• Final report of the Commission on Assessment without Levels - does it move us on?

    Remember Pavlov? He’s the guy who conditioned dogs to respond with a saliva reflex to the sound of bell.

    At first, the dogs would be given a nice juicy piece of meat each time the bell rang, until eventually, the neural pathway was strong enough that the dogs would salivate at the idea of being fed even when the piece of meat was then withheld.

    Obviously, as humans we’re a bit brighter than your average dog. But that doesn’t mean we don’t respond to conditioning – particularly when fear is involved. For many years now you’ve been expected, as teachers, to take a data-led approach to assessment. To give each child a number and to measure their progress as their evolution between these numbers.

    A failure to keep track of, and to report on children’s attainment using these numbers would result in a less-than-glowing appraisal of your school’s performance from Ofsted.

    So, while the DfE has long been clear that Levels are finished and that schools are free to develop their own systems of assessment and reporting, so strong is the conditioning that many schools have had difficulty believing in this freedom and letting go of the old regime.

    Even those wanting to engage found themselves in a vacuum of information and direction. For pressured Heads and senior leaders with a mountain of things on their plate already, the whole area of assessment must have seemed like a ticking time-bomb that they didn’t have the manual or the time to defuse.

    The Commission on Assessment without Levels was therefore set up to provide guidance to schools on creating their own assessment policies, and to help them through a time of ‘radical cultural and pedagogical change’ (to borrow from John McIntosh’s foreward to the commission’s final report).

    What it does do, is provide a manifesto for high-quality, meaningful assessment that offers guidance to schools to help them develop their own policies.

    However, if any schools were hoping for an off-the-peg solution to assessment or a replacement set of levels fitted to the new curriculum, the commission’s final report does not deliver.

    It provides no templates, and prescribes no specific content for a school’s assessment policy. What it does do, is provide a manifesto for high-quality, meaningful assessment that offers guidance to schools to help them develop their own policies.

    The detail is of course available within the report itself, but the overall message is that formative assessment is crucial; that acting upon assessment is far more important than recording it, and that schools ought not to be driven by expectations of what they think Ofsted inspectors are looking for. (The latest Common Inspection Framework plainly states that they are not looking for a particular approach).

    The report also identifies what needs to happen in order for schools to feel completely comfortable and secure about their assessment policies. To be able, in short, to let go of the old way of thinking without fear of reprisal.

    This includes a greater focus on assessment as part of initial teacher training, training for school leaders and Ofsted inspectors around the principles and purposes of assessment, and what best-practice looks like.

    Does this mean the demise of summative assessment? Not at all. The report recognises that summative tests are a useful means of evaluation pupils’ learning and progress at the end of a period of teaching.

    It’s important, however, that the data is not an end in itself, but is a way of a way of getting information that supports pupils' progress and attainment to help you tailor your teaching accordingly.

    It follows therefore, that when you’re creating, or looking for ready-made summative assessment resources, you need to think about how they help you to close that loop.

    What do you do now? Well, whatever it takes to get rid of that old conditioning. Grasp this opportunity for what it is – a government sanctioned move towards a more innovative, child-focused, sensible approach to assessment.

    Read the report, if you haven’t already, and get excited. And most of all, believe. Believe that you know what good assessment looks like, and believe that the DfE trusts you to make it happen.

  • Pearson Primary - Together, we make an impact

    Together, we make an impact

    Last month saw the proud launch of our new Impact pages. Here, you’ll find the first tranche of case studies and evidence showing exactly how our programmes and professional development help teachers to have the biggest impact on each of their children.

    Don’t get us wrong. We’re not trying to lay claim to credit that belongs to you. One of the central tenets of the Pearson Primary manifesto is that we support teachers to do what they do best.

    We know that it’s the quality and the passion of your teaching that has the greatest impact on children’s learning. But we also know that teaching is a huge job. You have to be an expert in all things: the subjects you teach, pedagogy, assessment, classroom management, curriculum design… and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

    So let us take some of the pressure off your shoulders. You can trust us to support you with fantastic resources and training that help you do your job as brilliantly as you want to. We know, though, that trust is won, not given, and that’s what our impact site is all about.

    Evidence through to impact

    It matters to us that the programmes and professional development we create really do help children to achieve in their education. That’s why we build our programmes on respected research and evidence - such as the Clackmannanshire Study into Synthetic Phonics - and why we sponsor studies by leading academics into key areas of Primary assessment, pedagogy and policy.

