Our AHT Leon Walker was asked to write an article for the SSAT after discussing how we were moving Meols Cop to life beyond NC levels at an autumnal SSAT up-date meeting in Macclesfield. We were the only school present who had stopped using the old NC levels and had taken steps in introducing something different and I guess Leon aroused some curiosity! The link to his article is here; https://t.co/40aHbSzwDe. Please do have a look-it is freely and openly shared, as with all of our ideas and other schools have already contacted Leon to find out more and he has spoken about our approach at different conferences. The title is perhaps a misnomer in that we haven’t abandoned ‘levels’, although we have had a long and continuing discussion about what exactly we should use to measure learning progress, what we mean by ‘learning progress’, what should we assess and measure and so on. At the moment, as you can see in the article we have settled on all students aiming for GOLD each year in KS3 in an appropriate pathway [3 pathways based on prior attainment/actual attainment] in the different subjects. This will, we hope, help all students to achieve the +1 target we have set for our school. From a below average KS2 initial intake, we must give our students the best possible opportunity to be in a position when they leave us of being able to possess individual attainment and achievement data to match the aspirations and mind-set we have worked so hard to instil.
A couple of examples from our year 7 higher pathway are shown here for English and maths.
B …. can select and apply appropriate textual reference to the point being made
S….. has the ability to draw on knowledge from other points in the text to further support an argument.
G…. uses carefully chosen textual evidence to comment fully on significant and particular words, making subtle and discriminating links.
B….. has a solid understanding of number and the methodology for multiplying and dividing numbers. Questions involving calculators and rounding answers are answered accurately.
S….. has a secure understanding of number-can multiply decimal numbers and has developed division skills. Complex questions involving order of operations using a calculator are answered accurately.
G….. has mastered techniques in number:- can divide using decimals and can use calculators to interpret complex decimal calculations, for example convert between units of time.
Achieving GOLD will require hard work and commitment from both students and teachers! This post shares the questions we have asked of ourselves about our initiative, the questions asked by others of our new system, highlights our mistakes and as ever is filled with my optimistic future hopes based on the professionalism and dedication of my colleagues. Thinking out policy aloud and seeking honest specific feedback from all involved will ensure that whatever system we finally decide upon, the process will provide a great CPD/learning experience for all and our students will benefit from an improved assessment structure.
This BSG described above is quite a simplistic description and we are keen to follow current educational discussions about the nature of learning, progress measures, assessing the whole child not just academic factors, not limiting the chances of any student when placed in a ‘set’ or given a target and enjoyed Mary Myatt’s recent post, ‘The Progress Myth’ http://t.co/sIAx6PuBT9 and Alison Peacock’s http://t.co/m3p4Pk5rxv post about Wroxham where no levels are used. Dan Brinton’s work at Belmont Community School offers a different mind-set approach towards assessment and is a recommended read http://t.co/0RNKcjNokd whilst Stephen Tierney http://leadinglearner.me/2015/03/24/life-after-levels-an-assessment-revolution/# summarised some of the key assessment factors he considers to be crucial and includes some additional reading to cover primary views and other external agencies. For an interesting assessment system without levels, Chris Waugh’s http://chris.edutronic.net/unlock-achievement/ work with the English department at the London Nautical School is fabulous, although I’m not sure if ‘unlocking potential’ extends across other subjects.
I first shared our initial thoughts last summer in the second part of this post. http://blog.meolscophighschool.co.uk/?p=722
Have I asked too much of colleagues?
Apart from myself and 4 other 50+ colleagues, none of our staff taught before the days of National Curriculum and therefore the majority of teachers have only ever been used to assessing students based on levels enforced on them. When I asked them to consider developing their own ideas based on what they believed their students should learn and linking any possible assessment ideas to their new schemes of learning, I possibly underestimated the genuine alarm and professional concern that quickly became apparent! My excitement at this once in a lifetime opportunity and a couple of ‘carpe diem’ speeches rallied our subject leaders to the cause but then the size of the task, lack of experience in pursuing such a dream and the realisation that this would be a fair old slog, slowed procedures as subject leaders went back to their faculties to persuade their teams that the end product would be worth it for our students. Middle leaders are the engine of our school and they have driven the changes through so that by now we have been able to report to parents on 3 occasions using the new criteria. Not all colleagues will have agreed with all of the ideas but they have pulled together in a common cause and Leon with his technical wizardry and patient explanations has supported colleagues through their misgivings and worries. It has taken Alison and Leon ages to match the new system to the reports and to support colleagues with the process of writing their banks of comments/BSG ladders. They occasionally chuck an expletive my way [Alison that is not Leon!] and I thank them for their resilience and grit!
