5 reasons to keep National Curriculum Levels (and for me to keep climbing)

11th May 2013

The government is due to abolish levels. Apparently this is a good thing because levels are meaningless and have a damaging effect on schools and pupils. I disagree. Not with the claim that they often have a damaging effect on schools- I’m sure even the best idea in education could  be badly implemented. I disagree because levels are useful.

I’m away climbing at the moment- Staying in a funny little caravan on Portland (which is a weird place- just ask Lord Jim Knight who represented Portland for a long time and also presided over some of the boom days in levels). Anyway. Today I climbed a number of routes (quite badly) I’m struggling at the moment because I’m trying to push my climbing grade. For those of you not in the loop- all climbing ‘routes’ get a grade, telling you how hard they are. Talk to any climber and they can tell you what grade they climb at. I’m not very good at climbing but think I can get better. I’m targeting 6a+s and 6bs this year. I’ve been a non-mover around 6a for years but last year got a bit more confident at them. So here’s my point:

Climbing grades are not very accurate- sometimes they seem much harder than the grade they are given (sandbags), sometimes they feel easy. You can’t define what makes a 6b a 6b but the margin of error is surprisingly small. These things get moderated- people say if it should be higher or lower graded and sometimes the grade changes (a bit like with pupils’ work). Those minor inaccuracies don’t matter- the grades are still useful. Thanks to them:

  1.  When I pick a route to climb I don’t pick something a million times too hard, struggle on it for hours, lose confidence, not learn anything (and potentially hurt myself)

  2. I can track my progress over time and see that I have improved (a little) but not enough- and therefore need to work harder at it.

  3. I can ask for advice from people a bit better than me and work out what I need to do differently (if you’re interested: breathe more, keep moving, and don’t fear falling so much)

  4. I can challenge myself, I know what the next step is so I can make sure I go just beyond my comfort zone where I learn the most (I believe Vygotsky called this the zone of proximal development – the ZPD).

  5. At the end of each weekend away I can think about how well I did, whether I need to train more, what I would like to achieve next time and so on. I have ownership of the whole process- I don’t need someone to tell me what I should and shouldn’t try. And I enjoy that.

No- grades aren’t accurate, precise or scientific, but used well they are invaluable. To chuck them out for the former reason is silly, to chuck them out because they’ve sometimes been badly used is to throw the baby out with the bath water. If we did that with every badly implemented idea we’d have to get rid of everything and would just swing from initiative to initiative. Not that that ever happens in education of course.

So keep National Curriculum levels (and I’ll keep chucking myself at 6A+s).