    When we're talking about children's futures, though, it's not good enough simply to create a resource and send it out into the world to make its own way.  That's why Pearson is committed to evaluating and reporting on the impact of our resources – and improving them, when necessary, to make sure they do not just a good, but a great job for the teachers and children using them.

    We do this while we are developing them - road-testing them with real teachers and children. We do this by checking in with our customers once they have bought them to see how they are using them in their school, and to what effect. We do this by giving them to Local Authorities to test with groups of schools in their area.

    So, please do check out the case studies, infographics and research summaries to see the positive impact that the partnership of great teachers and great Pearson programmes and professional development have been having in schools like yours.

    Then, if you would like to, get in touch with us to tell us about your experiences with them. Perhaps you'd be willing for us to do a case study based on your school, or perhaps you would just like to tell us what you think works best, or what you would do differently if you could. Please use the comment function below and we'll be in touch.

    P.S. - This is an evolving site, with more to come for maths and intervention, so why not bookmark it to make sure you get updates?

  • Aerodrome Primary Academy School winner

    Shine a Light Awards

    At Pearson Primary, one of our main manifesto pledges is that we put learners at the centre of everything we do. For us that means every child getting their chance to shine.

    That's why we're so proud of the work of our colleagues at Pearson Clinical Assessment, who, along with the Communication Trust, sponsor the annual Shine a Light Awards.

    These awards recognise the amazing work done by organisations and individuals to help children and young people with language and communication difficulties.

    Host of the award ceremony, David Baddiel, summed up why it is so important to recognise this contribution: “Speech and language problems too often go under the radar, so everyone should not only be congratulated for their work but for bringing this important issue to the attention of others."

    He went on say, "I would like to say well done to all those shortlisted who have shown true grit and determination to better themselves and others. They are all a true inspiration - keep up the good work.”

    We at Pearson Primary couldn't have put it better ourselves. In the Primary sector, there was one outright winner and two highly commended finalists:

    Winner 

    Aerodrome Primary Academy School (featured in picture above). Aerodrome Primary Academy has introduced numerous initiatives to support their pupils from the Children’s Centre and Nursery through to Year 6, focusing on improving the communication skills of all pupils.

    Aerodrome Academy is dedicated to providing a whole school approach and has developed a strong commitment to working closely with parents. The school's “A chance for all” approach impressed the judges resulting in amazing pupil progress and we are delighted to announce Aerodrome Academy as this year’s winner.

    Highly commended

    John Ruskin Primary School, which was praised for its creative support for children with speech, language and communication needs and its systematic approach to developing the communication skills of all its pupils.

    Lark Hall Primary School. The judges particularly liked the fact the school shop was run by the students as it gave them valuable opportunities to develop communication skills. Congratulations to the three winners and to all of the finalists, for all of the incredible work they do.    

  • What everyone is thinking on the first day back at school

     

    Parents: 7.45 a.m. So, the Age 5 trousers look a little short but the Age 6 trousers are dragging on the ground – which looks least stupid?

    8.15 a.m. Before the summer I had 14 water bottles, now I only have 1… which kid do I like most?

    8.30 a.m. Can’t believe we’re going to be late on the very first day. If I was a pair of black school shoes where would I have put myself for six weeks?

    8.45 a.m. Can’t wait to see my mummy friends again… Ooh, and yes of course, hope you have a lovely first day back, darling!  

    Kids:

    6.00 a.m. Yep, I’m awake. I think I’ll go and jump on mummy.

    7.45 a.m. I want a chocolate biscuit for breakfast. No, not cereals. No, not toast. No, not even Pain au chocolat. I want a Wagonwheeeeeeeeellll!

    8.30 a.m. Why is mummy in such a flap about this? I wish she’d stop asking where I put my shoes – that was like YEARS ago.

    8.45 a.m. Yay! It’s like a giant reunion party.

    9.30 a.m. I miss my old teacher

    3.15 p.m. I LOVE my new teacher!  

    Teachers:

    8.30 a.m. Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more

    8.45 a.m. Are you going to be a problem, Mrs Parent?

    8.50 a.m. Name labels. Need name labels!

    10.00 a.m. Blur

    11.00 a.m. Blur

    12.00 p.m. Blur

    1.00 p.m. Blur

    2.00 p.m. Blur

    3.15 p.m. Must match children to correct parent. Aaaarggh, escapee. Back ‘ere, Jones!

    3.30 p.m. Only six more parents in the line to see me.

    3.45 p.m. Shattered!

