Monthly Archives: February 2015

Shareday Friday – 10 tips for working with EAL pupils

Each week I gift something to the educational community online. This week I have been raiding our English as an Additional Language (EAL) policy for 10 practical tips to support EAL learners. In a school where over 95% of our learners have English as a second or even third language, a coherent and consistent approach to supporting these learners is vital.

Here then are 10 tips taken from our EAL policy.

1: Simplify the language, not the task
2: Provide regular opportunities for pupils to hear and read quality models of English.
3: Make use of instructions, explanations, illustrations and prior rehearsal to enable EAL pupils to take an active part in lessons.
4: Provide time for pupils to practice using language.
5: Make use of visual and auditory aids to support pupils in both developing English and also in concept development.
6: Clearly identify and focus on target language associated with the subject content.
7: Comment explicitly on language forms, functions and structures used to convey the curriculum content.
8: Encourage pupils to engage in talk which supports their understanding and uses the language models provided by the teacher.
9: Identify lack of competence in English and learning difficulties separately and support the two using appropriate strategies both in class and in specific interventions.
10: Make sure pupils read in English every day and that this is monitored and promoted by the class teacher.

Do you have tips of your own for working with EAL students? Add them in the comments box below.

Teaching bi-lingual and EAL learners in primary schools
by Jean Conteh

Share This:

1 Comment

Filed under Teaching English to Spanish speakers

Monthly top 5 roundup – February 2015

Top five pages from the Internet, top five pages from this site and product of the month all in one convenient place.

The power of five

Top 5 pages from the Internet

1. New commission on primary assessment – After telling schools that they should work out for themselves how to assess pupils, now a commission is being set up to tell schools how they should assess.
2. The problem with lesson planning – David Didau on his blog, The Learning Spy, started the month looking at lesson planning.
3. The challenge for the DfE with workload – Michael Tidd takes a look at the government workload challenge and concludes, “At least we’re heading in the right direction.”
4. The expert in a year challenge – An illustration of the possibilities when targeted practice and growth mindset are brought together.
5. Resourceasourus.co.uk – This site gets a special mention. It looks new but sites like this are breaking with the tradition that teachers should share their work for free. It will be interesting to see if any school ever challenges on the basis of intellectual property rights. Until then, pop your teaching resources on here and receive payment each time they are downloaded.

Top 5 pages from this site

1. All the info. you need to know about teaching abroad – With over 4000 views, this collection of links to information about teaching abroad gets February’s top slot.
2. Two great ideas for displaying pupil targets
3. Teacher turnover and high performing school systems – Why is teacher turnover so low (3%) in high performing school systems?
4. Combating cyber bullying – A great free video resource for exploring cyber bullying with pupils.
5. Using a portfolio effectively on interview – What should be in an interview portfolio and how can you use it to secure your next education post?

Product of the month

This month we have been discussing display in school. We agreed a display policy and then spent time making sure that class displays were purposeful and focused on learning. We also had a staff meeting where we walked around the school and each teacher spent a couple of minutes talking about how they were using display in their own classrooms. A great resource for display ideas is the Belair series of books. The link below is for the general primary display book but there are others with ideas for specific curriculum areas.

Belair on display – The Essential Guide to Primary Display
by Noel Springett-McHugh

Share This:

Leave a Comment

Filed under Best education weblinks

Should maths be taught from government approved textbooks?

Nick Gibb, Minister of State for Schools, would like to see the introduction of a “quality framework” against which maths textbooks could be assessed. Is this a strong move to improve the national standards in mathematics or government meddling in curriculum being taken one step too far?

Let’s be clear that when you cut through the language of “quality framework” what is sitting behind here is a government sanctioned textbook for the teaching of mathematics. But would a national textbook for mathematics really help us raise the standard of mathematics in the nation or are there other factors which may have greater impact?

Here are my five concerns about a national mathematics textbook.

