SEND Assessment at Vranch House by Headteacher, Ian Norton
The Common Inspection Framework (CIF) always has, and probably always will, require a healthy dose of interpretation to prevent it from yoke around a school’s neck. Commercially available curriculum and assessment tools are too often designed to dogmatically fit the key headings of the present CIF:
- Effectiveness of leadership and management (how rigorous are your processes?)
- Quality of teaching, learning and assessment (how detailed is your numerical analysis of progress?)
- Personal development, behaviour and welfare (can you prove ‘added value’ and the all-important two levels of progress?)
- Outcomes for children and learners (what grades do your pupils leave your school with?)
When schools use success criteria from these assessment tools as guiding principles to curriculum design, they often narrow and constrict the ‘broad and balanced curriculum’ Ofsted say they want to see into a ‘Teach (train?)-Test-Analyse’ conveyor belt approach to teaching and learning. Perhaps this unimaginative approach to curriculum design and assessment sets teachers in ever-decreasing circles; trying to capture evidence of ‘learning and progression’ in the classroom before feeding it into assessment software tools to produce ‘numerical data’, ‘statics’ and ‘comparisons. Where progress is measured or valued in numerical terms only, individual pupil progress and personal achievements are all too often lost in a miasma of ‘trends’ and differences between key demographic groups e.g. boys/girls, free school meals/SEN and EAL.
Over my years in teaching I have seen teachers working long hours to maintain creativity and enthusiasm for learning in the classroom, only to spend an equal number of hours after school feeding a ravenous Management Information System (MiS) to demonstrate they have, observed, marked, assessed and fed back to every pupil during every lesson they deliver each day. And who benefits from this exercise, the teachers, Senior Leadership Teams or Headteachers? No, it is my experience that this all-consuming, often de-motivating task is being done out of ‘habit’ or misguided belief in a process-driven model of teaching and learning. It is most certainly not the pupil’s benefit; pupils who may well have had to overcome personal adversity to produce their best work, only for their efforts to become a ‘number’ in an endless data stream, being pour over by a teacher feeling equally deflated by the effort it took to produce said ‘number’.
It is long past-time for this counter-productive cycle to stop. The new planned judgement headings for the next iteration of the Ofsted CIF (coming into force in September 2019) could, in fact, be seen as a wake-up call to do just that:
- Quality of education
- Personal development
- behaviour and attitudes
- leadership and management
The word ‘assessment’ is crucially missing from each heading, which could be viewed as a permission to ditch obsessive ‘data’ and process-driven curriculum design and to be a little more creative. Teachers can never truly escape assessment, but we can all be smarter about what that involves, and we are highly likely to be asked by the new Ofsted CIF to make our assessments more ‘personal’, ever more individual.
Imagine a school in which teachers spend their work day doing what they have known for years is the important part of their job: looking at the whole child, how they learn and how much they develop as individuals over time. Now dare to imagine one step further, a school where teachers are free to teach and the capture of evidence of learning and assessment of that evidence takes place as a seamless part of each lesson. Sound too be good to be realistic or workable? I do not need to imagine such a school, what I am describing is now the day to day best practice in my school and that in part is down to our use of Earwig.
In my school, we use Earwig to ride the waves of change, past and present. Ahead of the publication of the Rochford Review findings three years ago, we departed from a National Curriculum model of curriculum and designed our own needs-led, bespoke ‘VIEW’ curriculum and Earwig Academic have been a crucial partner in bringing our vision to life. They have remained flexible each time we have developed our curriculum further and even adapted the assessment module in Earwig to enable us to assess the way we wanted to. In June 2018, our Ofsted Inspection saw us graded as ‘Outstanding’ in all judgement areas. They witnessed my staff capturing evidence of individual pupil progress against our unique curriculum, with real-time accompanying assessments against this curriculum, all in one place: Earwig.
The Inspector was readily able to see within our pupils’ Earwig Timelines how our curriculum and assessments were interlinked and individualised for every last pupil. When the Inspector asked to see the evidence of the progress being made and the rationale for the teacher-judged assessments, there was no desperate scrabble through endless ring-binders of data, print-outs or pupil workbooks. I simply invited her to view any pupils’ Timeline she wanted and then click on the ‘Assessment’ tab to flip between evidence and assessment. My teachers work from, and conduct their assessments against, our purely qualitative VIEW framework and Earwig’s assessment module creates the quantitative analysis for them behind-the scenes, no more ‘feeding the ravenous data machine’ for the benefit of no-one in particular.
Our VIEW curriculum can be as individual as our pupils and in Earwig we found an evidence capture and assessment tool that meets that need for flexibility. We are free to focus on delivery of high-quality teaching and capturing the ‘wow!’ moments in each day with any tablet device we have to hand, Android, iPad or Windows based. The pairing of evidence to assessment criteria takes place, in seconds, at the moment of capture and the teacher judgement on whether or not that evidence demonstrates emerging or secure levels of skills is done in minutes at the end of each school day. We are entering a new an era of technology with the potential for liberating teachers to ‘teach more’ and leaving behind one of teachers slavishly feeding information into software long into the night.
With the recent direction broadcasts by the DfE and Ofsted being focussed on challenging schools to be ‘brave and creative in their thinking around curriculum’, we need to seize the opportunity now afforded to us by technology. We could, as teachers and Head teachers, perhaps all be asking ourselves not ‘What assessment data will I need under the new Ofsted CIF?’, but: “How can we use technology creatively to capture and demonstrate our curriculum and the unique progress pupils make?” Earwig Academic could have just the answer to that question for a great many more schools.