Tracking: a need-to-know operation

As schools we’ve become experts in tracking. A whole industry has grown up around it, and you can buy software to create a graph of just about anything. But as I’ve said many times before, there is a big difference between tracking and assessment. Assessment is at the very core of what schools should be about. Tracking, on the other hand, is simply a tool for keeping an eye on things.

A discussion on Twitter tonight – part of the #ukgovchat session – made me particularly aware of our addiction to tracking. Governors were, quite rightly, wondering what they needed to know about how schools are moving to new assessment systems, and whether they ought to insist on keeping levels for an overlapping period.

My contribution was to suggest that governors start from the point of what they actually need to know. Schools now produce far more data than any individual or group of governors could hope to get a grasp of. But the point is, that’s not their role. And here’s the thing – we can track all manner of things, but perhaps we need to take tracking back to a simple system that provides only what we need to know.

So who needs to know what?

Governors

For a typical governing body, there are only a few bits of useful information that can reasonably be monitored. Obviously the end-of-key-stage results are key. RaiseOnline does its thing here and provides more than enough detail for anybody. As for other year groups – the needs are limited. Governors need to have a strategic overview, so for the most part it should be sufficient for them to know what proportion of children are on-track to achieve expected and above-expected outcomes at the end of the Key Stage. This might include break-downs by groups (Pupil Premium, sex, etc.) but the big picture figures are limited to only two or three categories.

School leaders

For the most part, the same data as governors will be sufficient for school leaders. Where more detail is required – perhaps because a particular department, teacher, or group of pupils appears to be under-performing – then further detail may be required, but this should be provided by the teachers with responsibility for those children. For example, if leaders need to know which students are particularly being targeted for accelerated progress, then this should come from the teachers who know them, not from scanning lists of sub-levels. It is these practices that lead to the nonsense of “over-achieving” students then being targeted for further accelerated progress, rather than careful focus on the most needed/worthwhile groups.

Teachers

Teachers have almost no need for tracking. Their focus should be on assessment – relating progress directly to the learning and curriculum, not on broad categories and sub-levels. Inevitably there will be occasions where such assessment is used to inform tracking, but usually at this stage it loses any nuance and detail that would be useful to a classteacher.

Students

Arguably the most important recipients of assessment/tracking information, making it all the more shocking that I forgot these ‘stakeholders’ initially (see comments). Students have a keen interest in their progress, and should be supported to understand their attainment and targets. However, as I have said many times before, sub-levels did not achieve that. Students have a right to clarity about what they are doing well, and specific areas for improvement; that comes back to high quality assessment in the classroom. They may also be interested in their tracking data – knowing whether or not they’re on-track to meet expected (or higher) levels, but these should be secondary to the specifics of assessment.

Ofsted

Ofsted don’t need to know anything of in-school data. They get plenty of detail in Raise, and merely need to satisfy themselves that the school leaders have a good grip on the progress of students in other year groups to allow them to ensure that all students make appropriate progress. As the organisation itself told us this week: inspectors should not expect performance- and pupil-tracking data to be
presented in a particular format.

Tracking ≠ Assessment

None of this implies that no further detail is required at all. An essential part of the teacher’s job is to ensure that children are making progress and that teaching is targeted to close gaps and raise attainment for all. But none of that is linked to tracking, and we’d all do well to remember that!

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2 thoughts on “Tracking: a need-to-know operation

  1. andreacarr1 19 October 2014 at 10:29 pm Reply

    Good post Michael. I might add a section on pupils and what they need to know about their own progress and targets. Ofsted will probably be looking for evidence that children (and parents) are aware of their own targets too.

    • Michael Tidd 19 October 2014 at 10:33 pm Reply

      You’re absolutely right, Andrea – and I have added a brief mention following your comment. Thanks!🙂

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