Guest Blog: Bringing clarity and reality to school assessments
By Simon Pritchard, Headteacher
Like many schools, when levels were removed from primary assessment, we thought that the adoption of ‘Emerging, Developing and Secure’ would give us a solid way of assessing and measuring learning progression. We also thought that managing this through a tracker system would provide an efficient way of monitoring and recording. With the benefit of hindsight, I can see how those teacher judgements on their own may not be as accurate as they could be.
We obviously set about our assessment strategy with the very best intentions… but it didn’t take very long for us to realise that it was creating a lot of additional administration for our teaching team…. and causing some confusion when communicating the judgements with parents. Something had to change.
Fast forward to the current academic year and we’re now in a really positive place with assessment. Having introduced Star Reading and Star Maths, we now have access to truly valid and reliable data which directly supports teaching and objectively reinforces teacher judgement.
When we first implemented Star Assessments, the ability to present detailed data and reports to Ofsted was undeniably attractive – but this was never the driving force behind our adoption of the programme (which is lucky given data will no longer be examined as part of the inspections)! Joking aside, whether Ofsted is interested in internal data or not is irrelevant. As school leaders and teachers, we still very much need to use internal data to give us confidence and guide teaching where it is needed.
Take our student population, for example. With a high percentage of EAL pupils, data has proved invaluable in helping to identify those children who need additional support to reach the right ability for sitting SATs. Data has also been critical in managing these interventions and giving teachers reliable feedback on what is working, or not, and enabling us to make adjustments in a timely manner. And this is just one cohort. With Star Assessments I can report on various cohorts and easily identify any trends that will help us to shape our teaching strategies. When it comes to reading, we’ve gone on to introduce Accelerated Reader to support us with closing the gaps in ability and at the same time engender a real love for reading.
It’s still early days, but as a school leader I’m already seeing first-hand the positive impact Star has made on our assessment strategy. There’s no more guesswork. Just real data in which we have absolute confidence. At the end of the year, we can triangulate teacher assessment, Star scores and Optional SATs in Y3, Y4 and Y5 to give us a more accurate picture of how our pupils are progressing.
I’m also using Star reports to help our Governors to understand how we are making progress and to guide our Pupil Progress Reviews.
In our school, having access to standardised data is really helping us to close the gaps in learning – and we’re achieving this without increasing teacher workload. It’s not about producing data for the sake of it. For us, it’s a solid foundation that gives us the right insights to focus our teaching and make our time in the classroom really matter.
Simon Pritchard has been a teacher in the North West of England for almost 25 years. Starting off as a class teacher with various subject leader roles, to assessment lead, assistant head teacher, acting head teacher and finally head teacher of Kennington Primary School in Preston, Lancs. During those years Simon has seen the educational landscape change dramatically but has always strived to put the needs of his school community first. He is also an ardent supporter of his home town’s Rugby League team, St Helens.