Assessment Tracking System – Keeping it Simple. #Learningfirst
I have embraced Life without Levels from the start of my first headship. Listening to Tim Oates at The Key Conference, I agreed with the key principles of fewer things in greater depth and studying things at the right pace to secure deep learning. With levels there definitely was undue pace, there was no real time for consolidation and ensuring children were absolutely secure, no time to linger over learning and concepts, or work at greater depth. And as a consequence I have seen children move through schools with big gaps in their learning because we were more focussed on the level than on what needed to be secured. Sadly, even with good teaching over key stages, a lot of gaps were left for the Y6 teacher to plug. How many times have I heard in school staffrooms?
They just don’t retain anything… or
Did you teach time in YX because they can’t remember a thing?
Maybe, just maybe, it was because we moved them on at too fast a pace. It wasn’t because of poor teaching, just poor methods of assessment, (lots of box ticking) and allowing tracking systems to have too much influence – to be the master, not the servant.
Now, my main passion is in curriculum design and this is what we spend the majority of our time on. That said, we had to invest time in developing a new assessment tracking system, bespoke to our school. It’s the same principle as hugely investing time in EYFS – you will reap the benefits.
Making a few mistakes at the start was essential in leading me on a path to creating better assessment systems: knowing where you are going wrong only strengthens how you put it right.
My first mistake was thinking that I could use my existing system in a different way, thankfully it only took me one term to realise it wasn’t going to work. I met with Jamie Pembroke and chatted about my frustrations with the existing system. Emerging, developing and secure just wasn’t working for me. Later in the year I thought…this just sounds too much like levels and APS, and this is what I so desperately wanted to move away from.
I had one defining moment when talking to a teacher in a tracking/progress meeting where I was saying; So, this is Y3E and this needs to be Y3S so that’s 2 points, blah, blah, blah. I thought, this is not what I wanted, I’ve gone back to that arbitrary labelling of children…its term 2 what are they actually emerging in? Surely they must be secure in some things and possibly working at greater depth…STOP IT!
I wanted a system which I had a greater input in designing, and that shows;
- What has been taught
- What has been learnt and to what depth
- What gaps needed plugging
We are now nearing the end of this academic year, and I can confidently say we have an assessment system that is working very well. It is the servant, not the master. It sits quietly in the background doing what we have asked it to do. Teachers love it, because it is simple and it truly informs teaching and learning.
The big reveal – we use INSIGHT. This is not a sales pitch. I attended the Beyond Levels conference in Sheffield #Learningfirst where I spoke with a number of people who asked what we are doing. And as this is a community that is about supporting each other, I have written this in the hope it will help people. In addition, I would really value any constructive criticism.
So what did we do?
I’m going to keep this really simple. I did enlist the support of Jamie Pembroke at the start, we had 3 hour conversations over some decisions – with tea and cake. I told him what I wanted and he brought me back down to earth on several occasions!
- Devise a depth of learning rating – be specific for English and Maths, exemplify it so that teachers know exactly what to look for.
|Rating||Definition||Evidence – English and wider curriculum||Maths|
|0||Objective taught –displays some/limited understanding.||Guided group work or 1:1 teaching evidenced to show some understanding.
A greater degree of modelling/use of resources/play and exploration may be required before a child displays greater understanding.
|1||Shows evidence of understanding but not yet secure. May still require support.||Support could be with minimal teacher/TP support. Intervening at start of task or during task to aid. Support could be additional resources, a toolkit or structured success criteria. Presenting things in a different way.||Starting to explain, increasing fluency.|
|2||Independent application of knowledge/skills – secure understanding.||A secure understanding where children can apply skills independently and confidently. May still have access to less scaffolded success criteria.||Can explain confidently, what is and what is not.
Children are able to make convincing explanations, and can prove it. Reasoning is well thought out.
|3||Greater depth of understanding evidenced.||Applies skills knowledge, understanding in different contexts, skilfully. Contexts may be multi-objective and cross curricular. Children make connections between learning. They can research independently and create own lines of enquiry.||Competent in solving, reasoning and explaining. They can come back to work after long periods of time, showing the same degree of understanding.|
- Add your own objectives. We use Kangaroo maths, essential knowledge and depth objectives.
- Define what expected progress is – We have defined expected progress for the whole school to ensure that when setting expectations, we are focused on closing the gap. We did this by looking at their unique starting points.