1: It will limit attainment and we will lower all students to the lowest acceptable standard.
My first concern is that the implementation of a new national curriculum becomes void if the state then controls the textbooks for curriculum delivery. The purpose of the National Curriculum is to provide a minimum entitlement for all children. Schools are encouraged to develop their own curriculum that builds from this agreed national minimum entitlement. A school curriculum should have at its heart the national curriculum to which we all adhere but if this is the only aspect of a school’s curriculum then the national curriculum becomes restricting rather than liberating. A state sanctioned textbook in mathematics could have exactly that effect. One of the positive aspects of our national curriculum in England and Wales is that we allow children to develop at their own rate. We encourage pupils to go beyond the curriculum boundaries for their year group and we introduce concepts to pupils when they are ready. Pupils in such a system can exceed the expectations laid down by the national curriculum. A state sanctioned textbook for the subject can only expect the agreed minimum and therefore would become restricting. Pupils would have be expected to complete the book by the end of the school year, but what of the pupil that could go beyond the confines of that book. As opposed to encouraging pupils to excel and allowing each individual to achieve to his or her maximum we could well end up lowering everybody to the lowest common denominator; the basic level expected of the national curriculum.

2: We will kill teacher creativity and in doing so promote lazy teaching that fails to respond to the need of individuals in the class.
A defined textbook for a subject encourages teaching by numbers. It promotes lazy teaching and the best teachers within the system will be those who adhere to the materials and complete the necessary work with all pupils. The teachers that were supplementing the school scheme with exciting creative teaching will be pushed aside. Forget the need for initial teacher training as surely anybody can instruct a pupil as to which page we are working from today.

3: Pupils will become bored and bored pupils misbehave.
Pupil engagement and motivation will suffer. The most successful teachers are those that engage with their pupils and make the learning interesting and relevant. How do you do that if the materials is controlled centrally? We will run the risk of taking away the creativity that engages pupils and makes the learning relevant and interesting, fun even. The end result will be greater disaffection and almost certainly more behaviour problems. Bored students, especially bored high attaining students who are not being challenged, show behaviour problems.

4: We will further dumb down the entry standard for teaching.
Any attempt to excessively control the teaching taking place in the classroom has the effect of blurring curriculum delivery and teaching. The two are different and we need to avoid any attempt to make it appear as though a teacher’s main role is delivering the curriculum content. The learning takes place through the curriculum and the curriculum itself is not the learning. A consistent message about high performing education systems is that they need well qualified teachers. The national strategies of the previous administration are an example of how a content laden curriculum distracts from the core purpose of initial teacher training (ITT). One of the core roles of ITT is to prepare teachers for teaching. Not delivering curriculum, but teaching. Understanding pedagogy, understanding how children learn and developing the skills to adapt learning experiences to match the individuals in the class. If ITT is taken up with marching mindlessly through a content rich curriculum then we no longer require thinkers to step forward as teachers. We maybe don’t even need degree courses and the routes into teaching will become more varied with the end result of a national body of teachers who know only how to deliver a curriculum.

5: We are ignoring the elephant in the room.
Nick Gibb wants the UK to perform well in international comparative tests such as PISA. This proposal for a nationally sanctioned textbook for mathematics is coming directly from government ministers and their acolytes visiting Shanghai. The notion that Shanghai students perform well (my opinions on Shanghai’s performance can be seen here) because of a national textbook is laughably foolish. High performing school systems perform well usually on the back of significant cultural differences. To put it another way, they have adapted their high performing educational system to their own culture. In Shanghai many students come out of school and go on to additional private classes in the evening. Yet, in Finland, another high performing educational system, students come out of class with no homework until thirteen years old and are encouraged to spend time with their families or out playing. So, homework isn’t the consistent factor in high performing school systems and neither is the presence of a government controlled textbook. That might suit the politics and culture of China. The nation is used to government control of society and it is an accepted part of the culture. It isn’t however the consistent factor in high achieving school systems. So, what is the consistent factor in high achieving school systems? What should our ministers dispatched around the world have noticed and brought back if they want the UK to rise to the top of international rankings?
So, what is the elephant in the room? High performing school systems put their best graduates in front of classes. They don’t have one year fast track schemes to convert other professions into teaching; they don’t allow trainee teachers to bypass national standard testing by sitting university access qualifications in core subjects. Indeed, in Finland all teachers have a masters degree. They spend four years studying how to teach before they are allowed into classrooms. The result is a highly motivated, valued and trained workforce of teachers. If we cannot develop a highly motivated, valued and trained body of teachers then no amount of tinkering with the textbooks or raising the bar in national assessments will make any difference.

