I have done a lot of work all over the country for the past couple of years trying to help schools to move forward with the new curriculum, and particularly with venturing into the brave new world of life after levels.
Having initially been reticent, I have been a keen advocate of schools taking control of assessment so that it matches their curriculum, and moving away from points-based systems which expect linear progress. No teacher has ever argued that a linear model makes sense; we all know that it was meaningless. In many cases schools and their leaders feel liberated to focus on what matters for their children. Teachers are freed up to focus on real assessment that drives teaching and learning, helping children to make better progress.
Except there’s that word.
For the first year or so, headteachers would often ask me: but how do you show progress? As Ofsted have told us time and again: progress can be seen in books, by talking to children, and occasionally by some summative assessment. The Assessment Commission report was clear in its use of Good Practice examples where schools recorded data only annually. In its draft form, it even pointed out that collecting data too frequently could actually be damaging. There should be no need for schools to be falling over themselves with data every 6 or 12 weeks!
So why is it that local authorities up and down the country are still pestering schools for termly data that shows measurable progress for each term? Why are so many trying to re-label old measures, such as “expected progress” by just calling them “sufficient progress” or “good progress”.
The fact that my own authority still has a form entitled “Termly Evaluation of progress of current cohorts” is bad enough. The fact that it takes up 5 pages to record various percentages and proportions for each year group is very frustrating. The fact that any of the numbers that could possibly be put into it would be essentially meaningless is a shocking waste of everyone’s time. The idea that conclusions might be drawn from such data: positively worrying.
So it seems like local authorities could do with some advice. I’ll draw upon that most useful of documents: the final report of the Commission on Assessment without Levels. So perhaps the leaders in local authorities up and down the country could take heed of the following:
The expectation to collect data in efforts to track pupils’ progress towards target levels considerably increased teachers’ workload. The Commission hopes that teachers will now build their confidence in using a range of formative assessment techniques as an integral part of their teaching, without the burden of unnecessary recording and tracking. For this approach to be adopted effectively, it is essential that it is supported by school leaders.
Notice, that last bit includes you, local authority experts!
In-school summative assessment is not designed to support comparisons between schools
The summative information schools use should be for their information. My school’s meaning of ‘on-track’ in December may be very different to another schools. Any data isn’t designed to be comparable, and so shouldn’t be used to compare!
Perhaps Local Authority teams should take their lead from Ofsted:
Inspectors will want to know how schools are assessing whether their pupils are making progress which is appropriate for their age and ability and is sufficiently challenging. Inspectors will gather information from observations in lessons, pupils’ work, discussions with pupils about their understanding and acquisition of knowledge, and the school’s own records. However, Ofsted will not expect any particular data outputs from a school’s assessment system.
It’s time to stop asking for the same old data, and start asking the right questions. Every time you insist schools complete a pro forma that just tweaks the old levels-based style of data, not only are you not helping: you may well be stopping the school from moving forwards with more effective assessment.
In defence of those who work for Local Authorities who are not making such demands, it’s worth sharing this tweet from @clivetaylor915