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Recent news and blog posts

  • How Springwood Primary School just made our week...

    Last week we received a video made by the children and teachers at Springwood Primary in Wales. It was a short but exuberant film in which they share some love for our whole school reading programme - Bug Club.

    Made by the children and teachers themselves, it was so natural and honest it couldn't possibly have been scripted. For the Bug Club team, it was so special because it was completely Springwood's own initiative. We never asked them to do it, we didn't give them any discounts for their 'free marketing' - they just made it and shared it to our Twitter feed.

    Pearson is a fairly large organisation but the Primary team here in Oxford is not. Bug Club is created and managed by a surprisingly small team of people whose job it is to keep improving both the printed and online eBooks, ensuring they are as fun and engaging as possible. Seeing the children of Springwood, iPads in hand, speaking so enthusiastically about Bug Club has delighted the team of people who work on it every day.

    Their rather fabulous little video, freely created and so kindly shared, genuinely has made our week.

    We spoke to Justin Dowd, a teacher at Springwood, after seeing the video, and were even more delighted by a comment he made that, ‘he thought Bug Club would improve reading standards, but since getting it in, it’s transformed them!’

    Much as we love hearing the good stuff, just like the schools and children we serve we are on a journey of continuous improvement and learning. If you have feedback about any Pearson Primary product please let us know. Use this blog to comment, fill out one of regular online surveys, speak to one of sales consultants or customer service people or use Twitter, Facebook or email us. We value your feedback enormously.

  • Don't wait for 'green traffic lights' to depart on your assessment journey...

    "If you are [...] waiting for the 'right' thing to happen, you might wait for a long time. It's like waiting for all the traffic lights to be green for five miles before starting the trip." - Robert Kiyosaki

    Waiting for more clarity on assessment? You’re not alone! Our consultants are hearing from schools daily that they need something to help them with assessment.

    At the Education Show last week teachers crammed liked sardines into Colin Watson’s update on Assessment post-Levels. (Colin Watson is the Deputy Director of Assessment Policy and Development at the DfE). However, if they were looking for an epiphany, they were likely disappointed.

    There was little in the presentation that we didn’t already know - perhaps with the exception of a little further clarity on the ‘progress measure’ being more around added-value rather then set expectations of progress. There was also confirmation that we won’t know detail about the scaled score for SATs until the first set of tests have been marked.

    The truth is, there is nothing really to wait for. Levels were disbanded because they didn’t fit with the freedom of the new curriculum, and they are not being replaced for the same reason.

    Yet this freedom comes along with much higher expectations for school performance: 85% of pupils reaching a level equivalent to a 4b (in old money) in the core subjects. Against this backdrop, it is understandable that assessing without a really clear, accredited framework matched to the new curriculum, feels like merrily swinging on a trapeze without a safety net.

    Of itself, assessment should not be a scary thing. However, assessment of children has for too long been analogous to teacher accountability. Schools may be forgiven for worrying that if they get assessment ‘wrong’ they are heading towards disaster at their next inspection. So of course they are looking for some direction; some reassurance their approach is on the right lines.

    The DfE recently recognised this apprehensiveness by setting up the Commission on Assessment Beyond Levels. We were delighted to see Dame Alison Peacock appointed to this Commission as we have long been fans of her enlightened approach to teaching and assessment. An approach that has seen her school go from special measures to outstanding in just a few short years, and which has created an environment of happy, motivated pupils - and staff.

    The Commission is likely to come out with some fantastic examples of how to look at assessment differently. However, what it is not likely to come out with is any kind of scale that will act as a substitute for levels.

    So what should you be doing?

    According to Tim Oates:

    • The new curriculum focuses on fewer things in greater depth, so assessment should be focused on whether a child has really understood and mastered these key skills.

    • We need a different concept of children's ability - that each child is capable of anything (with hard work and good teaching) - not labelled according to the level they happen to be in.

    • Enabling children to ‘produce stuff’ that can be evaluated: statements, claims, hypotheses, writing, diagrams, pictures – anything that gives teachers an insight into the mental life of the children.

    • More assessment – not less – but of a different kind. Teachers need to become ‘assessment kleptomaniacs,' carrying out high-quality formative assessment that ‘richly probes’ the depth of children’s understanding.

    So far, so good but how do you capture, track and report on this?

    And this, of course, is the crux of the problem, with some schools struggling to understand how to transform their assessments into something reportable – and lacking, frankly, in the reassurance that their children are on track for success in the end of key-stage assessments.