  • Update on the new Common Inspection framework for September 2015

    The updated Ofsted Common Inspection Framework (CIF) was launched on 11 June for inspections from September 2015. Until the end of the current term schools will be inspected under the 2012 framework (last updated in January 2015).

    The new CIF is designed to pull together the inspection of the different education settings (early years setting, maintained schools and academies, non-association independent schools and further education and skills providers) ‘to provide greater coherence across different providers that cater for similar age ranges’.

    Between the framework, the Inspectors' handbook, and a plethora of supporting material to assist schools with its roll-out and assimilation, there is quite a lot to wade through, so here is a quick summary of the most important points:

    Slight shift in judgement areas

    • Ofsted will now make graded judgements in the following areas (2012 judgement areas in brackets). The same judgement areas will be used in all education settings.
    • Overall effectiveness (Overall effectiveness)
    • Effectiveness of leadership and management (Leadership and management)
    • Personal development, behaviour and welfare (Behaviour and safety of pupils)
    • Quality of teaching, learning and assessment (Quality of teaching)
    • Outcomes for pupils (Achievement of pupils)

    Increased emphasis on safeguarding

    Safeguarding is now reported under Leadership and Management. There will also be a greater emphasis on the notion of ‘British values’ (already included in the January edition) which include ‘tolerance’ and ‘respect’.

    The personal development section also includes a reference to extremism – ‘understand how to keep themselves safe from relevant risks such as exploitation or extremism, including when using the internet’.

    Shorter inspections for good schools

    Short inspections for schools judged as being ‘good’ in their last inspection are being introduced. These new shorter inspections will start from the assumption that the school is still good, with an emphasis on leadership.

    The onus is therefore on the leaders to provide sufficient evidence to HMI that this is the case, with a full inspection to follow only if HMI do not see enough during the short visit to be convinced.

    Focus areas

    The launch of the new CIF was heralded by a speech delivered by Sir Michael Wilshaw to Westminister outlining the principles of the document and talking about the future of education inspection.

    In it, he outlined a number of key focus areas that inspectors would be looking at. In his own words, these are:

    • Have the leaders got a grip on the institution? Do they fully understand its strengths and weaknesses?
    • Have they communicated their strategy for raising standards to the key stakeholders?
    • Are they focussed on what really benefits children and young people, rather than wasting their time endlessly preparing for an Ofsted inspection which could be years away?
    • Do they refuse to accept excuses for underachievement and are they prepared to go the extra mile to compensate for family background?
    • Are they simply presiders over the status quo, content to take the path of least resistance or are they prepared to challenge staff and students to do better?
    • Have they built, or are they developing, a culture that is calm, orderly and aspirational?
    • Are they, for example, people who tolerate scrappy worksheets? Or are they people who insist that children should have good materials to work with, including textbooks, readers and library books which they can use for classwork and homework?

    Dispelling the myths

    Alongside the inspection handbook/document is an additional paper clarifying the facts about Ofsted inspections and attempting to dispel the ‘myths’ surrounding inspection preparation, a key source of stress for teachers and school leaders. Ofsted does not:

    • Require schools to show individual or previous lesson plans
    • Require details of the pay grade of individual teachers
    • Require evidence for inspection beyond what is set out in the inspection handbook
    • Expect to see a particular frequency or quantity of work in pupils’ books or folders
    • Require the performance and pupil-tracking data and school or college self-evaluations to be presented in a specific format
    • Grade individual lessons

    This guidance has been well received by teachers and teaching unions. as evidence that Ofsted is recognising - and seeking to address - both the mental toll and the considerable demands on teachers' time that inspection has been taking in recent years.

    What about assessment?

    From September 2015 schools are required to show how they are managing and measuring attainment and progress now that they are no longer using levels to measure attainment.

    Inspectors will consider how well teachers use any assessment for establishing pupils’ starting points, teacher assessment and testing to modify teaching so that pupils achieve their potential by the end of a year or key stage. However, Ofsted does not expect to see any particular system of assessment in place.

    Evidence of in-year progress and attainment information should be provided to inspectors in the format that the school would ordinarily use to track and monitor the progress of pupils in the school.

    Reference is made many times in the document to 'Schools' own Assessment Policies'. As part of the good practice in school policy update and review, schools are well-advised to have their assessment, marking and feedback policies updated and in place by the start of the Autumn term.

    Find out more how Pearson can support you with assessment with our new service Progress & Assess.

