Published on: 16 Jun 2017

Making sure that pupils are making sufficient progress will be a huge challenge for schools, because without national, meaningful terms of reference comparisons will be difficult

Keeping up with the pace of change

“Before we can close the attainment gap, we need to change the expectation gap and set more aspirational targets.” Anu Monga, the Raising Standards Leader at St Paul’s Girls School in Birmingham, gave us food for thought at our Progress 8: Plotting a path to positive progress conference in London last month, organised in conjunction with Doddle.

As schools move into unchartered waters with the implementation of Progress 8, and the absence of national curriculum levels, the conference was an opportunity for schools to share their assessment models and best practice while at the same negotiating the challenges of reforms to GCSE demands and gradings.

In this context, Anu questioned the use of grades over percentages in setting targets and looking at progress. What are our pupils expected to achieve at Key Stage 4 and how do we prepare for this? What do we need them to know earlier on in their secondary education to ensure they are ready for GCSEs?

Making sure that pupils are making sufficient progress will be a huge challenge for schools, because without national, meaningful terms of reference comparisons will be difficult. Matthew Pinder, deputy head of Hinchingbrooke School in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, told us that the removal of the national curriculum levels “scaffold” meant that consistency in assessment was more vital than ever.

Schools effectively now have five years as a build up to GCSE, he said, and translation of prior attainment must now begin in Year 7 as pupils enter secondary school, and not in the move between Key Stages 3 and 4. Quite rightly, Matthew stated, there was a difficult balancing act between setting realistic targets and ensuring pupils didn’t coast through school.

At Hinchingbrooke, primary feeder schools send pupils in for a three-day transition event, during which they will sit CAT4 tests. At the same time their SATs scores will be analysed, and the two sets of results will give teachers a clear idea of where pupils are and how far they could progress if challenged. When the students arrive, Doddle’s assessment system, founded on student progress in the development of skills, checks how their Year 7 cohort is faring. It is surely a model likely to be replicated in many more schools to ensure that progress measures are as accurate as possible, and that pupils hit the ground running when they enter secondary education.

The ‘five-year GCSE’ was also the topic for Indira Warwick’s presentation. Indira, who is the deputy head of Alperton School in north London, told the conference about the importance of taking a fresh look at the curriculum and understanding what was right for pupils, and not necessarily just tailoring what is taught to individual GCSE subject specifications. Every pupil should be taught as a potential GCSE student, but understanding their attitudes to learning was also important if they are to succeed.

She reminded us, quite rightly, that underachieving pupils aren’t always necessarily naughty pupils. They may need interventions if they are to meet their targets, but teachers needed to know how and when these should be implemented.

These are undoubtedly challenging times for schools, and it can be hard to keep up with the pace of change. But there is some outstanding practice taking place, as heads and teachers assume ownership of their assessment and data, and use what they know to the best advantage for students.

By Julia Garvey, Head of Marketing, GL Assessment

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