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Navigating the new assessment landscape


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his month, in his regular Education Today column, Graham Cooper, head of product strategy at Capita SIMS,


shares his thoughts on the new assessment landscape, and how schools are managing the transition away from levels More than six months have now passed since schools have had the


choice to move away from national curriculum levels. And from the countless events I attend across the country, I know that many of you are still attempting to solve the conundrum of how to effectively monitor student progress in this new era. At the end of last year, Capita SIMS held a joint roundtable event


with ASCL and a number of secondary school leaders to examine some of the methods they have introduced to measure attainment so far and look at how they are managing the change. I thought I would share some of our findings in this column. What was clear from the event is that schools are navigating very different paths through this new assessment landscape.


Joined-up approach Knowing how a child is performing as they move from primary into secondary education is a major concern for all school leaders. Now that schools can use their own methods for measuring attainment, it will become increasingly difficult for schools to understand what stage a child is at in their learning when they arrive at secondary school. To overcome this, many secondary school heads are carrying out a


number of additional assessments of all new students. This allows them to calculate an accurate baseline so that they can effectively track progress and are able to demonstrate the value the school has added to an individual’s learning. The need for a more joined-up approach has also meant that a


number of other schools were continuing to use national curriculum ‘level descriptors’ to ensure there was some shared understanding of progress. This may remain the case for a little while to come until the dust settles and schools embed a more collaborative style of working.


Involving parents and students We also discussed the importance of ensuring both parents and students themselves understand the school’s new approach to assessment. School leaders agreed that this was crucial to keeping parents engaged to help motivate their daughter or son to fulfil their potential. As a former deputy head, I was heartened to hear how many were


keen to involve parents and students in the decision making process itself, so they could play a role in shaping the new methods introduced across the school. Almost all went out of their way to ensure parents and students had a clear understanding of any new system being used and what it meant to them.


Data driving achievement Attendees also felt that data was still important in their drive to boost achievement and understanding what stage children are at in their learning. Heads revealed that technology must effectively support staff to accurately track progress. As a result, the school leaders we spoke to asked for a management


information system that would be flexible enough to cope with each school’s varying approaches to assessment. They wanted to be able to access attainment or Progress 8 comparisons in a few clicks so that they can see that headway is being made by individuals and groups of students as well as the achievements made by the school itself. It appears there is no one-size-fits-all approach to assessment in this


post-levels era. And yet, the ability to record and access data on the progress of individuals and groups of students remains key for both primary and secondary schools. More than ever, technology must adapt to meet the changing needs of schools.


uWebsite: www.capita-sims.co.uk uTwitter: @CapitaSIMS


14 www.education-today.co.uk


Is writing necessary for learning in science?


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eacher and Education Today’s STEM columnist Kirsty Bertenshawthis month


looks at the cross over between literacy and science, and wonders whether writing really is necessary in science? The longer I teach, the more I am met with


complaints from students about writing in science lessons, with questions like “Why have I got to write? It’s not English” and “I hate writing”. While literacy is a whole school issue and one that schools are struggling with nationwide, it prompted me to give more thought to the question is writing necessary in science? When I think about why I ask students to write in my own science lessons, I have to consider several reasons, some more cynical and some proven with studies. A more cynical yet painfully true answer is students write to provide


Kirsty Bertenshaw


evidence. I have seen more than one advisor/ education consultant come into a school to help them prepare for Ofsted, and simply flick through a book to see how much writing is in it. This is an indicator for how much learning has taken place – but is it accurate? And should quality of learning be judged on how much is written? If a class has a regular supply teacher due to the current lack of trained


science teachers staying in teaching long term, then they may have more written work than a class with a consistent teacher, just because every lesson is using the textbook and making notes or answering questions. This should not mean that the class with a supply teacher be judged better. Management often trawl books to check on their staff, looking for


quality of feedback from staff, ensuring students respond to feedback, and getting an idea of the type of learning taking place. In some schools, lack of written work can lead to further meetings with management following up and checking on staff, increasing workload and detracting from planning time, which is the opposite to more successful schools. I have met teachers from some Ofsted “outstanding” rated schools,


whose management take a different approach. In these schools, the focus is on active learning rather than providing written work, and when work trawls take place, students go along with their book to management, and tell them about their lessons and what they have learned. This ensures the teaching focuses on a deeper understanding of the content. An obvious reason for writing in science classes is to make a set of


notes for exam revision. It allows students to go back over their own work and check their understanding repeatedly, revising regularly. Writing can stimulate memory and help students to remember complex facts and relationships. This was demonstrated recently in my own class with a year 13 Biology student retaking year 12; he complained about being asked to draw an annotated diagram of the immune response with felt tips; however, after this task, he found he could answer past exam questions with ease! Studies have shown writing longhand stimulates memory, leading to students remembering more information for a longer period, as demonstrated in the articles The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard - Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking by Pam A. Mueller and Daniel M. Oppenheimer. Writing allows reflection on learning, something that is emphasised to


trainee teachers in their own practice, and a skill vital to deepening learning and improving understanding in our students. Writing reflectively is difficult and takes practice to do so successfully, practice that should take place within our lessons. So is writing necessary for learning in science? In conclusion; yes, but


consider what exactly you are asking students to write and how it will benefit them. Instead of writing up a whole experiment every time, perhaps just ask them to reflect on what they learnt through the lesson.


For more information: uwww.psychologytoday.com uwww.academia.edu uwww.ascd.org uhttp://pss.sagepub.com


April 2015


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