Getting a handle on potential using CAT4, delving into any negative attitude using PASS and knowing what a child’s chronological reading age is with NGRT helps pinpoint what is going on.Andy Dalton-Bunker, Assistant Headteacher, Westhoughton High School
With the introduction of Progress 8, Westhoughton High School is using GL Assessment’s Complete Digital Solution to make sure every student reaches their Attainment 8 expectations.
Progress 8 is a new secondary performance measure designed to encourage schools to offer a broad and balanced curriculum at KS4, which looks at the progress of pupils across a selected set of eight subjects. It has been introduced alongside another new accountability measure – Attainment 8 – which shows pupils’ average achievement in the same suite of subjects.
At Westhoughton High School in Bolton, a mixed community comprehensive for children aged 11 to 16, Assistant Headteacher Andy Dalton-Bunker has welcomed the new measure as fair. “We see it as levelling the playing field with other schools in the area who have previously had high headline achievement figures as a result of strong intakes or by manipulating qualification systems.
“At our school, we don’t anticipate much of a shift. Our intake is broadly in line with the national average when it comes to prior attainment and our headline results just above, which we expect will continue. Staff are passionate about ensuring that every student achieves their best and Progress 8 doesn’t change this.
“However we have a large cohort of students who face extreme social and family issues – perhaps involving personal trauma or criminal justice – so they face some unusual challenges which are not acknowledged by prior attainment data.
“We’ve taken the approach that the Attainment 8 expectation for each student is a 'fixed' end point, albeit an estimate at this time. We are using information from the Complete Digital Solution assessments to indicate which students are likely to have most difficultly in reaching those expectations.”
Building a holistic view
The Complete Digital Solution (CDS) provides schools with critical insight across ability, attainment and barriers to learning. Assessments include the Cognitive Abilities Test (CAT4), the Progress Test Series in English, maths and science, and the Pupil Attitudes to Self and School (PASS) attitudinal survey. When combined with teachers’ knowledge and experience, these help to build a holistic, whole pupil view.
“A student who has a high KS2 SAT level will also have a high Attainment 8 expectation, yet a poor attitude or low reading age will make reaching those expectations much harder without intervention, especially if these factors are not identified quickly. Children, and their circumstances, also change considerably over five years at secondary school so it’s important that they’re re-assessed on a regular basis.
“Getting a handle on potential using CAT4, delving into any negative attitude using PASS and knowing what a child’s chronological reading age is with NGRT helps pinpoint what is going on.”
CDS has also proved particularly effective when students join in-year. “With the removal of National Curriculum levels, it can be difficult to make sense of where students should be placed academically. Now we can quickly access the same information we have on all our other students. The tests ensure that we have a good all-round profile of any new arrivals.”
Thanks to insightful advice and graphs, Andy says CDS has helped them understand students better.
“I very much like the wraparound nature of CDS as good assessment is at the heart of everything we do. In fact, if I could go back in time, the only thing I would do differently is start using CDS sooner!”
There is one particular instance he cites as an example. “We had one looked-after student who was a lovely girl, with mid to low ability. She didn’t do very well in tests, but we thought it was because she lacked confidence and panicked.
“The CAT4 report suggested that she should be known to the SEN department, so we put her through theDyslexia Screener and we discovered that she was dyslexic. This had not been mentioned from primary school, possibly because there were more pressing social concerns.
“The report also flagged up she would do better if she could work more practically, whereas we had thought written work was her strength.
“Her foster mum has high expectations of school support so she was initially dismissive of what we were saying, arguing ‘Show me the computer that knows my daughter better than me!’. However, once we had been through the report with her, she took it all back.
“She said it was spot on, and at home her daughter was happiest doing practical tasks like baking or mucking out horses, whereas she really didn’t like written work.
“We hadn’t seen this at all – the girl had been focusing hard to hide she was struggling, and was so relieved when we explained the situation to her. She had thought everyone found written work that difficult.
“We were able to transform her whole experience of education. With the right support in place, she made five levels of progress from KS2 to KS4, and even achieved a Grade B in English.
“Our experience with her changed our perceptions dramatically, and we now have a very rigorous system in place to ensure all students’ requirements are met.”
Westhoughton High School is explicitly avoiding the notion that a student with low CAT4 scores is somehow 'excused' from falling short of their Attainment 8 expectations.
“We have to give every student the chance to meet their expectations, for their own sake and the sake of the school accountability measures. With CDS, we have more relevant and reliable information at an early stage, including combination reports that compare CAT4 predicted ability data with reading tests or the Progress Test Series.
“It means we can intervene earlier than ever before. Using the Progress Test Series at the end of each year and repeating CAT4 in Year 9 allows us to measure the impact of these interventions and to confirm our students are back-on-track to reach Attainment 8 expectations.
“CAT4 reports are also used by students, parents and teachers to inform KS4 option choices, ensuring students are on the most appropriate courses from them. And as GCSE outcomes measure students against their peers nationally, it’s useful to validate our own judgements against a large, external cohort.
“We’re confident we have a very strong model. We are accredited by the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors (CIEA) as an ‘Excellence in Assessment’ school. When our assessor visited, she said, “I don’t need to write you an action plan, there is nothing else you need to do to achieve our award!”
Benefits of using CDS at Westhoughton High School
"The assessment framework should be built into the school curriculum, so that schools can check what pupils have learned and whether they are on track to meet expectations at the end of the key stage, and so that they can report regularly to parents."
“Without a doubt, the elephant in the room is comprehension. If a child can decode to an extent, that develops confidence – but this confidence is easily shattered quite quickly when they enter secondary school.”