If we want a high performing educational system the secret is simple!
High performing educational systems have high performing teachers.

High performers: The secrets of successful schools
by Alistair Smith

Share This:

Leave a Comment

Filed under Leadership in education

Expert in a year

As an educator I’m fascinated by research into learning and one theme that keeps recurring is the notion that talent is not a birthright but something that is earned through hard work.

An intriguing project that has been getting attention on the Internet recently looks at what is possible in just one year. Under the title “Expert in a year” a table tennis coach by the name of Ben Larcombe has taken a young protege, Sam Priestly, and set off on a twelve month project to try and place that player in the top 250 players in England. The composite video that records the project is compelling viewing.

We watch the early days and, to a man, are thinking “I could beat him in a game”. As time rolls on we see how, with practice and training, Sam develops into a player that looks like a contender. But what does this all mean? How does it have any relation to learning and the work of schools?

In Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice, Matthew Syed take us on his own journey into the world of table tennis. In ‘Bounce’, Syed doesn’t completely rubbish talent but he does provide a persuasive argument for why natural talent is less important than purposeful practice. Often, we mistake this hard work for a natural talent. To anybody who has read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success the notion of talent being the product being a reward for hard work isn’t a new idea. Gladwell argues that with 10,000 hours of practice (he believes that with commitment you can reasonably assume to put in 1,000 hours per year and therefore the journey is one of 10 years) anybody can become an expert. What Matthew Syed does is bring that idea to life. Through his own experience of rising up the table tennis ranks and ultimately representing his country in the Olympic Games, he takes what Gladwell wrote about and makes it real. On the way to his conclusions he covers confidence, nerve and even race. Matthew Syed also notices that practice alone is not sufficient. What we need is targeted practice. Relevant practice.

Carol Dweck has then taken the work of Gladwell and Syed and in her book Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential she explores these concepts in an accessible but scientific manner. She coins the term “Growth Mindset” and compares this to a “Fixed Mindset”. Again, this is nothing new but it is presented in a different manner. Carol Dweck argues that if you have a fixed mindset you are of the belief that you cannot improve. Therefore as educators, our role is to help develop pupils who have a growth mindset. Students who believe that through hard work and effort they can improve are clearly better equipped to work in a modern world where adaptability and resilience are key characteristics to success.

Again, what does this mean to teachers and schools? All of the above can easily be applied to education, specifically to education taking place in schools. However, it isn’t something one teacher on a course or one teacher with a book can use to make positive change. No, rather it is work that needs to be a part of school culture. It needs the support and understanding of everyone working in the school. Only then will the work of the school be directed towards an effective and purposeful change. Fortunately, there is a point by point guide as to how this theory transfers into practice in schools. If you are a teacher or leader in school and have yet to read this book then are missing the single most significant collection of advice to motivate and engage your students. I offer it to you as a key part of any school development plan, a tool for school improvement and far more significant than “common core”, “curriculum 2014”, “OFSTED” or whatever other external political influences are trying to control the direction of education in your part of the world.

Mindsets in the classroom: Building a culture of success and student achievement in schools
by Mary Cay Ricci

Share This:

2 Comments

Filed under Leadership in education

Spanish Sundays – A photo tour of Alzira

Alzira is located around 40km to the South of Valencia and 20km from the coast. Enjoying the coastal climate of the Mediterranean it doesn’t have the high and low temperature fluctuations of central Spain.

For this week’s Spanish Sunday blog post I am taking a photo tour of the town of Alzira.

Church dominating the skyline of Alzira

Mare de Déu del Lluch

The first sight on approaching Alzira is the church that looks down on the town from a hillside to the south. Mare de Déu del Lluch has views to Valencia in the north and across the Ribera Alta countryside towards Xativa to the south.

