Blueprint for a Tracking System – Cornerstones Assessment

We read and agreed with so much in James Pembroke’s blog but didn’t want to self-promote in a detailed response, but his tweet, 2 March 2017, asked us to do just that.

So, here is how Cornerstones Assessment fits with his philosophy and seven golden practical rules.

In short, Cornerstones Assessment meets and often exceeds all the golden rules because:

  • Cornerstones is a proven curriculum
  • The assessment system has been developed from a curriculum base and life after levels.
  • Quality termly progressive skills, support teacher expertise.
  • Analysis and the answers we know you need can be obtained at the click of a button or two.
  • Teachers and leaders are supported in telling ‘the story’ of their children, their school.
  • Bespoke reports are easy to produce.
  • We are constantly told, Cornerstones Assessment is the best value online system around.

Get yourself a brew and read on to find out more.



James started his blog, Blueprint for a tracking system, by outlining a philosophy on basic tracking system principles.

Defining a pedagogy was the first step we took in creating the Cornerstones Curriculum for the new national curriculum and assessment without levels. Our assessment has been born out of curriculum development and our team’s years of experience in senior leadership in primary schools. We know what class teachers need, what senior leaders need and what has to be provided (whether we agree or not) for Ofsted et al.

Cornerstones Assessment, tests and senior leadership support materials support learning and fit the needs of individual schools – strengthening the links between pedagogy, curriculum and assessment.

We would summarise James’s philosophy as assessment being an able servant, not the master. This is a philosophy that we agree with wholeheartedly. As primary teachers and senior leaders, we know what schools want and understand what they need.

Below is a little more detail of how Cornerstones meets each of James’ seven golden practical rules of tracking.

1) Define and input own objectives:

Cornerstones did just that. We are a curriculum company, so developed a full curriculum first and then created an assessment system to support the teaching and learning of our curriculum or that of any primary school.

The Cornerstones Curriculum is a knowledge and skills-based curriculum with a creative edge. End of year Essential Skills were created from the national curriculum programmes of study as an integral part of the curriculum. It is from these skills that Cornerstones Assessment has grown to a comprehensive online skills analysis, tracking and reporting system.

  • End of year Essential Skills (for both core and foundation subjects matching the new national curriculum raised expectations)
  • Termly Developmental Skills (schools love them)
  • Comprehensive tracking, analysis and reporting (unbelievable value)

2) Define their own summative assessment descriptors

Terminology, what a pain in the backside! Emerging, above, below, secure 1, secure 2, greater depth, we could go on, but why bother? What do they mean anyway? Schools have permission to do things differently.

Cornerstones looked at the constants – Ofsted and the DfE. We were mindful of the pitfalls of terminology and asked ourselves who needed to use and understand the ‘terms’ – teachers and parents. We therefore looked at what terminology Ofsted and the DfE use because that is the language, like it or not, that schools do have to ‘map to’. The term ‘age-related expectation’, not one of James’s favourites, is used by both. We looked at the phrase and defined what it meant so we could build a system that a school could fit any of their chosen descriptors to and would make sense to all stakeholders.

The age-related expectation is the expected standard at the end of a year group or Key Stage. The average age of children at the end of each academic year is known, for example, 7 years 6 months at the end of Year 2. So, the age-related expectation at the end of Year 2 must be that expected of a child aged 7 years 6 months. So why not make 7 years 6 months the descriptor? We did. Parents completely get it and understand what it means when they are shown how many months in front or behind this expectation their child is (irrespective of their actual age because national test results are not adjusted for age).

Such descriptors allow assessment to follow a logical system from Nursery (yes those confusing, overlapping month bands) to Year 6 and beyond. Descriptors seamlessly linked to end of year and termly skills enable the judgement of attainment and progression in 12-month and 4-month increments.

Conversations with parents are very different and far more productive when they understand. These descriptors remove the follow-up questions like ‘Emerging from what?’, ‘If they are working towards, where are they?’, ‘How far above?’.

Schools can easily tie any current or preferred descriptors to this system. In doing so, they are completing the ‘mapping’ to what external bodies will request, whether they should or not, so time is saved. Schools using Cornerstones don’t have to throw out the baby with the bath water but can move towards this new age of assessment.

