacher, I have some experience in this. Not only are primary school teachers expected to have children reach a Level 4/5, which in itself is a task that is no mean feat for ALL children, but also to then push the other end up to heights that some children don’t reach until the end of Year 9 is taking it (quite literally) to another level. Now, before the comments flow, I am ALL for pushing children to succeed to their potential and setting high expectations for learning – but Level 6 has now become a process where children who would not naturally achieve this ‘level’ (remembering that they aren’t REALLY a Level 6) are being pushed to reach that level…which brings me succinctly onto the final point…
3. It adds more stress to the child
This is what everything in education SHOULD be about – the child. I have a child in my Year 6 class who is working at a low Level 5 currently in Maths. She’ll be a solid Level 5, no doubt. However, the Level 6 culture has taken hold. At home, she is expected to have a tutor group each week and 2-3 hours of school work EVERY night. Whilst I praise children to the high heavens when they take their learning outside of the classroom, beyond homework and our class blog, this is too much. It is not healthy. These are children. The sad thing is, despite all this extra pressure at home to attain a Level 6…this child is making the amount of progress expected, not an accelerated rate. I am aware that this is not a sole example, but many other children are put under this pressure, particularly in their final year in primary school, which they should be savouring. Would this pressure be as intense if there was no Level 6, or at least less of an emphasis from the top-down about Level 6 attainers…I doubt it!
Six for Success?
Now, of course, after my little rant of Level 6 and the downfalls I see about it – I do see the benefits. It does remove a glass ceiling for (natural) high achievers in primary school, it does provide an outlet for AGT children to be challenged and, if the children truly are Level 6, it can provide a springboard to mastery in that subject later on in their secondary school life. These points cannot be ignored – but in my humble, NQT opinion, something HAS to change.
Next Steps for Six?
I wonder if there is some way to reduce the pressure (particularly on Headteachers) to boost the number of Level 6 attainers in schools. I do NOT think we should abolish Level 6 completely, yet I do think that there should be a much smaller emphasis placed upon it. Perhaps if children enter Year 6 as a solid Level 5 then maybe they should be guided toward that Level 6, rather than have children who are just behind being pushed up to make the numbers.
(Having said all this, levels are going out the window after this year so who knows what point this thought will have after 4 months time anyway…)!
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