James Marriott: Welcome to the Primary Knowledge Podcast brought to you by Cornerstones Education. I’m James Marriott, and today we are exploring what you should know about assessing and monitoring the primary curriculum. I’m joined by Simon Hickton, the founder of Cornerstones. Thank you for joining us, Simon.
Simon Hickton: Hi.
James: Our aim today, then, is to explain new assessment practices and also to get some advice and some guidance that will help people along the way. Just kind of set the scene, then for us a little bit, if you would do, about what it is that we’re talking about and where assessment fits into the current educational climate, if you would.
Simon: Well, I firmly believe that assessment should always sit right at the heart of teaching and learning. And I believe for a long, long time, way, way, back when I was first coming into teaching, I remember looking at Inside the Black Box by Dylan Williams. And I think that assessment for learning is crucial. That’s what drives planning, teaching, learning, and it should never be disparate, it should be part of that. And I think we’ve got a real chance now with the changes that have happened over the past few years to assessment and statutory assessment, and then with COVID and things changing of what has been assessed, what tests have been done, where we can really look at this differently and bring it right back to the classroom to support children, because that’s what assessments are all about. It’s about supporting learning.
James: So in the context of what we’re talking about today, when we say assessment, what do we mean?
Simon: What do we mean by assessment? Assessment is finding out the information to help children to learn and know more. It’s about giving teachers the information they need to support learning. It’s about giving senior leaders the information they need to be able to support their subjects or their school and their teachers in developing as professionals, so they can ensure that the curriculum that they are giving to the children is the best it possibly can be.
James: So what’s the best way for schools to go about doing their assessments?
Simon: Starting from the classroom and making sure that they gather all the information, and it’s not just about data, it’s not about just numbers. Yes, data is important. Data used to be the king. Ofsted came in, they looked at data and then a school could live or die by that data. That was wrong. And it’s the way so many schools had to go. Those days, thankfully, are gone. No longer is data the king, Ofsted now don’t come in and say, “I want to see your internal data,” the complete opposite. They want to see what’s happening with the curriculum and what’s happening with the impact of the curriculum. Schools still need to gather data, and that’s from quizzes, tests, standardised tests, scaled scores. They need to gather all that, but assessments more than that. It’s also about the questioning. It’s also about the knowledge of the children, about where they’re at, where they need to be. Teachers constantly assessing that, using all the information, triangulating all the evidence to then make judgements about where children are at and how they can help them to move forward.
James: Do you think there’s a perception out there that it is still all about data?
Simon: Yes, I would say there is still some perception that it is all about data and often it takes a while for that to still filter through. You get governors, you get different stakeholders asking for certain things. It used to be a class of levels and then levels sort of, finally, I think have gone. But this feeling that, well, progress and points, that’s still going to take a long time to completely disappear.
James: Yeah. I mean, in a way, you can almost, sort of, understand it in terms of the advantage of data is that, you know, you can have a chart on the wall that’s got numbers and you want those numbers to get better. It’s something that you can that you can measure, and it’s tangible. Obviously, expanding that out means that you’re kind of covering and looking at things that aren’t as black and white in terms of how you go about measuring those. Let’s just focus on data just for a minute then. So what data is still relevant then? What should schools still be looking at in terms of their data?
Simon: They should still be looking at where children are at. And obviously, that’s going to be against the national curriculum, the problems of study and if schools have broken that further down into knowledge and skills. Where are they at with respect to the coverage of that and the intent of what was to be covered and what is actually being covered? Are there any gaps? And people talk about, well, obviously COVID and issues around that and what children have missed, that is important. But more so where’s the misunderstandings? And that goes right back into the class, or that more empirical data from tests that show, no, actually those children haven’t got that. Why not? Is it a certain group of children? Is it to do with the teaching? Is it to do with the professional development of certain members of staff? What is it? It’s or it’s throwing questions that can be then hopefully analysed and answered and all about making the curriculum better, making the teaching better and making it better for the children.