3) Record depth of understanding

Any assessment system has to support teacher judgements. A system should support a teacher’s knowledge and understanding of the national curriculum and where children are. Cornerstones termly Developmental Skills provide the tools to increase teacher expertise and ability to make accurate judgements. No system should spit out an ‘attainment level' when a system-set number of ‘objectives’ are ticked or coloured. All systems should have the flexibility for assessing individual skills, but only to support teacher judgements, moderation and gap analysis (James’s electronic mark sheet).

Cornerstones Assessment enables teachers to make judgements whether a skill is observed or applied. We have all taught a class or group something and gone home convinced the majority of them have ‘got it’, only to return the following morning to find only two had. It is the teacher, not an algorithm, who decides whether a child has reached an expectation.

Beware, teacher’s love green and may adore a new ‘greater depth colour’, RAG rating systems can lead to misuse and inaccurate judgements.

Differentiation is still key within the classroom. Knowing where the children have gaps and having the expertise to understand the learning progression that will close those gaps is crucial. This is not about looking at an objective and changing its ‘colour’, but utilising quality progressive skills to support teaching and learning. Other systems are open to almost encouraging inaccurate judgements, teachers tempted to ‘play’ to get more green, or even more dangerously a new ‘greater depth’ colour.

Cornerstones Assessment, tests and support materials help raise teacher expertise. When teacher expertise is high, and links between a school’s curriculum and assessment are strengthened, progress is understood, and judgements are accurate. As James states, an associated numerical system is then valid and useful for aggregated cohort and group reporting, and pupil progress.

4) Enter whatever data they like

It is not the data entered that is important; it is what an assessment system is capable of showing once it has the data.

Any assessment system must have the flexibility to answer the questions that teachers and senior leaders need to answer.

Important questions like:

  • What do the children know?
  • What don’t they know?
  • What does the school need to focus on moving forward?
  • Is current practice having the expected impact?
  • Does simple analysis confirm and support what senior leaders already know?
  • Does simple analysis challenge and show senior leaders things they may not have seen?

Through feedback, supporting schools and recent Ofsted visits to schools using Cornerstones, we can confirm that Cornerstones Assessment, tests and support materials have enabled any question asked to be answered at the click of a button or two.

We continue to work with schools so they can enter data as they wish, and obtain the answers they need in seconds.

5) Track pupils out of year group

Cornerstones Assessment was designed to support teachers and senior leaders in telling ‘the story’ of individual pupils and groups. We have created a tracking system that enables the judgement of individuals through moderated teacher assessment, supported by skills progression frameworks in 4-month or 12-month increments from Nursery to Year 6 and beyond. Remember, the Cornerstones tracker has no ‘emerging’ or ‘working towards’ terminology but actual judgements of where individual pupils are against national expectation. Yes, with Cornerstones, the progress of the most able child or a child with PMLD can be shown.

6) Design their own reports

Cornerstones Assessment allows you to see on screen what you need or want to see. We give the control over to the user because each user is unique; each school will want to show something slightly different. Schools and individual teachers can create their own ‘tags’ and Cornerstones continues to develop an assessment system with the flexibility to suit all primary and special schools.

The holy grail (as James calls it) is data on a single page. We have a single report that shows all key data for each subject broken down by cohort and key groups and schools can ‘design and build’ their reports to satisfy the needs of governors, LA monitoring visitors and Ofsted. Schools also have Group Summaries at the touch of a button that, as James suggests, show the percentage of pupils that are below, at and above where they are expected to be at any point in time.

What is imperative though is that this summative analysis feeds back into teaching and learning. It has to be an integral part of classroom practice and the whole school teaching and learning improvement cycle. With Cornerstones Assessment, these summative reports can be instantly tracked back to specific groups or individuals, to an attainment and progress matrix so that teaching is informed and learning improved – assessment is planning, and planning is assessment.

Coming soon: New style pupil report.

7) Input and access their data on any device

Cornerstones Assessment is part of our online curriculum suite so is accessible via any device from anywhere. The Assessment and Moderation Grids work perfectly on an iPad to support in-class assessment.


Our team at Cornerstones are always on-hand to support schools. So, if you’d like to ask a question or book a demo, please give us a call 03333 20 8000 or click the link below.

Find out more or book a demo.