Assessment: a key character in the story of learning

Thanks to Sebastian Rowland, Head of Year 6 at Etonbury Academy

Assessment. Love it or loathe it, it is a key character in the story of learning. As we plan, mark and assess in an ongoing cyclical process it is important to check that each assessment continues to have a purpose. In this article, I have outlined how we ensure our assessments have a clear purpose in improving teaching and learning in our school.

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Mythbusting with Ofsted

Sean HarfordThanks to Sean Harford, National Director, Education, Ofsted for the following article.

‘My bookcase was messy so I got marked down in my assessment…this is the level of hysteria we are facing in schools’.

Receiving messages like that is why we – and you – need to tackle the misinformation that circulates about ‘what Ofsted wants’.

Teacher workload is one of the most pressing concerns in education today and has a real impact on the retention of staff. We can’t afford to lose good teachers – and children certainly can’t afford to lose the opportunities you offer them.

The impulse to make everything ‘perfect’ can drive out creativity, passion and the love of teaching that are the reasons most people enter the profession. That’s why at Ofsted we know how important it is that people aren’t doing unnecessary tasks for us and adding to their workload. Continue reading →

Improving Mathematics in Key Stages 2 and 3

Thanks to John Dabell for this article.

Improving Mathematics in Key Stages 2 and 3’ is the latest report from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and presents sharp, intelligent and actionable guidance to support “great maths teaching” in primary and secondary schools.

The guidance is relevant to all pupils but in particular to those children who fall below their expected level of mathematics achievement. The report adopts the premise that it is essential to see maths as a pump rather than a filter in the pipeline of education but this can only be achieved through tapping into what works and is supported by research.

A vital enabler in the strengthening of teaching, learning and assessment is good access to relevant evidence; this report can help guide teachers towards this as its key focus is to promote a culture of evidence-led best practice.

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Formative assessment as an integrated part of good practice in the classroom

Thanks to Siobhan Skeffington  for the following article.

Siobhan Skeffington is an education consultant, author and reviewer also involved in test development and Primary Teacher for 26 years including SLT and Leading teacher.

Formative and summative assessments are very different.  Summative assessment gives a picture of how the child is progressing at any given point and enables teachers and schools to gauge the overall attainment; this can also be used for accountability purposes. Formative assessment needs to be part of everyday practice and lesson planning, as it focuses on improving learning.

Assessment is often seen as a tool to be planned for in the form of a spelling or mental maths test. Teachers and senior leaders can often feel pressurised to do constant mini summative tests believing these give a clear indication of how pupils are performing. These tests can be informative but the best formative assessment or ‘assessment for learning’ is through the conversations between the children and the teachers during the normal course of the day.  Through carefully planned questioning, open ended activities and marking that allows children to review their own work, formative assessment can give teachers a wealth of information to use when planning the next steps for learning.  If used appropriately, they will have identified any misconceptions or gaps in knowledge and will be better-able to determine what the children actually know.

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What are the benefits of regularly checking children’s attainment?

Thanks to Camilla Erskine for this article.

What are the benefits of regularly checking children’s attainment?

The main purpose of checking attainment is to see how children are doing in relation to what has been taught and using the information from that process to inform teaching. Assessment plays a key role in monitoring attainment in this way and this article illustrates its use for both summative and formative purposes.

Teachers will have a good sense of how each child is performing from their day-to-day teaching, but summative assessment can provide independent evidence of attainment to school leaders, parents and the children themselves. The information from such assessment can also challenge assumptions and preconceptions and offer more nuanced information about how a child is doing, potentially highlighting ‘blind spots’ or gaps in knowledge.

How can attainment be checked?

Regular attainment checks throughout the year, for example at the end of a unit of work or on a half-termly basis, can be carried out using a range of assessment resources. These can include tests and tasks created within the school or published materials. The main advantage of using assessments developed by teachers is that they are written specifically to reflect what has been taught over the period for which attainment is being monitored. This approach, however, is time consuming and is not something that everyone feels confident in doing, or has the experience to do effectively. Continue reading →

Education Select Committee: primary assessment inquiry

Thank you to Deputy Head Michael Tidd for the following article. 

It’s not every day you get invited to the Houses of Parliament – and in fact, I still haven’t been. But I did at least get to go in the posh glass building next door to provide evidence to the Education Select Committee for their inquiry into primary assessment.