Rio Júcar, river in Alzira

The Rio Júcar flowing on the inland side of Alzira

Alzira is built on the banks of the Rio Júcar. With fertile orange groves all around the town and stretching towards the coast, the marsh lands growing rice for paella, much of the industry around Alzira is based on farming.

A steam train preserved on the northern edge of Alzira

Preserved steam train in Alzira

Alzira is on the main train line connecting Alicante and Valencia. Services into Valencia are frequent and well priced. During the day the service runs on the hour and delivers passengers to the centre of Valencia for around 7€.

Arabic walls from the time Alzira was a moorish settlement

Ancient Arabic walls

The inland edge of the town still retains the ancient Arabic walls. Remembering a time before James I liberated the town from the Arabs, these walls are just one of many Arabic influences in the design and architecture of the town.

The plaza Mayor in Alzira, the centre of the town

The Plaza Mayor in Alzira

The Plaza Mayor, or main square, in Alzira is fringed with orange trees. Bars and restaurants serve a variety of food and drink and the plaza is always busy, even through the winter months.

The town hall or ayuntamientio in the old town of Alzira

Alzira ayunamiento (town hall)

The old town of Alzira is a maze of narrow cobbled streets. Amongst the bars and churches is a central square that is home to the ayuntamiento (town hall).

Share This:

Leave a Comment

Filed under Relocating to Spain

In the land of the blind…

In the land of the blind the one eyed man is king. Welcome to Spain, a land where a failure to enforce regulation encourages any cowboy to step forward as an expert.

I moved into my current house here in Alzira last summer. Just on the edge of the town and in a pleasant urbanisation, many aspects of being here are fantastic. With a south facing aspect and sun on the terrace all winter there’s plenty for which we can be grateful. Today however has uncovered once again the scourge of Spanish society – the cowboy workman. With seemingly nobody enforcing regulations, pretty much any tradesman, despite the sign writing on his van, could well be a complete and utter cowboy.

My first experience of this was soon after arriving here in Spain. The gas boiler I had at the time wasn’t working, so without hot water or heating, I called the landlord. José, my genial landlord turned up about a week later to take a look. He spent twenty minutes running water from each of the taps in the house and checking the pilot light before declaring that it was clearly not working and he would need to call an expert. Now, I imagined a boiler suit wearing official with a badge to denote his professional affiliations, so was a little taken aback when a gentleman in his mid seventies turned up with a black tar cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. After establishing the fact that this chap with his thickset, yellow, nicotine stained beard was in fact the expert, I led him through to the boiler and watched him perform his magic. In this case, with the lit cigarette still burning from the corner of his mouth, he lifted the front of the boiler and gave the gaze of what he clearly considered to be an expert analysis. With the cigarette waving dangerously from the corner of his mouth he tapped on any exposed pipes. With nothing happening he turned to me and asked if I had a spanner. When I was unable to oblige he changed his request to a screwdriver. Having provided him with the tools of his trade he then proceeded to bang ferociously on any pipe using the aforementioned tool. When the boiler still failed to light he shrugged and announced, with the pride normally associated with a job well done, that I would need an expert.

Which brings me to today’s events. Today’s clowning around started at around 9am when two guys turned up to install a new immersion heater. I had suggested to the landlady that a gas boiler may be a more sensible option when I complained that the 40 litre immersion was insufficient to service a family home. Today saw the installation of a new 70 litre immersion. The two tradesmen turned up at 9am and after a little poking around at the old system decided they needed ‘materials’. Now, to anybody living in Spain, a workman short of materials in the morning is an accepted code for “we’re going to a bar for breakfast and may be back before lunch”. The nearest DIY store is about two minutes away. Clearly these were large materials as they both left and took the van. Two hours later they returned looking well breakfasted and carrying the two bolts that had been missing at 9am.

The ensuing drilling, draining and general procrastination took until 3pm. Two men worked for six hours a piece, on paper at least, in order to install one immersion heater. (Let’s not discount the breakfast time as I’m sure they won’t when they submit their bill!)