    As a result, simple tracking systems have seen some degree of popularity in recent months, but these have their limitations. Ultimately, you need a system of recording your judgements in a way that relates them to the objectives of the curriculum, and to each child’s level of mastery, and then enables you to report on their progress through the curriculum in a way that is clear and digestible.

    Happily, we are working on a solution to help you with this, launching in September (full details coming very soon!). Our assessment solution will combine frequent tests for the core subjects to help you keep track, proprietary progress maps that give you a logical route through the core concepts, knowledge and skills of the new curriculum, plus a tracking and reporting tool that will help you read and react to your data and to formulate reports for parents, school leaders and Ofsted.

    Summative testing and tracking is not the be-all and end-all of assessment – and on that subject the DfE have been very clear. However, we know that in reality it would be remiss of us not to make sure that our children are on track to succeed, and this is where we can help you.

    In the meantime, if you haven't set out on your assessment journey yet, don't wait for all the 'traffic lights to be green' before you do. They're already flashing amber...

    To receive information about our assessment service, sign up here

  • Assessment in teachers' hands: a question of belief and confidence.

    Talking to colleagues and to teachers I get the impression that some teachers and schools are getting confused about what assessment really is.

    I have heard and read phrases such as ‘teachers are waiting to be told what to do’, or ‘the school will be using xxxx (a proprietary product) to assess’.

    However, I can’t help but feel that teachers are doing themselves a disservice here. Teachers already know how to assess children’s learning - and no product can assess learning like a teacher can. (That's why the assessment support we are developing for autumn 2015 won't try to tell you how to assess, but rather facilitate you to do so within the framework of the new curriculum).

    I believe the confusion is caused by the term ‘assessment’ being used interchangeably or as a short-hand to mean:

    • Knowing what children know and can do, so that they and their teachers can plan next steps and move the learning on. This might involve using information from observations, conversations, work submitted (in a variety of forms) and tests; also known as formative assessment.

    • Testing - knowing what a child knows in a given moment - but only in relation to the questions asked in the test; also known as summative assessment.

    • Recording – making a note of test results and interpretations from teacher knowledge of children's learning.

    • Tracking - recording results and interpretations over time for individual children and groups of children.

    • Progress - the difference between what a child is deemed to know/be able to do between two given moments in time.

    • Reporting – using the information gathered about a children’s learning, achievement and progress and gathering it into an appropriate format to deliver information and judgements to children, parents, governors, inspectors, local authorities and others.

    • Accountability – being held to account, for the achievements at a given moment in time and for the progress that children have made over a given period of time, against set criteria, standards  or expectations.

    As far as I can tell the only thing schools are waiting to be told is what the expected progress between baseline and End of Key stage might be. However, this will not be available until national average progress measure can be calculated and that will not be until tests have been taken and compared across the country. 

    Meanwhile the arrangements for SATS and reporting teacher assessments are available on the DfE website.

    For everything else it is for the school to decide how they assess and report knowledge, ability (can do), attitude, happiness, and all the other essential aspects of their school life, to children, to parents, to governors and anyone else who needs to know.

    The measure of progress in the curriculum should be against the national curriculum attainment targets. The government has arranged these to be appropriate (in their view) to the stage at which children should be for their age at the end of KS1, end of lower KS2 and Upper KS2. End of Key Stage tests (SATs) will continue to provide summative information, against the old national curriculum in 2015 and the new curriculum from 2016.

    The government has also stated that the new national curriculum for England has been designed in such a way as to allow teachers the freedom to plan a curriculum that is meaningful for their children and their school’s circumstances.

    The government claims there is room in the new curriculum for a relevant local or community element, for subjects to be studied in more depth and for learning to be deepened and broadened through practice and application of learning in different ways.

    The number of schools really engaging with this at present seems relatively small. Of course, the new curriculum is still very much in its infancy, and change takes time. However, I can’t help feeling that perhaps teachers don’t quite believe in their newfound freedom yet. After all, they have had a decade and more of a very prescriptive approach to curriculum, teaching methodology, assessment and measures of progress.

    Consequently, I think one of the biggest challenges for schools and teachers is to believe that their approach to assessment is in their hands and to feel confident in their own judgements. Much of this will come with time and with teachers talking to teachers about children's work and progress.

    It is a big challenge! And I for one feel that the government has not acknowledged this aspect enough.

    I think messages about assessment have got confused with the messages about accountability and the government needs to be a lot clearer with these communications and about its intentions – a conclusion it seems to have reached by itself, given the launch recently of the Commission on Assessment without Levels.

    I would like to see the Commission ultimately providing the resources and funding to support teachers in developing the required expertise and, most importantly, professional confidence, by talking to each other, comparing work and through professional development.


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