Whilst I am biased, I genuinely think that this is the best way to have handled it. I’ve heard and seen some awful things happening since schools have dropped levels, to the extent that I respect those that didn’t dive straight in and have kept using levels.
I won’t post specific examples what I’ve seen as it would be unfair to those who have probably spent many hours on creating systems with some ridiculous demands from leaders. But it’s fair to say that some systems are not about the students and learning and are more about the data and the spreadsheets.
As far as I can recall HODs were asked to start thinking about things in September 2014. No deadlines were given, nothing was imposed top down. I started the process of researching, reading blogs and seeing what others had already done. This generally gave me an idea of what I definitely didn’t want to do and picked out parts of other people’s models that I might consider.
To some extent the delay of the GCSE Religious Studies specification approval was a blessing. Many schools have just used this and brought it into key stage 3. I knew that I didn’t want to do this as I don’t think GCSE is challenging for all students and key stage 3 is a chance to learn some broader study skills.
In HODs meetings we often spent a few minutes sharing ideas and discussing. Everything was relaxed and there was no sense that this had to be done ASAP.
The plan was for all subjects to design their own way of assessing. It was up to them to decide what was best for their subject and students. This reflects my school leadership ethos; middle leaders are trusted to lead their own departments.
Every line management meeting, I brought new ideas to my boss and we discussed the pros and cons of those ideas. We get on very well and can happily critique ideas together. These discussions were invaluable. Luckily he is also the T&L lead so we could discuss things from all angles.
I think that some HODs stuck with systems very similar to levels which is their judgement but I wanted to make something more fit for purpose.
Whole school tracking
All our subject systems had to do was to be able to inform teachers of each student’s progress. We didn’t need to share any sort of attainment data. Our systems needed to be able to show what we expect from an individual student and whether that meant they were making expected, below expected or above expected progress.
The data team used key stage 2 data and CAT scores to create indicative banding based on the new GCSE 1-9 grades. All HODs needed to ensure was that they could say whether, for example, Billy in year 7 with an indicative banding of 6-8 is making the expected progress he needs.
We still don’t know what a 9 looks like or any other grade so it has all been professional judgement and some guessing. There has been a true understanding that no system is perfect and we’re all starting out with little knowledge of the future. There’s been no desperate rush to make sure that key stage 3 reflects the new GCSEs.
The beauty of this whole school system is that it focuses on progress and not just at attainment. Attainment leads to flight paths and unrealistic expectations. By looking a progress you can factor in the highs and lows of learning. My professional judgement is that overall this student is making the progress they need to or not; whether they get from A to B, but how they do it doesn’t matter.
The thing that has stood out throughout the entire process (that is still continuing) is that our leaders have been nothing but supportive and have always promoted development of ideas over a quick, possibly ineffective, system.
The model I’ve been working on has constantly evolved. No-one has ever given a deadline that it must be ‘complete’ by. I’m still trialling new aspects and will continue to tweak and change as needed.
We’ve been encouraged to collaborate and share amongst HODS. It’s overall been a positive and supported process.
On reflection, any school that has pushed their staff to create systems with little time or support have done their students and teachers a disservice. The point is, whilst all of this has been going on, children haven’t stopped learning or making progress just because there wasn’t something there to measure it. I’m doubtful that any school that cares so much about Ofsted that they ‘had’ to get a system in place would ever have been judged any differently because they could show a ‘polished’ data system.
Please feel free to ask any questions about the model and I may adjust the post if I realise I’ve left anything important out.