There’s a lot to love about small town Spain but the lack of regulated and professional tradesmen is not on the list. At some point I imagine the regulations will come and customer expectation may even be the driving force for change. Until then, we will have to continue to enjoy the theatre of ‘have a go’ workmen trying in vain to fix the nation’s electrical and gas appliances.

In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king!

Share This:

1 Comment

Filed under Relocating to Spain

Combating cyber bullying

Bullying is fast getting over taken by cyber bullying, online bullying with a far greater reach. This is what came from Year 6 (11 year old) pupils this week when I led a session to explore cyber bullying.

We started the lesson with pupils discussing what they thought constituted bullying. They came up with the usual responses of insulting behaviour or ignoring somebody. This soon spread into the difference between being unkind and bullying. Bullying required, according to the pupils, an ongoing or repetitive element.

Then we watched the following video to move our conversation forward to consider cyber bullying. This video likens cyber bullying to a virus spreading and it was this image that really succeeded in elevating the pupils’ conversations.

Children really engaged with the idea of cyber bullying being like a virus and then made the connection between that image and their earlier observation that bullying required an ongoing or repetitive element. They understood that a comment on a class “Whatsapp” group or other social media page had a reach of up to 25 pupils (our class size). Assuming just one or two of those shared, the reach would be multiplied and after the first posting the author quickly looses track of the potential reach.

The pupils themselves arrived at the conclusion that:

Only one offensive or insulting remark online may be enough to constitute bullying because of the ‘virus’ nature illustrated in the video above. The comment is already visible to a larger audience and therefore it already has the repetitive or ongoing element that makes it bullying.

Sometimes, you throw a starter into a lesson and the learning comes from the pupils themselves with little or no further guidance needed.

Share This:

Leave a Comment

Filed under Best education weblinks

Shareday Friday – Two great ideas for displaying pupil targets

Shareday Friday – my weekly gift to the online educational community
We’ve been looking at how to make individual pupil targets relevant and purposeful. Individual pupil targets in a primary school are a great way of involving pupils in their learning. If the classroom environment can reflect those targets with a well designed display then pupil motivation is improved.

All children in school have three targets that are changed on a half termly basis. Their literacy target gives something they can improve about their writing. Their maths target is an area they are working to improve in number. Finally, we have a third target that we call ‘Habits of learning’. This target is supports the development of learning behaviours that we want to see as embedded practice in our classrooms.

How teachers choose to display those targets is up to individuals. This Friday, in my weekly giving something back to the online community, I present two ideas for displaying and managing individual targets in class.

A primary display of pupil individual targets

Reach for the stars – pupil targets on display

Reach for the stars
In this display the pupils have drawn around an outline of their arm and hand and personalised their work with pattern and colour. The targets, which are easily changed, are attached with post-it notes. Children achieving success with targets are given a star to place on their hand. When they have achieved a prescribed number of stars they know they have achieved success and are ready to change the target. The display is bordered with more post-it notes where the children have recorded how they will know if they have been successful with their targets.

Individual pupil targets on display in a primary school

Bullseye – another method of displaying individual pupil targets

Bullseye
In this display of primary pupil targets the children have written their targets on arrow cards. All targets start outside the board and as children achieve success with their targets they are allowed to move their targets closer to the bullseye. Questions around the board prompt children to remain focussed on success.
“When did you last move your target arrow?”
“How do you know if you are successful with your targets?”

Belair On Display – The Essential Guide to Primary Display

 

Share This:

Leave a Comment

Filed under Leadership in education

Teacher turnover and high performing school systems

Teacher recruitment and retention is a real problem, not just in the UK but in other countries too. The USA for example reports 14% of teachers leaving after their first year and 46% after their fifth year. In the UK some reports say 50% have left within their first five years. So what can be done to recruit and retain quality teachers to our classrooms?

First of all, let’s debunk a myth. Teachers don’t leave the profession because of poor pay. Teachers discuss pay, walk on the streets carrying placards if pay rises run behind inflation, but they don’t leave the classroom because of pay. I’ve already discussed my belief that the solution to teacher recruitment and retention lies in managing teacher workload and removing some of the unnecessary external pressures caused by observation and grading. (Read my article “5 facts about reducing workload” for more information on this issue.)