It has been a salutary lesson for my leadership and I owe lots of favours! It was good idea and I had read and shared the experiences of other similar schools e.g. Durrington and the advice of the NAHT but my vision imposed a lot of work on others. Although they will have benefitted from the leadership lessons they will have learned in ‘selling’ the idea to their faculties and making it happen in the classrooms, they may not be quite ready to thank me for it YET! Maths have changed their initial strategy 3 times already and because we encourage risk taking and flexibility, colleagues know that we will change readily if systems aren’t working for the benefit of both students and staff. We have to be convinced though with good arguments and evidence and have opened up a 3 way discussion with our parents, students and staff to gather opinions and ideas to help us move forwards again next year. Leon had explained the basic BSG system to parents on various KS3 information evenings and fielded questions but I wanted to know what their thoughts were after their experience of it in action via reports and discussions with their children and learning tutors.
On our Easter Review Day parental survey for years 7, 8 and 9 I asked the question; We have changed our assessment system [no national curriculum levels anymore] and our reporting system to provide information on our new Bronze, Silver, Gold approach-have you found the information informative/clear/understandable? Has your child mentioned anything positive/negative about BSG?
My answer shared on our web-site and bulletin
Thank you for the feedback given re our BSG assessment system-this will really help us plan the next stage. Mr Walker was asked to write an article on our new development by the SSAT, a national organisation thousands of schools are members of, to share our ideas. The link is here if you would like to read it. https://t.co/40aHbSzwDe
- 44 parents added positive comments on the system and these included; great incentive, great motivator, child very positive, more motivational, very clear and informative, clearer and comprehensive, more motivational than numbers.
- The majority of parents didn’t add a comment but 2 said that they preferred the old system with the a.b.c. style making for more accuracy.
- A couple said that at first they were concerned with a ‘bronze’ award but they then realised that there was an intentional graded progression-we need to make this clear again following this feedback.
- Another parent wondered how it linked to national standards of attainment. We will show this next time, as the article explains.
- Another important point was mentioned when we were asked to make it clearer if the Gold level hadn’t been reached because the skills/knowledge hadn’t been covered yet. We use the term ‘working towards’ on the reports but perhaps need to make this clearer. Thank you for raising these points.
Flight paths and core faculty leaders
I had originally been keen for our students to develop their own’ flight path’ in each subject to track their own progress and intervention [which would have linked to national standards] and ‘sold’ the idea a couple of years ago. I envisaged students having their own flight paths to discuss with parents on parent’s evenings and review days. At that stage it was an initiative too far but the need to show ‘national standards’ for parents, students and other agencies [otherwise BSG may not be understood] and how BSG links to them has made Leon think again about showing flight paths on each report and he has been trying out ideas and sharing them with Sarah, Jen and Carmel our core subject leaders. This example is a prototype he doesn’t want me to ‘tweet’ and he calls a fail but it gives a crude picture of his thoughts.
Tried to put all three BSG pathways onto one flightpath.
It’s a bit messy.
Want to display the idea that students can change to a higher pathway and finish with a higher GCSE target. Think this one is a fail!!
Carmel has always worried in science that progress is rarely linear and that trying to have flight paths that go in a nice upwards flight trajectory doesn’t work. For those who tried the originals, I explained that one of the learning curves that the students needed to make was that their ‘progress’ would go up and down according to the different strands of subjects and that they would have to learn how to explain and justify their own reactions and interventions to this.
Jen’s response to Leon’s draft was this;
What I do like is the idea that you can fluctuate within the pathway. Previous flight paths are based on a linear progression and we all know learners don’t progress this way..
