Levels in Computing? I thought they'd gone!

 Things look great, but once you start looking under the surface...

Things look great, but once you start looking under the surface...

Updated! Despite all the good reasons for getting rid of Levels (see Good riddance to Levels in ICT and Computing for a list of objections), still they proliferate.

To borrow from Douglas Adams and his observation about ducks, if it looks like a Level and behaves like a Level, then it's probably a Level. You can call it a rung of a ladder, a threshold, a bronze award or a set of blue badges. Unless you have a pretty good explanation at hand, you'd have a hard job convincing me that you haven't just reinvented Levels by another name.

In a sense, it doesn't matter. If it works for you, then good luck with it. Ofsted (the school inspection body in England) has said they don't expect any particular kind of assessment system in schools. Nevertheless, I should imagine that, in practice, if you told an inspector you are still using Levels they might raise their eyebrows and ask why.

More importantly in my opinion, is that there is a brilliant opportunity to rethink the whole way you describe attainment and progress in Computing, but some people are still clinging to Levels. I understand why: teachers have no time to think (in a recent survey I carried out, the average amount of non-contact time for Heads or leaders of Computing seemed to be around 4 or 5 hours -- not much, considering all the new learning, lesson preparation, marking and admin they have to do).

Even so, it's worth pointing out that "solutions" which look both comprehensive and easy to implement are not necessary either, when you start to get down to considering them in depth.

If you want an example of a rating system that looks really useful but which raises lots of questions once you actually think about it, consider the hygiene rating on the doors of restaurants and cafés.

 But what does it MEAN?

But what does it MEAN?

A score of 5 is better than a score of 4. If I see a score of 3 on the door, I won't go in unless I'm starving, which is never. A rating of 2 would cause me to walk by on the other side of the road. A score of zero would probably cause me to go home, have a three hour bath and incinerate my clothing in case I'd caught something.

But what do these scores actually mean?

Well, I looked them up.

Apparently, the scores are worked out on three criteria:

  • how hygienically the food is handled – how it is prepared, cooked, re-heated, cooled and stored
  • the condition of the structure of the buildings – the cleanliness, layout, lighting, ventilation and other facilities
  • how the business manages what it does to make sure food is safe and so that the officer can be confident standards will be maintained in the future
  • - See more at: http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/hygiene-rating-schemes/ratings-find-out-more-en/fhrs#sthash.kcLpe7WB.dpuf

Taken from Frequently asked questions about the food hygiene rating scheme. Crown copyright.*

Also, the score is based on what the inspector saw on the day of his or her visit.

So, although the rating system is some guide as to how likely you are to contract food poisoning, it does raise a number of questions, like:

  • When was the inspection carried out, ie how long ago?
  • If the score was less than 5, what did the establishment "fail" on? I mean, if the food is handled well but the lighting isn't so good, isn't that better than the other way round, ie great lighting and poor handling?
  • If the score was 5, say, what does it actually mean? Did the restaurant achieve a rating of excellent on all three criteria, or did they do brilliantly on two, and not great on another one, but just OK enough to be awarded a '5' overall? Should, perhaps, there be further gradations, like 4a, 4b, 4c?

You can see how complicated it starts to become when you ask these kinds of questions. And, just like in education, if you start fine-tuning the criteria (as in 4a etc), it gets more confusing rather than less.

Surely, what would be better would be either a very comprehensive grid on the door stating exactly what was looked at and the rating of each, with comments -- which I suggest would be immensely impractical -- or two very simple statements, answering just two questions:

  • If I eat here, how likely am I to get ill from it?
  • Would you be happy for your kids to eat here?

That's all we want to know; anything else is meaningless piffle as far as I'm concerned.

My point is this: the food hygiene rating system is good. It's better than not having one. But in trying to give it an air of precision in the form of a number, it raises quite a few questions. In other words, while it looks simple and straightforward, it really isn't.

Getting back to Levels in Computing, if you really insist on keeping them in some form, I suggest you make it really easy for your pupils and heir parents, and even your colleagues, to understand exactly what information they are being given.

*The extract from the Food Standards Agency has been used in accordance with the Government's Open Licence.