So, the UK, the USA, and no doubt many other countries, have problems with recruitment and retention of teachers and yet Finland which regularly comes out on the top of comparative tables has only 3% of teachers leaving the profession in the first five years. Let’s assume that the 3% is indicative of people who either chose the wrong profession or for whatever reason were not right for the role. That means that for every 100 teachers the UK train, 3 don’t hit expectations and 47 leave for other reasons. So, if it isn’t pay, why do they leave?

Before we continue let’s debunk another myth. Finland appear to play PISA tests quite honestly. I have my opinions on Shanghai but Finland really seem to play by the book. Regardless of whether we think PISA a reliable way of judging an education system, Finnish students ace these tests.

So what is different between Finland, which has mastered recruiting and retaining teachers, and countries including the UK and USA that are struggling to get any value for money out of initial teacher training? Here is my ‘Top 5’ of how Finland succeeds in keeping the best teachers in classrooms.

1: Average student:teacher ratio is 1:12
I’ve read Hattie (Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning), I understand what EEF produces but without doing research or making observations, there is a difference here. This isn’t a promise of infant classes below 30, this is a ‘throughout education’ average of 12. As a mean that must also indicate many children are in classes smaller than 12. A parent wanting that teacher:pupil ratio in the UK is almost certainly going to have to choose an independent education.

2: 1 in 3 Finnish students receives some sort of special help in school
That seems an outstanding intervention rate. In a class of 12 then, there could be up to four pupils receiving an intervention. Again, we aren’t looking at infant or even primary education. This is an average across the education system.

3: Homework
Finnish students don’t start homework until into their teens. There has been substantial research to show that homework produces small or no benefits educationally and yet still parents in the UK and USA have expectations of homework. Children in Finland, according to one observer, are children. They return home and then go out to play with friends. They socialise, talk, enjoy quality family time and crucially, school doesn’t figure at home until they are approaching the only national standardised testing that takes place at 16 years old. No standardised testing until 16 years old and no homework until approaching the tests.

4: Playtime
Children in Finland have more minutes of playtime in their school day than almost anywhere else in Europe. An average of 75 minutes per day spent playing outside with friends. The tendency in the UK is to combat playtime problems by reducing the time spent on the playground and yet Finland seems to achieve better results by giving more playtime. Something we don’t quite understand is clearly at work here!

5: To teach in Finland requires a masters degree
And there it is. You can’t step in front of a class in Finland without a minimum of four years of degree study. No fast track, no returning heroes, no access courses for degree courses. Four years minimum of academic study and practice before you can take a class. Consequently, teaching is still a profession with public confidence. Doctors, lawyers and teachers are seen as a similar status.

So, what can we learn?
My five point system for improving teacher recruitment and retention without discussing workload is:

1: Remove all fast track to the classroom schemes. One year hops into the classroom are damaging our education system. Access alternatives for courses that negate the need for an academic study are muddying the waters. If you haven’t got an English and Maths GCSE then you need to study for one. Remove the ‘equivalent’ courses that universities run to enable late entrants in to teaching.

2: Allow playtime. Allow it outside at playtime and allow it in the classroom, especially in the early years. Teachers know how to create learning opportunities through play. Remove the teaching by numbers systems of an overly controlling central curriculum and judge teachers not on their delivery of national strategy but on the learning taking place in their classrooms.

3: Stop wasting time on testing and homework. All the research says it doesn’t help attainment. It is only in the system to check up on teachers. We are only checking up on teachers because there is a lack of trust in their work.

4: Provide more interventions when they are needed. When I taught in the UK we had two educational psychologist visits per year and no diagnosis could be made without their advice. Support therefore was delivered by the least qualified staff as pupils were in effect excluded from class for support. Make trained teachers responsible for interventions. Trained teachers in school just to intervene when a child has learning problems and to do so on the back of an extensive academic study of how to help that child.

5: Pupil:teacher ratio
Does it matter? Well, sorry to say this Mr Miliband but reducing infant classes (which are already capped at 30) to 30 is a shameless piece of election headline grabbing. If you promised class sizes averaging 12 pupils from pre-school to 18 years old…now that would be a headline!