Anyone who knows me, or reads what I’ve written, knows that I’ve plenty to say on the topic – but with only an hour, and with MPs in control of the questions, I wasn’t sure I’d have time to say everything I wanted to.

The Select Committee has decided to hold the inquiry after the various headlines and events surrounding primary assessment over the past year, and they started with a very big – and vague – question about the purpose of assessment.

A considerable amount of discussion revolved around how the changes to primary assessment in recent years had affected teaching, learning, the curriculum and, of course, children. I think it’s fair to say that we highlighted a number of concerns in all those respects. Speaking personally, I’m broadly in favour of statutory assessment at the end of Year 6, but with our experiences of the very challenging reading test last year, the hugely frustrating writing assessment framework, and the clear reduction of time spent on science and other foundation subjects it’s clear that the impacts are significant.

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Learning from Raise

Thanks to Michael Tidd for this helpful article.

The excitement of opening up Raise Online when the data is first published is… well, perhaps excitement is not quite the right word. Nevertheless, when the data finally arrived this term headteachers will have been poring over it trying to extract every last detail of information about last year’s performance. Doubtless governors too will get their chance to share in the scatterplots and tables, wisely guided by the professional leads.

The problem is, it’s too late for all those children, and just like the stock market adverts always tell us: historic performance is not necessarily a guide to future success. Leaders and governors need to consider what has gone before, but all the while need to be keeping an eye on the future. So while Raise can tell us something of what we achieved last year, how else do we keep everyone informed, including our governors?

One big thing that is evident from this year’s Raise summary is the clear focus on disadvantaged pupils, i.e. those eligible for pupil premium funding. Barely a page goes by without the group being separated out from the rest of the cohort and their attainment and progress being listed separately. In many cases, it’s also compared to other pupils nationally, but it’s important to note that it’s not other pupil premium children, but rather the non-PP children they’re being compared to. That’s important to consider when looking at other data in school.

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Reading in the national tests: how can we rise to the challenge?

Thanks to Deputy Headteacher Michael Tidd for this article. 

It seems that the 2016 reading test may well go down as one of those test papers that we all talk about for years. Like the traumas of “Caves and Caving in Davely Dale” or that wretched ‘fried-egg’ Venn diagram of a few years ago, there are some papers that take on an almost legendary quality. Jemmy the Giraffe is sure to have such fame. The challenge in the key stage 1 test was similarly daunting.

There is almost universal agreement that the texts were more difficult than those we’d seen in the sample test papers. But we need to be careful not to dismiss it as a one-off, pinning our hopes on easier tasks next year. The direction of travel has been clear for a while, and we need to do the best we can to prepare our pupils for challenging texts. While the 2016 paper may have been a particularly difficult paper, the thresholds have clearly shown that the DfE intends for the test to be hard. So, what can be done?

It’s clear from the new tests – and indeed the samples – that more challenging texts will be chosen for reading test papers at both key stages. Perhaps this is a reflection of the government’s intention that children read earlier, more frequently and more widely throughout primary schooling. Certainly this seems a likely outcome of the changes. Schools would do well to look at how they can broaden their children’s reading experience. It’s worth remembering that the National Curriculum clearly sets out that children should be exposed to books and stories which are beyond their reading level. 

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Key stage 2 national tests and the shared mission

Thanks to Michael Tidd for this article. 

There’s something of a murmuring among Year 6 teachers that when it comes to SATs, if things go well then the credit is shared across the school, but when things go wrong, it’s the Year 6 team who get the blame. Of course, those who work in other year groups would probably just as soon argue that it’s the reverse that’s true.

The truth is, of course, that Year 6 results are inevitably a representation of the work done by all of the teachers who come into contact with children during their time with us. That’s never been truer than today, as we emerge from analysing the results of the first of the new style tests.

For the past couple of years we have been working blind, only able to draw on our own experience of the curriculum to estimate what might crop up and how best we can prepare our pupils. Now we’ve seen the tests and frameworks for real, we can start to make some more informed changes to how we work – and not only in Year 6.

Naturally thoughts will go first to identifying the gaps that need filling for current Year 6 cohorts. Good assessment in school, linked to our knowledge of the tests can help here. Continue reading →