Published on: 04 Jul 2017

We have sound and secure baseline data which informs target-setting processes and if you work to the target, Progress 8 will look after itself in years to come

Establishing a starting point

Every student deserves the best education possible. But for a school to be able to achieve this, it must have a starting point of teachers knowing as much as they can about every pupil.

This means finding out and understanding their potential to achieve, their abilities and whether there are any obstacles to learning, so that teaching can be tailored to their needs and aptitudes.

For Steve Walters, Deputy Head of Newport Girls’ High School in Shropshire, the starting point, out of necessity, comes in Year 7, and the transition from primary school. “SATs scores offer some information, but one set of data is not enough, especially now that national curriculum levels have been scrapped.

“At a selective school such as ours, not all pupils will come armed with SATs results either, so we have to look at other pieces of data.”

Alongside SATs scores, schools can also consider cognitive abilities tests, school entrance tests (in the case of selective schools) and school subject tests. “All this information helps to paint a picture of each pupil, and while we don’t want to label children it can help us to identify those with special needs or who are gifted and talented,” Steve says.

“Where there are gaps in this information, such as the lack of SATs scores, for example, we sometimes have to rely on teacher overviews of pupils, their strengths and where improvements need to be made. Even a few comments can help us to form a picture of that child so we are prepared when they arrive at school for the start of Year 7.

“It’s important to remember, though, that different teachers require different information. The head of year won’t need to know the same details as the head of English. So, we have to decide which teacher needs what information and give them what is appropriate and useful to them.”

Results from the Cognitive Abilities Test (CAT4) are particularly useful, Steve says, as they produce 1-9 indicators, which help preparations for the new Progress 8 measure. In effect, he says, assessment towards GCSE begins in Year 7 allowing school staff to generate a profile of each student, and groups of students, for the whole year using a consistent assessment language throughout their time in secondary school.

Giving pupils targets, and showing them what they could be capable of at GCSE, can be enormously motivating, he adds. For teachers, the acquisition of data can determine whether a pupil is a spatial or verbal learner, allowing differentiation of tasks and activities in the classroom, and for specific interventions to be implemented.

“We have sound and secure baseline data which informs target-setting processes,” Steve says. “And if you work to the target, Progress 8 will look after itself in years to come.”

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