Our first year model. The bands are based on what has been taught and understood to date. In the first year we needed a starting point. I must stress this is not levelling in disguise! It has been used to depict a picture of where our children are.
|Y2 – Y6||Subject :|
|Children who are working on securing objectives from previous year at the start of the academic year.||Children who are secure (80%+) in previous year group.
|– Expected progress 40% or less from previous year secured in term 1. 60-79% secure in current year group objectives||Above expected progress
80%+ secure in current year group
|Well above expected progress
Working at greater depth for 0-30% of objectives
|Expected progress – 80%+
|Above expected progress
80-100% secure and evidencing 0-30% working at greater depth
|Well above expected progress
Working at greater depth 30%+ objectives
|Children who have evidence of working at greater depth from the previous year||Children who are more than one year behind.|
Secure 95 -100% of year group objectives and working at greater depth 0-30%
|Above expected progress
Working at greater depth 30%+
|Well above expected progress
Working at greater depth 60%+ of objectives
|Personalised gap filling for individuals who are one year or more behind ARE, or have an additional need, or new to English.|
This is a starting point and it will need to be evaluated and reviewed at the end of this year. The aim is to ensure that, over time, the gap in attainment closes. Some children will do this more quickly than others. If we return to the principle of studying at the right pace and deepening learning, then some children will remain in this band for some time. But, each year plugging the gaps from the previous year and securing more objectives in their current year group. For children who have very low starting points, of which the vast majority of our children do, the constant focus on plugging gaps in a thoughtful and considered approach is necessary.
We have a very similar document for expectations of reception moving into Year 1. I think it is also VERY important to note that we do understand that any child, at any stage of learning could be working at greater depth in any subject at any point. Our personalised target setting for children with additional needs are ambitious, based on EHCPs, other agencies recommendations combined with ensuring they acquire essential knowledge for their stage of learning.
- Define bands for progress and attainment.
So for us we defined progress bands as, small steps, slow, good and rapid. Attainment bands are simply: well below, below, just below and on track. It’s up to you to define what good progress is at different times of the year, but we take into consideration coverage, objectives secured to date and our depth rating. We still have to tweak this at the end of the year!
You will see later that I had concerns with some children who were making slow progress at the start of the year, because they were not securing objectives. However, these children just needed more time, and they have secured them now. Some children make small steps at certain times of year and, often, these children have been through some sort of crisis, or have been away in a different country, and have a lot to catch up on. Such complexities are a regular occurrence at our school and it important that our systems are flexible enough to identify the issue without resorting to an aggressive red RAG rating. These things are normal, not a disaster.
What you end up with is a system that;
- Allows you to have great discussions with teachers about learning and progress. What has been secured, what needs to be secured and how they intend to do that. Plugging gaps! Again, I think it is important to note that our discussions about children’s learning is not dominated by the system, we refer to it when we need to.
- The main objective tracker screen shows what has been covered, what has been secured to date and what their average depth is.
- There are no silly algorithms that sit behind a system – it is based on professional judgement.
- It does everything a leader needs, in terms of whole school analysis.
- There are some clever graphs which show progression and – hang onto your seats, sometimes the graph lines stay the same, sometimes it dips and then recovers. And no, I don’t use this to whip my staff with. BECAUSE WE SHOULD ALL KNOW BY NOW THAT LEARNING IS NOT LINEAR.
- It allows the children and teachers to discuss learning with parents more precisely than before.
- It informs teaching and learning. It is informing how we will teach, what we will teach and in what order at the start of the new academic year, and obviously throughout the year. (Especially that gap plugging from the previous year) but all of this can be modified if necessary.
We have made tweaks to things over the year – no-one gets it right from the start. We had to live with it for a while to see how it operated and how we worked with it. Being totally honest and transparent, at the start of the year I was slightly concerned as some children were just not securing a great percentage of objectives. However, I held my nerve as I know my children and some need greater time to secure things. Furthermore, I was confident in explaining this to any “external visitors”. HOLD YOUR NERVE!
Some objectives worried me as they were very long term (knowing all sounds, exceptional words and long reading targets) and they were skewing the data. So, we have decided to split some objectives and we now have to make a decision whether to take some out and add them in at the end. Do I want to weight objectives? I think not.
People have asked me if I have set the percentage of objectives and coverage that needs to be secured by specific points in the year. We have, roughly, and we need to evaluate this next term (term6) but if leaders have set percentage coverage and objectives secured for each term, then they’re kind of missing the point. We don’t need a tracking system to know which children are at risk of falling behind, nor should we solely rely on that. Books, peer observations, pupil voice, feedback, formative assessment, progress meetings tell us when children are at risk of falling behind. The assessment system used correctly just validates this and allows us to monitor, analyse and say “So what now?” with greater accuracy.
This system is not used as a box ticking exercise. Although the system informs future teaching and learning, it does not shape it. Our experiential curriculum, which focuses on fewer things in greater depth does that! We still need to review what we do, as any good self-improving school should. However, it is much improved on what we had before.
Our children are more than a number, more than a level.
Head Teacher at Gloucester Road Primary School, Cheltenham.