This article was originally published in Technology & Innovation magazine.
Life after levels is looking very positive indeed at Horndean Technology College, as deputy headteacher Nigel Sheppard explains...
Levels were introduced with the national curriculum in 1988, with the intention of delivering an assessment system that measured pupils’ progress against a national framework. In 2014, however, levels were removed to allow schools greater autonomy to boost pupil attainment and mastery. The removal of levels from the national education policy has now given schools the freedom to develop their own assessment and progression monitoring structures. However, this freedom has come at a price; schools now have to establish their own tracking solutions for monitoring achievement to ensure their students’ needs are effectively being met.
Giving attending educational professionals a chance to reflect on their current practice and consider ways in which they may wish to develop, I will be giving a presentation at Bett designed to show the real, live implementation of an effective Assessment Withouth Levels (AWL) solution and an innovative approach to the Mastery Curriculum and assessment.
Development and growth
Horndean Technology College, where I am deputy headteacher, is a successful state-maintained school with around 1,300 students – although a ‘broadly average’ intake, the school attains above average results. It was rated as ‘good’ by Ofsted in February 2016, with many ‘outstanding’ features including its curriculum and use of data. Like many, I have seen hundreds of different ways secondary schools have attempted to tackle the notion of AWL and feel the approach I am developing is robust and flexible, enabling it to grow as the curriculum evolves.
When AWL was first introduced, I held a meeting with all subject leaders. They were strongly against the proposed changes and the notion of implementing them without due process, which led to the creation of two working groups to help research and develop alternative options. In the meantime, the school kept the old Key Stage 3 assessment processes and levels, while information and ideas were coming through. It was not long after this, at Bett 2016, where I saw the new SIMS Programmes of Study feature.
At Bett 2017, I will outline how the Programme of Study Tracker works and how staff were trained, developed and took ownership of their own assessment systems. Every department has their own assessment policy, so they’ve got that autonomy. It’s not important that we all do the same thing, but it is important that assessment gives feedback and ways to improve. Each subject leader needed to transfer their curriculum into a meaningful way of assessing it, which the Programme of Study Tracker has made possible. I always emphasise to staff the importance of getting the balance right when it comes to assessment, as it’s not about using hundreds of statements that you’ll never be able to assess on a daily basis, but giving enough information and rigour to the assessment so that it’s meaningful. This allows you to change your practice and get a good idea of where the students are.
SIMS Assessment also helps to give an insight into staff performance. Our subject leaders were thrilled that they could see each of their teachers and their strengths and weaknesses. They can easily identify any particular skills or concepts that are strong or weak, either across a cohort or class, and can then tailor that curriculum and respond accordingly. This is something I’m genuinely excited about.
My session will also look at the future, or what I call ‘Phase 2 and Phase 3 developments’. We wanted to use the strands and statements in SIMS Assessment to help students take ownership of their own learning. The school currently has each strand and statement in their VLE and these are linked with different resources to help students understand if they’re emerging, developing, secure or mastered. These resources range from Word documents and Excel problems to YouTube videos, as well as those made by the staff and students themselves. Mirroring what’s in SIMS with resources to help children learn those skills independently is quite exciting. The staff have done some brilliant things with the links and some have made their own videos to generate flipped learning and forward-looking assessment – this allows them to be really creative.
As well as giving grades and comments, students and parents can see specific curriculum areas, skills or knowledge where they are weak and can use the linked sources on the school’s VLE to independently improve, thanks to reporting, which is the next phase for Horndean. This has even led to the school changing its approach to homework to ‘DIY’ and, with the help of the SIMS Programmes of Study Tracker, the school is on track to ultimately help improve understanding, knowledge and student outcomes.