As Multi Academy Trusts grow, they need to be sure that the support they offer individual academies is proportionate to need. Lisa Crausby, Principal Improvement Director of Academy Transformation Trust, explains why a common assessment framework is essential.
At the heart of our MAT is a belief that every academy in our Trust can be transformed to become outstanding regardless of the issues they face. The 23 academies in our family have many challenges, including lost learning and a legacy of underachievement. Some are also situated in deprived areas.
We believe that, whatever their background, all pupils should have the very best education we can provide. To make sure we deliver on that promise, we have spent time developing strong strategies for improvement that we roll out to all our academies. Our Achievement Strategy is purely around standards and progress, and good assessment is essential. Getting this right has enabled us to secure higher standards and stronger outcomes.
Scaling the rock face
Prior to joining us, many pupils have been at risk of regressing in their learning, rather than making progress. It can feel as though there is a rock face to scale, which is why it’s so important to know exactly what we are dealing with from the start.
When we welcome a new school into The Trust, the first step is to benchmark the starting point of all pupils so we can get a good feel of the school’s strengths and their areas of improvement. As we move forward, we are then able to evaluate what progress has been made.
Introducing a common assessment strategy
We have a lot of faith in teacher judgement but we discovered early on that different people and different academies had different understandings of assessment terminology. With a large group of academies under our wing, we need to make certain the support we are offering is proportionate to need. Without a common language for assessment, this would be almost impossible to organise.
In a life without levels, we also needed a system that would avoid any data being too loose or open to interpretation, so we decided to procure a suite of standardised assessments (GL Assessment’s Complete Digital Solution®, CDS) for all our schools to create that common assessment language. But we knew that it would only work if all of our schools followed a common assessment strategy, too, and if everyone – teachers, middle leaders, senior leaders – understood why we were doing it.
As a Trust, we wanted to take a whole pupil approach to assessment. We want a critical insight into ability, attainment and any barriers to learning in order to live up to our promises for these children. This is what CDS provides. Ability is measured by the Cognitive Abilities Test: Fourth Edition® (CAT4), attainment by the Progress Test Series® (PT Series) in English, maths and science, and barriers to learning through the Pupil Attitudes to Self and School® (PASS) survey. Other, more specialist SEND assessments form part of the package, too.
While the standardised assessments provide us with a national benchmark at key points in the year, schools are able to decide which of the more day-to-day assessments they want to use – whichever suits them and their curriculum offer. Triangulating the different datasets enables us to have a real understanding of our students and allows us to spot any anomalies.
A phased approach
In the first year of our new assessment strategy, we trialled CDS with all of our schools and they familiarised themselves with both the practicalities and the benefits. After we evaluated the first year’s data and the benefits were well known, we formalised our approach into an assessment cycle so that everything now happens collectively across The Trust.
We found that CAT4 is the best place to start so this takes place at the start of the academic year and informs any achievement strategy we develop for each academy. For new academies, CAT4 is used across year groups to ensure a robust baseline on opening, and where there are significant progress discrepancies with prior attainment data, the academy will ensure rapid interventions are put in place to help those pupils who have fallen behind to catch up.
The PT Series is then used annually by each year group at the end of the academic year, with those that need to catch up tested again in the following autumn term so that we can evaluate how the gaps are closing. An added advantage of independently assessing English, maths and science is that it acts as evidence for Ofsted, demonstrating the amount of progress a child, a class or an academy has made.
Every November, we use PASS, an attitudinal survey that looks at factors specifically linked to attainment, engagement and wellbeing. We have been excited to add this pastoral dimension and discover what different groups across The Trust really think. If there are negative attitudes in any area, we’ll carry out appropriate interventions to improve them and then retake PASS to check they have worked.
The data is looked at centrally by a senior leader, a data manager and our primary or secondary improvement director. We also organise an achievement forum every term which allows us to come together to discuss how the assessments are being used. We don’t want to test and not do anything with the results.
Having standardised assessments has instilled a confidence in our staff, too. It gives them a high level of assurance and it gives them a reliable data set to compare against. For our primaries, this has been particularly useful ahead of their SATs, for example.
It’s always rewarding to receive positive feedback from Ofsted and the Department of Education, as we have done, which proves we are making the impact we want to as a high performing MAT.
We were pleased that one of our recent Ofsted inspection reports, for Sutton Community Academy, reflected the difference our assessment strategy is making: ‘Leaders are rigorous in their use of assessment. They ensure that pupils’ progress is checked regularly. They use this information effectively to identify where pupils are falling behind. Close liaison and sharing of information between the subject leaders and the leaders of learning and achievement for each year group ensure that appropriate support is in place to enable pupils to catch up. As a result, pupils’ outcomes are improving strongly across the great majority of subjects.’
The common language for assessment across all our academies is ensuring that rapid progress is now being made.
Benefits of using CDS for Academy Transformation Trust
- Provides standardised starting points for pupils when their school becomes an academy and measures any lost learning which may have occurred
- Allows The Trust to take a whole pupil approach to assessment, in conjunction with teacher judgements
- Standardises information from across their family of academies, encouraging all academies to speak the same language and results to be monitored centrally
- Ensures a structured system that builds on the achievement and academy improvement strategies already in place
- Measures progress over time, evidencing impact to Ofsted