Guest Blog: Cathy Williams, Director of Teaching and Learning, Schoolsworks MAT

By Chris Jarosh

Co-constructing a MAT-wide assessment strategy

Since forming Schoolsworks Multi-Academy Trust (MAT) in 2012, Cathy Williams has been on a journey to build a truly inclusive model that supports and empowers its schools to deliver the very best educational experiences – for teachers and students. Now a medium-sized MAT with seven schools, Schoolsworks has adopted Renaissance Star Assessments for reading and maths as a robust solution that not only provides access to powerful trust-wide data, but more importantly gives teachers insights to guide and inform pupil progress.

In this guest blog, Cathy shares her experiences as Director of Teaching and Learning at Schoolsworks and offers some advice to other MATs who might be facing similar challenges when addressing school assessment.

At Edward Bryant School we were awarded ‘Outstanding’ status by Ofsted, which gave us the opportunity to become an Academy. However, when we explored the landscape, we just couldn’t find the right fit for us… so we established our own! Schoolsworks was very much born out of an ambition to create an education environment that was not just about standards and one where we could foster collaboration and build relationships with schools who shared our values.

Fast forward seven years and I am very proud to say that we have remained true to this vision, which I believe has helped to form part of our success. Whenever new schools express an interest in becoming part of our family, we invite them to join us as an Associate Member for a term, which gives them the opportunity to experience first-hand what our culture, processes and team is like. From our perspective, it helps us to evaluate whether we’d be able to support their needs effectively.

Accelerating relationships

This relationship-first strategy has been a major building block in Schoolsworks as a MAT. We’ve fostered a culture which promotes sharing of ideas, supports exploration of new practice and encourages schools to learn from one another. It’s this very ethos which first led us to Renaissance.

When joining us as a new school, River Beach Primary was already using Accelerated Reader very successfully and had started to explore their use of Star Assessments in a bit more depth. When sharing their best practice with other schools in the Trust, we all naturally fell in love with how the programme can engage even the most reluctant readers, but when we looked at the potential of Star Assessments in more detail, we realised there could be a much wider benefit to individual schools – and the Trust as a whole.

Reducing teacher workload

We’d previously been using paper-based tests three times a year to assess literacy and maths, which naturally came with a lot of marking and manual data analysis. Reducing teacher workload and not creating unnecessary administration are key targets for us, so the potential for using an online system that would remove the need for marking and analysis was very appealing. But it wasn’t my decision. We asked our member schools to undertake their own evaluations and collectively they unanimously made the decision to move to Star Assessments.

We’ve now just reached the end of a first full year with all our schools using Star Assessments and it’s been enlightening to say the least. We finally have a common platform that produces reliable and robust data across the board – without negatively impacting on teacher workload.

The common link

Star has become the important layer that knits us all together: the common link. And even more importantly, it’s enabled us to confidently assess and guide teaching and learning in all year groups – not just Year 2 and Year 6. That said, after our first full year with Star we’ve conducted a data study and confirmed that Star Scores have over a 90% correlation with our SATs results… which gives us even greater confidence in the system.

We’ve had an overwhelmingly positive experience with Star Assessments. It’s given us an unprecedented level of consistency that enables me to make accurate management decisions regarding the allocation of resource and budget. It’s also given the member schools a new way to interact and engage with each other, because Star reports and data provide a shared platform.

As a company, Renaissance has played a prominent role in supporting our journey. Being able to speak to people who understand education, talk our language and appreciate what it’s really like to be in a classroom (juggling many priorities) – is priceless.

Let’s connect

There’s much more that I want to share on the development of our assessment strategy and how this looks in terms of practical data as well as teaching and learning, so I’ve continued this blog here!

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