By Jonathan Bishop, Executive Headteacher at Broadclyst Community Primary School and CEO at Cornerstone Academy Trust
As the leadership team in a Multi-Academy Trust, we constantly ask ourselves: is every child in the school achieving what we would want and expect them to?
Cornerstone Academy Trust has a national and international reputation for its use of technology to support both teaching and learning. Its founding school, Broadclyst Community Primary, is one of the UK’s 20 EdTech Demonstrator schools, responsible for a DfE-funded English Hub. The entire Trust is focused on combining digital tools with a team emphasis on reading to get the best outcomes for all children.
Reading and comprehension skills unlock the wider curriculum; the development of vocabulary, and of ‘reading between the lines’ comprehension skills, allow children to flourish in other areas. Tools that identify the barriers to reading are therefore key.
The raft of online assessments within the Complete Digital Solution (CDS) (a package of assessments from GL Assessment) provides three categories of information on each individual child:
– actual progress/achievement
– existing skills and barriers to achievement (e.g. dyslexia, dyscalculia, attitudinal barriers)
– the potential for achievement (Cognitive Abilities Test 4 (CAT4)).
Crucially, children undertake these online assessments in an accessible, reassuring, non-threatening and supported way.
The resulting ‘triangulation’ around a child gives us rich data as well as an in-depth picture of him/her in relation to every other child, and ensures that, while not everyone will ultimately achieve the same results, all children will make the best possible progress. This aspirational learning approach is about setting tough targets for individuals, but not generalised SMART targets that may be unrealistic or impossible for some while being insufficiently taxing for others.
The approach from our school leadership team includes pupil progress meetings where the assessment tools are used to check whether each child is achieving to the best of his/her ability, rather than simply achieving national targets.
Although the tests can be completed by the children on paper, we have found that a massive advantage to completing them online is that we receive the results, ready for our analysis, in minutes.
This report for each individual combines CAT4 with a specific subject – reading, maths or English – in order to show where on a scale each child is, where any issues lie and what factors may be affecting progress. Crucially, it is also available in a child-friendly version that the teacher can discuss with each pupil in the weekly mentoring sessions we operate in Years 4, 5 and 6. We are also able to generate a whole-class report, in order to identify the outliers and put strategies in place to assist them.
We ask the children to complete the Pupil Attitudes to Self and School (PASS) survey three times a year.
This survey flags areas that can be affecting a child’s progress. If, for example, it shows that a child hates coming to school, we may be able to adapt the curriculum to make it more fun, provide more adult support and monitor attendance. We might screen for dyslexia/dyscalculia and if necessary bring parents in to report on the level of progress expected and the support needed.
Similarly, a child with excellent CAT4 results but a disappointing level of progress may, with the PASS survey, be identified as having confidence issues that we can address.
The PASS survey also gives insights into teacher performance, particularly if the majority of the class appears to be progressing less than expected. This allows teachers an opportunity to modify their teaching appropriately.
Even at Trust level, it is important to identify the children who are causing concern because they are not making the expected progress. To support educators and leaders in doing this, we have developed a Pupil Dashboard as a powerful tool for meaningful professional dialogue. Created with Microsoft’s Power BI, the dashboard allows us to analyse the wealth of data across all the Trust’s schools and see overarching trends and patterns, so that we can identify the children who have made, for example, lower than expected progress in a subject. This has created a shift in the partnership between educators and leaders: instead of talking about numbers and targets, we are talking about children.
How it works in practice – a case study
It is, of course, important for teachers to analyse this whole package of data right from the start of a child’s education, but the key advantage of the CDS is that if a parent or teacher notices an issue – in class, while reviewing a child’s work or perhaps at a teacher review meeting – we can drill down to establish why a child’s progress is borderline, or causing concern.
This is what happened with Lucy, a good student in Year 5.
Lucy’s mother came to us saying that although her daughter was doing well, she felt that she was capable of more, specifically in her reading ability, and she wanted to know how to help.
We went to the assessments, Lucy’s reading records and her teachers. Her standardised age score for reading was just above average but categorised as ‘much lower’ than was expected from her previous results. Her CAT4 results showed her as equal third in her year, and in the top 25%, but she was reading in an age-expected range, even though her ability was above that level.
We introduced mentor meetings for her and discovered that the books she was choosing to read were for a lower age group, and always the same style. We established that she had a confidence issue and was not pushing herself at all. She was encouraged to widen her scope, since the PASS test had given no reason other than attitude for her CAT4 results.
Following the mentoring meetings, Lucy’s end-of-year Progress Test in English (PTE) and the New Group Reading Test (NGRT) showed that she had made massive progress – above expected from her previous results, and in line with her cognitive ability – and she did very well in her SATs, gaining 112/120 for reading. A capable child, her wellbeing was restored once the triangulation had identified and removed the cause of her unhappiness. Without the assessments, she would have been a child with barriers to achievement who went unnoticed.
Lucy is just one example. What we’ve learnt is that using data together prevents children from slipping through because their scores are just above average. Looking at their individual potential, we can ensure that they all reach it.
An aspirational target cannot just be a stick to beat teachers with. CDS gives us the opportunity to work in an intelligent, targeted, professional and thoughtful way around each child, playing to their strengths and helping them to overcome their weaknesses. It assists our skilled teachers to get the best out of the children, improving their wellbeing, helping them to experiment, to learn from their mistakes and to become determined and avid learners.
Broadclyst Community Primary School is one of our Centres of Assessment Excellence