Measuring progress at primary school – where to next?



27th July 2020

Measuring progress at primary school – where to next?

After another worrying conversation with a headteacher, who told me that her governors still want to see progress scores, I came across James Pembroke’s blog, The problem with progress: a guide for governors. In it, Pembroke raises some important points about the pitfalls of measuring progress in life after levels. In this blog, I’d like to offer my suggestions for where primary leaders could go next.

Measuring progress at primary school – where to next?

Data driven progress

When I was a primary senior leader, deputy head, then headteacher, between the years 1995 to 2014, progress was a data defined driver of education. Over 20 years, I oversaw documents that armed my school against data driven inspection, SATs and league tables.

I’m sure that I am not the only headteacher to have spent years creating spreadsheets to prove ‘expected progress’ of every group, no matter how small or statistically meaningless, just as Pembroke points out in his blog. I strived to make the spreadsheets more than merely numbers and to create a system that helped with teacher assessment and informed future steps. But no spreadsheet or tracking system was, or is, ever going to do that.

Ofsted’s new inspection framework has famously responded to the issue, looking at how schools use the data that they collect, rather than analysing the data itself. However, as the conversation with the headteacher that I mentioned earlier shows, some stakeholders are clinging to outdated systems based on the fallacy of linear progress, such as three points a year (or four to be outstanding) in English and maths.

So how can primary leaders support and assess children’s progress? In my experience over the past 10 years of working on curriculum and assessment, there are much more meaningful ways to do it.

Curriculum as the progression model – things to consider

The important thing to remember is that your school’s curriculum, based on the national curriculum, is the progression model. While being an oasis of learning, your curriculum must contain endpoints that map and connect the skills, knowledge and whole child developmental needs across all subjects and the wider entitlement. Any progress monitoring system must inform teachers and leaders of where your children are and what they need to be as close to the clearly defined expectations as possible.

Assessing progress is complex. It’s about assessing the effectiveness of your provision and it’s vital to know what you are looking at. These questions may help you to reflect:

  • What does progress mean in our school? Is it what children have covered? What did they understand at the time? What they can retain? What they can apply?
  • If it looks as though children have made a lot of progress, they still may have lots to learn about a concept. What else do we want/need them to learn?
  • What progress have children made beyond learning the curriculum? For example, in their learning skills, engagement, or their personal, social and global awareness? For some children, this could mean that they are in fact making better than ‘expected progress’ in many areas.

Reflecting on the above questions will give you much more meaningful and effective ways to plan for, support and monitor progress.

A brave new world

We are now entering a new, post-pandemic world, and have the opportunity, with backing from DfE and Ofsted, to do what we know is right. It’s time to completely shed the data armour, reduce unnecessary workload and, most importantly, bring the full broad and balanced curriculum back to our classrooms.

We can change the way we assess in primary schools forever. I could move on to discussing SATs and league tables, but I’ll leave those for now. Let’s focus first on delivering a broad and balanced curriculum with assessment fully integrated. Let’s enable the monitoring of actual coverage and learning, that informs teachers and leaders in real time as to where their children are and what is needed to support them to be the best that they can be. Let’s ensure that all governors know that progress is not a number to be measured and is more than a narrative; it must become an intrinsic part of a school’s curriculum.

How we help schools plan for and support children’s progress

Six years ago, as levels were banished, I began working on a way to meaningfully integrate curriculum delivery and assessment for learning. With the help of over 300 outstanding primary leaders and a team of curriculum experts, we came up with a platform that links curriculum, learning and progression: Curriculum Maestro.

Maestro includes a fully sequenced curriculum, supports live curriculum planning and helps teachers to make formative and summative assessments of actual progress. It appreciates that the process is multifaceted and not always linear. Crucially, it enables teachers to meaningfully respond to their assessments and help children to make progress.

For schools that have their own curriculum in place, we now have Assessment Maestro. This can be used to assess and analyse core and foundation subjects from nursery to year 6.

I will continue to develop Maestro to help schools to design, deliver and manage their curriculum in the way they know is best.

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