    Image credit: Robert Kneschke. Shutterstock

  • 10 universal truths about the summer holidays for Primary school teachers

    1. In a triumph of hope over experience you will be imagining six weeks of glorious sunshine and brilliant blue skies, and will spend most of the break waiting expectantly for summer to actually arrive, before finally admitting defeat on 26 August.

    2. In the first week of the holidays you will get a cold as you finally allow yourself to relax.

    3. Luckily, you’ve got a mountain of chocolate from your pupils to keep your spirits high for at least a couple of weeks. (Oh OK, two nights with the latest box-set on the telly).

    4. The two days where the sun really does put in an appearance you’ll be so unused to it you’ll forget your sun-cream and end up just a tiny bit crisped (in spite of all your warnings to your pupils over the last term!).

    5. If travelling anywhere by ferry you are bound to bump into one of your pupils past or present (and their parents…), especially if it’s a long crossing. Get a cabin!

    6. You will lose track of the number of people who tell you how lucky you are to have such a long holiday, but lose the will after the first one to explain how many extra hours you put in the rest of the year.

    7. No matter how good your holiday was, that first night back in your home and your own bed is as comforting as hot chocolate and marshmallows.

    8. That Sunday evening feeling will probably start somewhere around the time you finally realise that summer’s not going to show. Although if you have children of your own, you may actually be looking forward to going back to work…

    9. You secretly love it when the shops fill up with stationery. Ooh, all those different coloured gel pens, geometry sets and pristine pads of paper... it’s like Christmas, but better.

    10. You’re feeling a little bit sad about the children you’ve just got to know over the past year moving on, but also excited about getting to know your new bunch. They’re the reason you do it, after all.

  • Setting the scene for SATs '16

    With SATs over for another year, the countdown to a new brand of tests covering the content of the 2014 curriculum has begun.

    Complete with a new floor standard for school accountability, pending decision-making on performance descriptors and controversy over SATs re-sits, the new age of assessment promises to be an interesting one.

    Progress versus attainment

    From 2022 schools that have elected to adopt the Reception Baseline check from September 2015 will be able to be judged on the progress that their children have made rather than on their final attainment.

    However, as the first eligible cohort work their way through the Key Stages, the measure for school accountability over the next 7 years will remain attainment. As we know, the DfE has set the bar high - 85% of pupils reaching a level equivalent to a 4b (in old money) in the core subjects, meaning that SATs pressure is about to ramp up another notch.

    The weakness of this plan is the absence of information or support relating to how schools are to achieve this, beyond a notion that by expecting more of pupils they will strive to meet up to them.

    Official figures from the DfE show that around 100,000 pupils a year currently are failing to achieve the required standards in English and maths, and with pupils now facing tests based on harder curriculum content this figure is likely to grow. Which could be a problem in light of the policy announced in April that pupils who do not pass their end of KS2 SATs will be required to re-sit them.

    Resisting resits

    It is fair to say that SATs resits have not been well received by the teaching community. First and foremost, it is in direct contradiction of the original intention of SATs to benchmark school performance, not that of the children. Even the kindest of critics believe it’s an idea that has not been fully worked through.

    Rhetoric around the time of the election was unhelpful, obscuring the intention of this policy to give children a further chance to catch-up before they get stuck into their Secondary education. Language such as “zero tolerance of failure and mediocrity” and claims that Conservative educational policy would not allow children who failed their SATs to drag down standards for brighter pupils (reported in the Telegraph) came off to many as discriminatory.

    However, removed from all of the pre-election bluster, the policy is at its core about a pre-emptive strike to help pupils destined for poor performance at GCSE. “We know that the biggest predictor of success at GCSE is whether young people have mastered the basics at age 11. That means if we fail to get it right for young people at the start of secondary school they’ll struggle for the rest of their time in education,” argues Nicky Morgan.

    Not many could argue with the sentiment. There needs to be more of a focus on supporting struggling pupils, particularly as the harder curriculum may mean this group becomes more numerous, pulling in pupils previously considered ‘middling’ into its orbit.

    A policy with potential…?

    In an extremely well-argued article, Laura McInerney, editor of Schools Week, concludes that there is potential to the policy – as long as certain ‘sticking points’ can be overcome, and it comes with ideas and resources for support, rather than becoming a stick to beat schools with.

    McInerney’s conditions really are the key, of course. The ‘sticking points’ are substantial: relating primarily to the increased pressures on both children and teachers.

    Although children will be taking the resits once they start in Secondary, and therefore the onus is on their new school to help them pass – the threat of resits increases the pressure on children to succeed first time round, and the pressure on Primary teachers to ensure they do so.

