By Jane Girle, headteacher of Penn Wood Primary and Nursery School
As our Year 6 pupils put down their pens and handed in their test papers at the end of SATs week, I started to think about how far we have come on our assessment journey since we moved away from national curriculum levels.
Navigating the changes has been a challenging yet exciting time for our school, and I thought it would be good to share some of my insights from our journey thus far.
Curriculum based assessment
Here at Penn Wood School, we have adopted the new mastery curriculum. With the emphasis on helping pupils gain depth of understanding, security and competence in key areas, we needed an assessment system that tells us exactly what our pupils can do.
As SIMS Assessment contains all the national curriculum strands in the programmes of study, this seemed to be the right system for us.
The school can hold more information in SIMS to assist teachers to assess formatively and at the end of a set period of time. A good example of this is detailed and precise information about phonics that can inform judgements about word reading.
Creating a dialogue
One of the biggest challenges for a school is to ensure that all staff understand how the curriculum is assessed, and why they are being asked to record information.
Having the programmes of study embedded in an assessment solution really helps teachers because everything in the curriculum is there for them, making it easier to record using the SIMS Teacher app as they walk around the classroom, talking to pupils as they work.
Schools need to keep their stakeholders in the loop with assessment too. For our governors, we provide training so they understand the new way we are assessing since we moved away from levels, and guidelines from the Association of Achievement and Improvement though Assessment (AAIA) have helped with this.
Using the programmes of study also helps to initiate conversations with parents about their child’s progress, and importantly, shows the children themselves what they have achieved.
Making sense of the data
Schools need to use data effectively to make decisions, and with the programmes of study, you can look at each curriculum strand to see what the key messages are. The strand analysis provides useful information for learning dialogues with staff too.
By looking in more detail at the children working below age related expectations in reading comprehension, for example, you can see where the gaps are, plan interventions and check that you are getting these pupils back to where they need to be.
In our school, we have a number of children who show early indications of dyslexia, so we have ensured that our progress grids include recognised identifiers of dyslexia, so we can keep a close eye on the progress these pupils are making as they move through the school.
Flexibility is key
With greater choice for schools on how they assess their pupils, I feel that any assessment system must be flexible enough to support a school’s chosen approach.
The Ofsted Inspection Dashboard tracks ‘progress’ from particular strands in Early Years to the end of Key Stage 1. In SIMS we are able to mirror this particular analysis for our current Year 1 and 2s. This helps us to talk in depth about any children who are not going to meet the expected standard at Key Stage 1 but met the expected standard in Early Years. As Ofsted confirm, this is not a progress measure but a useful point for discussion.
Here I have added some of my top tips for schools taking their own assessment journey:
- Always remember what assessment is for – to improve outcomes for children. Schools need to meet their reporting requirements, but your data can also start a conversation about how to help your children achieve.
- Decide when and how to analyse your assessment data – what does your school actually need? We reduced our data drops to three times a year, and teachers enter data formatively as they go, to avoid an end of term flurry of work.
- Engage your staff in assessment, so they are doing it for a reason, not just because they have been asked for it.
- Use an app for assessment. The SIMS Teacher app is a fast and user-friendly way of entering and accessing live data on the move.
- Don’t restrict assessment to academic achievement. For example, SIMS can be tailored to manage data on pupil wellbeing, enrichment activities and safeguarding.
- Understand your assessment system and be aware of its full capabilities. All the elements of SIMS work very well together, that’s the power of the system. It can probably do what you want it to, so find out how.
- Keep learning by signing up for training, watching videos and sharing best practice. SIMS runs free webinars and you can learn a lot from the questions other people ask.
Our approach to assessment is constantly evolving and we are working closely with the SIMS school improvement consultants who make sure we are up to speed with everything SIMS can do.
Our journey is by no means over, and we’re learning new ways to improve our assessment all the time to ensure that our children are the best they can be.