James: So you mentioned it’s not all about data now that there’s a lot more going on in terms of assessment. So those things that aren’t data driven, how can schools be going about monitoring those and keeping on top of those?
Simon: Well, with anything to do with schools, especially primary schools, you’re looking at the whole child. So, you’re looking at not just are they achieving x y z that is easily measurable, it’s the un-measurables. As a parent you’d always ask, “is my child happy?” That’s a massive thing. And I was chatting to a head teacher the other day and we were discussing reports and how the report for parents, so often they’ve gone down the line of saying, “Oh, they can do this, this, this, this, this, this, this, they’re struggling on this, this, this, this, this.” As a parent myself, I want to know, is my child happy? Are they doing OK? Is there any way I could help? Is there anything I need to be worried about? I don’t want a big list of all, “they can do this, and they can’t do this or they’re struggling on this,” because actually it could be wrong because once it’s been put on paper, it’s possibly out of date and you’re probably putting something on paper that they probably can do now or might be able to do. So, it’s about looking at, yes, some data like that for schools to analyse and know about, but also what’s happening with that child, what’s helping that child to learn? Are there any barriers to that? Child learning is there behavioural issues? Is there some wellbeing issues? And obviously there’s the safeguarding and everything around that as well.
James: It sounds like a much more kind of holistic approach to this. Do you see the way that assessment is done now as being a step forward from how it was previously?
Simon: Yes, I think we’ve got a real chance now, and obviously we’re bringing in the foundation subjects back into it now. It used to be just focussed on the maths and the English and we’d throw science in, but we all know that science starts at key stage two. A lot was taught in year six that would enable children to achieve, and then they went. And then you’re thinking, “is science taught as much and assessed as much?” And then you’re thinking, no, let’s assess all subjects. Let’s look at everything as well as looking at the whole child, we should be looking at the foundation, geography, history and not just “oh, they’re good at English so they’ll be good at that” or “they’re good at science, so they’ll be good at that.” No, let’s actually drill down and look how they are progressing through the curriculum, the broad and balanced curriculum as a whole.
James: Now we mentioned that we would try and offer some tips and some advice. What would you offer up then to schools who are maybe looking to update their assessment practice? What would be some good advice there?
Simon: First of all, I’d probably dig down into progress and just think, like, what are you actually looking for with progress? Some people say, can progress be actually measured? I would say yes, it can, but I put in a large but there. And that would be it can only be measured if you’ve got really accurate teacher assessment. And if you get good teacher assessment through that triangulation of evidence, then you can actually measure progress. But really, what you should be doing is monitoring progress, and that may be one of the keys. If you can monitor progress and say right from this point in time to this point in time, and the longer that distance is, the better that measurement will be. Because children do not learn in straight lines, there is inconsistent progress, there is consistent progress. And then we sort of say there’s notable progress. That’s where a child might be really accelerating or closing a gap up. It’s all about monitoring that and then doing something about it, supporting the learning, supporting the teachers, spotting those gaps. So, what I would say is leave behind those obviously the levels, the progress for points, they’ve gone, and also think about those tracking systems and assessment databases. And are they really serving the purpose they should be? Are they integrated into the curriculum? Is your curriculum driving those systems or are those systems driving your curriculum and the time it takes you to fill them in? Assessment has to be fully integrated into the curriculum, and then it works.
James: We’ve talked about quite a lot in this episode and there’s a lot for people to kind of take in there. What do you think is, if you were to pick out kind of one key takeaway for a school to go away and work on straight away? What’s the one thing that should be kind of top of their list of first thing to do?
Simon: Ensure anything they’re doing for assessment is supporting learning.
James: There’s a good takeaway. I like it. Simon, thank you very much for your time.
Simon: Thank you, James.
James: I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s episode. We have handpicked some extra resources and content, which we think you’ll find useful as well. Just head to the show notes for this episode to find those links. There’s loads more information, and you can find all our other episodes as well at cornerstoneseducation.co.uk. Thanks for listening and see you next time.
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