One final point regarding what high performing school systems can teach us about teacher recruitment and retention.
Cultural difference are never measured but they really matter. Finnish culture is family focused. Something that is missing from UK and USA cultures. Maternity and paternity leave exceed that given in the UK and the USA. Pupils arrive at school having had breakfast with a parent. They come home to a parent and have time to play with friends.

What can Finland teach us about teacher recruitment and retention? It teaches us that if there is a strong family cohesion then children are more likely to achieve at school. If we erode family and leave pupils to be raised by their schools then we may struggle to compete.

Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? (The Series on School Reform)

Share This:

2 Comments

Filed under Leadership in education

Primary assessment – questions and numbers but no real answers

Our termly assessment time is here once again and conversation is around what, why and how we assess.

Well, most conversation is about the “how” because with the removal of levels and no new assessment tools to accompany the new curriculum things feel slightly disjointed. Should we use old QCA optional assessments dating back to 2003, teacher assessment, Ros Wilson writing grids, APP grids? Should the assessment output be a level or some other measure?

With these and more questions floating around I reread the government report ‘Primary Accountability and Assessment Consultation Response’ that was published in March 2014.

Here are the facts as they stand.

1: The first principle of assessment reads:
“ongoing, teacher-led assessment is a crucial part of effective teaching”.

2: 85%
The percentage of pupils expected to reach the new expected standard by the end of primary school. (Although this will be increased with time.)

3: 57%
The percentage of respondents who say that the principles proposed will not lead to an effective curriculum and assessment system. The largest complaint was that by removing a universal system it will become more difficult to make comparisons between schools. A further significant response was that without a consistent system parents and pupils moving between schools would be confused.

4: 82%
The percentage of respondents that said the government needed to provide additional support to schools with regard to assessment. Specific requests that featured included a request for examples of assessment, examples of good practice and training.

5: 70%
The percentage of respondents that felt that a scaled score would not provide useful information from national curriculum tests. The scaled score system is the one now in place from 2016 whereby an average child will be rewarded with 100. Above and below average pupils will be marked by their deviation from the 100 target. The cynics may well consider this to be leveling but by another name.

6: 24%
The percentage of respondents that felt that publishing end of Key Stage 1 assessment results was a beneficial exercise.

7: 15%
The percentage of respondents that felt schools should be allowed to choose from a range of commercially available assessments. This now is the system in place for the baseline assessment. Five different providers offer five different systems with five different outcomes.

But does any of the published documentation help in understanding “how” effective assessment can be implemented?

The answer unfortunately is “no”. In 2016 the end of Key Stage 2 assessment will be different but there are still a number of unanswered questions. Teachers will provide an assessment but in what form? If levels are discontinued and the tests output measures as a deviation from 100, what will teacher assessment look like. We are told it will be a confirmation or otherwise that children have met an end of key stage descriptor. I guess, “he made the mark” or “he didn’t make the mark”. That clearly doesn’t help in terms of tracking pupils if they are graded into only two groups.

The system of a database that we update termly with subdivided levels enables us to track progress. Even recording levels now though has been complicated. The criteria, especially in number work, has been raised. Consequently the old level descriptors don’t match the expectation for the end of year when put alongside the new curriculum. Can levels still be used or has pupil tracking been knocked completely off course until further assessment materials are produced?

I propose taking the old level system and making it match the new curriculum. If at the end of Year 6 we were expecting pupils to attain a secure level four (4b) then if they have achieved the required level within the expectations of the new curriculum then they have still attained a secure level four. That way, although the expected attainment has been raised, we can still compare performance across cohorts of pupils in much the same way as we have done in previous years.

Until there is a published alternative that can be used to track progress towards the new measures (careful, that 100 point score system isn’t levels!) then assessment is going to continue to pose problems.

What do you do in your school? Have you come up with an alternative to levels or are you still using levels? Are any of the previous level based assessment procedures (APP, QCA) still being used?

Share This:

Leave a Comment

Filed under Leadership in education