    Whereas previously the impact of poor results would be felt largely by the school, in future they will also be borne by the children themselves.

    A stressful start to secondary

    In a worst-case scenario, we may see desperate secondary schools seeking ways to minimise their intake of children with weak results or ability-streaming enacted from the very start of Year 7.

    Children starting their secondary lives in the position of having to retake their SATs could feel stigmatised – a failure from the start, which can only exacerbate the growing social problem of anxiety and depression in children. The NSPCC reports a 200% increase over recent years in calls related to exam stress.

    We must therefore find ways to relieve the pressure on the children. This may take the form of pastoral care, a focus for PSHE lessons, or best of all by removing the pressure from the whole of the accountability chain, so that it doesn’t trickle down to the most vulnerable. In this regard, it might be helpful if the DfE would reconsider the target for the number of pupils expected to pass re-sits (currently set at 80%, criticised by the ASCL as ‘arbitrary’) and the obligation on Secondary schools to report on these results.

    All this being said, there are mitigating factors for the re-sits: they will be slimmed down versions of the actual SATs, and will be internally marked, which might help make them slightly less of an administrative burden.

    Children will have two opportunities in the year to pass them, but crucially will not be held back if they persistently fail. And finally, contrary to the furore over resits penalising those with Special Education Needs, there is in fact no requirement for this group to take them.

    Support and direction needed

    Beyond this, there is also the information and support gap already mentioned. What needs to happen to help children pass tests that they failed only a few months earlier – that has not already been attempted by talented and hard-working Primary teaching professionals?

    How will secondary teachers close a gap potentially made worse by summer slide? Will there be any central recommendations or co-ordination?

    Early intervention seems a better route: it feels less rushed, and less stigmatising than an all-or-nothing Year 7 sprint. But in a world of overstretched class sizes, overworked teachers and dwindling budgets – still more investment in resources and training is needed.

    Let us hope that having announced the birth of this particular policy, Nicky Morgan’s department has spent the intervening time working out how to bring it up.

    It is a policy that comes from a good place, but which risks sinking - dragging pupil and teacher morale with it – unless it can be buoyed by some real investment in resource and some rethinking around whether there is any real benefit in setting reportable targets for the resit pass rate.

  • Pearson Primary manifesto: #3 We work with charities that really make a difference to children's lives.

    Alongside our commitment to making resources that have a measurable impact on children’s lives, we seek out and support charities that are equally dedicated to helping people make progress in their lives through learning.

    Feeding imaginations (and tummies)

    We know for example a child’s ability to concentrate is seriously impaired when they come to school hungry, as sadly an estimated 700,000 children in the UK do each day. So we’ve donated over £64,500 to Magic Breakfast and voted them our charity of the year for three years running. Donate to Magic Breakfast.
     

    Reading for pleasure isn’t just fun but also a key indicator of future academic success; that having books at home and being read to from an early age is crucial to making this happen. That’s why, through Booktime, we’ve given away over 10 million books to Reception-aged children, and why we’re extremely proud to sponsor the annual national Read for my School competition that has over 200,000 children in over 3500 schools reading one million books each year.

    To help facilitate the sharing of outstanding teaching and leadership practice, we’re working with the Cambridge Primary Review Trust to help schools to build an outstanding, creative curriculum in a principled, evidence-based way. Plus we’re proud to sponsor the Pearson Teaching Awards, giving a platform for rewarding and recognising the unsung heroes that are so vital to our children’s futures.

    So many children all over the world are far less privileged than our own children, which is why Pearson has been working with Book Aid International since 1980, donating over 2.5 million books, including many of our primary titles.

    Literacy is the key to transforming lives. So, Pearson has embarked on a campaign to inspire new collaboration on the evolving challenges and opportunities around literacy. If Project Literacy was to achieve one thing in the next five years, what would it be? Do share with us at #projectliteracy.

    And lastly but certainly by no means least, Save the Children and Pearson have launched an ‘Every Child Learning’ partnership, to help out-of-school children caught in the Syrian refugee crisis access quality education.

    Providing education for children in conflict and emergency settings presents many unique challenges. Over the course of the three year partnership, Pearson has committed £1 million to work with Save the Children to identify and develop solutions for delivering education in emergencies, drawing on the expertise and assets of both organisations. Of course, the credit for all these achievements goes to the wonderful organisations we work with. We are honoured to be able to play a part in making them happen.