Oliver Burwood, Academies Group Executive Principal, Diocese of Norwich Education and Academies Trust
“There was a real need for rigour and quality assessment, and for standardising our practice. This was non-negotiable for us as a MAT.”
Organising a MAT of 30, quite disparate, primary academies is no mean feat. Our academies have a uniting factor of Christian distinctiveness but do cover a range of Ofsted outcomes, vary in size and are located in a wide geographical area. In that diverse context, our aim was to create a supportive network of schools, working towards a common purpose of improvement and progress.
One of the most important developments in our MAT was the creation of an Academy Improvement Team, which helped us get to grips with assessment. This was an area that needed urgent attention and it was key to driving progress. Our schools weren’t routinely using quality standardised summative assessment, and teacher assessment needed to better moderated and more accurate.
There was a real need for rigour and for quality assessment, and for standardising our practice. This was non-negotiable for us as a MAT. We needed to check periodically that we were on track and that we were closing gaps in achievement between groups of pupils. The Trustees demanded this, and as the Improvement Team we had to find something that improved accuracy and would support more rigorous moderation.
GL Assessment’s Progress Test Series for English and maths offered us the assessment we were looking for, but we wanted the decision to belong to the teachers who would be implementing them in the classroom. I created a spreadsheet of options which included several providers to look at. All had their strengths and weaknesses, and after looking at test examples our Assessment Leads Group, made up of assessment leads from each academy, identified that the Progress Test Series had the most strengths and fewest weaknesses for our needs. It was important that the teachers were involved in the whole process as changes are harder to implement when they are seen as coming solely from above.
With the Progress Test Series we have tests that aren’t marked by staff, so they don’t add to workload, and the analysis they provide through the reports means that teachers can identify, among other things, gaps between different groups of children and focus on how to improve learning. This allows teachers to adjust teaching for the following year, and gives standardised results across the MAT. This is the first year we have used the assessments, but looking ahead, we know they will help us to monitor progress in individual schools year on year.
As part of our professional development we held a leadership event for our headteachers and key leaders, where we fed back from the data from the years that took the Progress Test Series - Years 1, 3, 4 and 5 at a trust level. The analyses allowed us to pick out areas where we were above, at or below the national standards. In Year 4 maths, for example, we found children working significantly below national average across the Trust. This meant we had to look at any of the current Year 5s were affected and how we were going to tackle this.
In contrast, Year 1 across the trust was found to be working above national average in English, which encouraged a positive discussion. Having standardised data allowed each school to look at its own strengths and weaknesses, and to consider how they would tackle any deficits and reflect on whether changes were needed to the curriculum or Single Change Plans.
Overall, the results showed the schools in our MAT overall were performing in line with national averages in most year groups. This information will support our trust-wide moderation where we can compare this to children’s progress seen in books. This was heartening, as we are only on the start of our journey together towards increased achievement and academic success.