As with all things in school, after careful evaluation and assessment of where we are now, our Assessment for Learning policy has adapted yet again. Last year was a year of incredible change. I think this goes for the majority of schools. Life after levels, meant for many, rethinking systems, policies and overhauling the whole understanding of teaching for learning.
Some schools jumped into purchasing tracking systems that seemed to offer everything, but really offered levels in disguise. Without levels, everything changed. Suddenly progress became even more heightened than it already was and ‘proving’ progress became central to assessment. Many schools bought into packages of suites of ‘progress’ tests, standardised tests, and the list goes on and on, just to ‘prove’ the progress of their pupils. I wouldn’t be honest, if I didn’t say how tempting all of this was, especially as we had no other assessment system in place. I completely understand why schools did this, especially with the external pressures that schools face on a continual basis.
Thanks to the #LearningFirst movement led by Dame Alison Peacock, with strong voices like Jamie Pembroke leading arguments regarding assessment, we decided to be brave. Instead of jumping into anything, we reflected, we thought, we evaluated, we debated, and we questioned everything that we did in school. This literally has meant turning everything inside out, starting with the children (which is always the way to do it!) and focusing on teaching for learning.
Since I started as headteacher, our focus has been on our ‘Purple Learners’, inspired by Diana Pardoe author of Towards Successful Learning. Crucial to this is teaching children how to be independent learners. As much of the research states, teaching children to understand how they can be the most effective learners, how to be independent while giving them the tools and strategies necessary to achieve success, actually raises pupil achievement. In fact, it is suggested, that pupils who are keenly aware of how to be the most effective learners, actually do better in tests (Claxton et al, 2011, Lucas et al, 2013, Hattie, 2012, Pardoe, 2009, 2005).
So, subject leaders set to work on creating a curriculum based assessment (no different to most) that teachers were asked to plan and assess from. As part of this, all formal (external) testing was removed, to ensure that teachers were assessing on a day to day basis – assessing what the children knew and where they needed to move next. Inherent was ensuring that assessment reflected Sadler’s (1989) model , that children know where they are now, where they are aiming to get to, and crucially how to close the gap between the two (cited in Black and Wiliam).
I didn’t realise what a massive shift in teaching and learning this was going to be and I often questioned our approach. All year, I never had the ‘data’ that I normally would have had in previous years…loads of data, whose validity could be called into question, and most often was based on an end of term summative test.
In place of this, pupil progress meetings were set up every six weeks, with follow ups often happening every three weeks on focus children, those who were not on track, or those who were not making the progress that teachers thought they should be making.
To cut a very long story short, these pupil discussions were crucial in understanding what was going on in the classrooms. As we were doing them so often, they took a lot of time, and it was clear that teachers were still getting used to a completely new way of planning, assessing and understanding of learning. We were all on a very steep learning curve. But everyone persisted. The governors continued to have faith…the support from everyone was phenomenal – working together as a team is crucial to the success of anything in school.
At the end of the year, considering we did not base any assessments throughout the year on summative testing or standardised scores, every writing and reading book for every year group was moderated in trios. This was time consuming, but again vital to the process.
Many other processes were involved, but I could go on and on…so, moving onto this year. Again, we have reflected on the process, evaluated what went well and how things might need to change. This is what we have learnt.
Everything must start with the pupils.
My aim is to interview every child across the school. Not my normal pupil discussions that I do regularly anyways, but deep conversations about learning and the progress that they think they are making. Mirroring what we are doing in our maths lessons, I’m asking the children to ‘prove’ their learning and their progress to me.
Why did we never do this before? So simple…and I’m sure there are other schools out there doing exactly the same thing.
I have only just completed these conversations in year 6. But I can tell you, personally, along with all of the children, I have learnt so much. Talking to the pupils teaches you about everything that takes place in the classroom on a day to day basis. By talking to every child and asking the same questions, quickly identifies areas of outstanding practice and possible next steps. I have been able to clearly identify children and the progress they have made. They have talked me through every book, their maths, science, history, geography, handwriting and even their free writing books. The children’s excitement is evident in the way they tried to teach me, such as when explaining the way the heart worked, or how diagramming grammar helped them to understand different word types. The enthusiasm, the energy, the passion…it was evident. This is what learning is all about.
It has been time consuming, but every minute has been so worth it. Already I can tell this will have a massive, positive impact.
So now…I will be able to come to our termly pupil progress meetings with such rich and actionable information. Further, sharing this information with teachers, I can already see, will have so much more impact than the usual one-off observation. When it comes from the children, we always take things to heart. We always want to do better for every child in our classrooms.
This is what matters.
I can’t wait to see what new things are gleaned, when every child is asked to ‘prove’ their learning to me.
I will keep you updated….