Drama should be leading the way in the post-levels world.

Drama teachers are experts in creating bespoke assessment criteria after years of being not on the National Curriculum. We should be leading the way when it comes to adjusting to the new system of grading.

Moving to the new system

The question that all of us are asking at the moment, drama teachers or otherwise, is how do we ensure that Key Stage 3 work is standardised against the new 1 – 9 grading system. Without levels, the focus is now on raising the achievement of every pupil and schools are going to have to choose a measure of progress and attainment that they think is the most appropriate to their context.

Even with this “greater” freedom in the assessment framework that schools can use, schools will still be required to have in place some form of monitoring system in place. Many schools are making the decision map the National Curriculum Levels to the new grading system. Using the notion of what students needs to achieve by the end of Key Stage 2, Key Stage 3 and GCSE and creating a criterion that requires students to progress towards these demands without calling them levels. It is still pretty much the same job but under a different name.

The problem of Key Stage 3 Drama

The trouble is, Drama only has one of those criteria – GCSE. There is no list of key skills that students must achieve by the end of Key Stage 2 or 3. Perhaps that isn’t a problem at all. One of our strengths in this situation is that we have always had to essentially write out own criteria for Key Stage 3. There have been several very good contributions to the work. Three that influenced me most when I started teaching was The Arts Councils 2nd edition of Drama in Schools, Andy Kempe and Marigold Ashwells one  in Progression in Secondary Drama and Jonathan Neelands one in Drama 11-14. Whilst the Arts Council is the one is the nearest there was to any official regulation of Key Stage 3 Drama, none of the various Key Stage 3 assessment criteria have been created are accountable as none of them were validated by the QCA because Drama is not on the National Curriculum. The fact that there has been no official and definitive Key Stage 3 Assessment Criteria verified by the QCA has also meant that schools have been free to design their own. A quick search on the TES resources website for Drama Key Stage 3 Levels reveals a myriad of different versions built by teachers themselves. Some which combine the best elements of ones I’ve already mentioned and other published ones, some which are totally specific to the school, some which are drawn from the GCSE criteria and some which draw on all three of these influences. That variety in assessment criteria made the situation even less accountable and meant that standardisation across the country for Key Stage 3 Drama impossible.

A toxic situation for Drama

The root of this problem comes, of course, from the exclusion of Drama from the National Curriculum. A subject that I’ve written on previously. The outcome, nearly 30 years later, of such variation of assessment criteria has always been a weak point in Drama as a subject in schools and its status in the education system. I think, personally over the 15 or so years of my career, that that situation has only got worse as the years have past and the diversification of assessment criteria has got wider. Our counterparts in Art and Music have had that assessment criteria given to them, they only have to worry about how they are going to get their students to achieve in their subject and what the students are going to do in the lessons. Drama teachers, however, have been left with everything to do. We have had to plan our curriculum, define our subject and create an assessment criteria for it, mostly in isolation with help from organisations like National Drama or The Arts Council.

The way forward

However, that is part of Drama’s past now and, whilst that past hasn’t always been pretty or positive, it could be of great help to us now. For the first time everyone else is suddenly in the same situation as us, creating assessment criteria in the dark with only a vague GCSE assessment criteria as our guide. We are experts in creating bespoke assessment criteria after years of being not on the National Curriculum. We should be leading the way when it comes to adjusting to the new system of grading.

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