Phil Daniell, Curriculum Director of Maths, joined Sir Robert Woodard Academy two years ago, when the school was beginning its journey of improvement under headteacher Kieran Scanlon. Getting the right approach to assessment was key to that improvement because, as Phil explains, data issues can have a significant negative impact if they are not handled in the appropriate way.
“From a workload aspect, if a teacher doesn’t see the value of assessment or the reason why they’re doing it, they begrudge the time spent on it. Looking at the data, we’re continually asking ‘what’s the point, what’s its purpose?’.”
Staff don’t mind doing assessment, Phil says, if they see the benefit and the reason for it. “It’s when you think you’re just going through the process for the sake of it that there’s a problem.”
He says a problem he’s witnessed elsewhere is the amount of time teachers spend “looking at data that means nothing”. “I’ve seen assessments that are so complex no one knew what the gradings were – so nobody knew what it meant or how to improve.”
From a workload aspect, if a teacher doesn’t see the value of assessment or the reason why they’re doing it, they begrudge the time spent on it … Staff don’t mind doing assessment if they see the benefit and the reason for it.
Besides making staff aware of why the school is doing assessment and for what purpose, Phil says how assessment is carried out has been just as important as far as workload is concerned. Not least, centralising assessments has made a big difference to colleagues’ teaching load.
“Eliminating the number of people that need to be involved really helps. If assessment isn’t centralised you need chains of communication you need to go through, with a lot of to-ing and fro-ing. And if you ask your staff to create their own end-of-year assessments, you’re expecting too much from them. You can’t expect them to be objective.”
Phil also advises that schools should reduce the number of data drops to one a term and he queries why schools would do more. “Anecdotally, the number of data drops at other schools seems to be very burdensome. You have to ask why, who is it for, for what benefit?”
It’s not a question of less data but how it is collated and used. “There is actually more data available for us now, but teachers’ workload is much less because the admin is done by the data team, it’s all done in advance and what is provided to teachers is streamlined and pertinent.”
Phil also points to things like pupil reports, which now concentrate on the core aspects of a child’s development. “And it’s reduced teacher workload considerably.”
Benchmarking using standardised assessments is essential, Phil says. “When you run your own internal assessments, you don’t have confidence that your judgements will be reliable. Now we can get a reliable picture of where our students are currently at and where they would map to nationally.”
He also agrees that data must be used to supplement a teacher’s judgement rather than replace it. “Given the amount of decisions we make as teachers, the more information we have the better. Pupil performance can vary from one day to the next, though, so we can’t take it too literally. Assessment is a powerful snapshot but it’s a snapshot taken in context.”
But he is in no doubt that more effective data has been crucial in reducing teacher workload and putting the school firmly on a path to recovery. Morale, Phil says, has never been higher. “Even though the school requires improvement, kids are happy, staff are happy, lessons are great. What you have is a school that is really changing, the kids know, the parents know, the teachers know, it’s a school that is really improving.”
If you ask your staff to create their own end-of-year assessments, you’re expecting too much from them. You can’t expect them to be objective.