I would say Pathway 3 needs to be wider as <4 covers a wider variety of our students (3,2,1) and I don’t want them to feel constantly below where they ‘should’ be.
Good start though. Need to meet with Dept for BSG moderation certainly to iron out some flaws.
Seeking the views of students and staff
I had been concerned when reading reports that, as the parents mentioned, we needed to make it clear that bronze would be acceptable at Xmas and silver at Easter etc. and I wasn’t convinced that when a student had achieved GOLD by Easter that we had mentioned the aspirational platinum or next steps-we didn’t say much about where their learning would go in terms of consolidation or next steps in the summer term. ‘Keep this up’ isn’t good enough!
I wanted to know how the students felt that the system was helping their learning and asked that in the first week back after Easter, KS3 learning tutors discussed BSG with their tutor groups and sent their feedback to me.
I also wanted to know how our teachers were feeling about BSG and asked that faculties discuss it in their directed time meeting.
I try to use directed time positively to provide time to discuss, moderate, plan, collaborate etc. but with the current hour a week, I struggle to ever provide enough time but hope colleagues value the thought behind the plan!
|April 21||Faculty discussion of BSG questionnaire|
|28||Faculty BSG moderationQuestions|
|May 5||INSET DAY|
|12||Learning hubs to follow up INSET|
|19||Professional portfolio follow up to inset|
|June 2||Lesson obs planning|
|16||Lesson study feedback share|
|23||Subject leaders/progress leaders|
|July 7||Faculties-sharing of good practice from lesson obs/book monitoring|
|14||Faculties-final BSG moderation/plans for next term|
|21||Break-up for summer!|
The moderation questions devised by Leon are;
Questions for moderation session on BSG
Using the spreadsheets in the progress folder
Year 7 is here
Year 8 is here
Year 9 is here
Are there any differences in the residuals for each class or teacher? What are the reasons for these differences?
Are there any differences between the rates of progress for each ability band? Do you expect similar numbers to reach gold from each ability band?
Have any students reached gold already? What are your plans for these students for the rest of the academic year?
Do you have examples of a piece of work that was awarded – Gold. Is there agreement from all members of the department in the awarding of this grade?
Over Easter, Leon had worked hard on producing;
Spring progress data is now available for years 7-10
The updated spreadsheet are available in the progress folders for each year group. There is a spreadsheet for each subject and a master spreadsheet containing progress data for all subjects.
The new spreadsheets have the facility for subject teachers to generate a matrix for individual classes and also generate seating plan cards for each student.
The features of the seating plan cards are:
Please let me know if you use them for your planning and how they can be improved to help you further.
This is a huge help for individual teachers and subject leaders [and workload!] We can clearly see relevant KS3 assessment matrixes for classes, cohorts, in the same way as we would for G.C.S.E. students. I was interested to see if the support was well received in the faculty meetings and if colleagues felt that this was an effective use of data. [The tables are too detailed to show but if others are interested-shout!]
Answering questions raised
We are strong believers in developing a trust between ourselves as school leaders and everyone in our community. You can see that we constantly ask questions about our policies internally and are big enough to accept and publish answers which don’t necessarily agree with SLT views. I had originally suggested different wordings e.g. developing, developed, mastered-other currently trendy names but subject leaders wanted BSG to fit in with the Going for Gold BFL approach-I gave in-and I had also hoped that some of the BSG descriptors would have been creatively different than old NC ones [based more on perceived subject learning needs over time] This was a big ask, although to be fair the example of history in the article isn’t perhaps representative of all, and many are quite different and will change again. Before I share our internal questions and answers, I did note Leon fielding some questions on twitter from @dawncox and this is really helpful too in evaluating our initial system.
Dawn. Using KS2 data? Or?
Leon. Yes average KS2. Fits with P8 and our vision for a +1 residual for all our students.
Dawn. Why do you go from g/s/b to grades? Why not use grades straight away?
Leon. We liked the idea of every student aiming to achieve gold it also fits with our BFL rewards scheme and also did not want our system to be seen by the students as just preparing for GCSE’s. Each year was important.
Dawn. What’s the difference between ‘several ‘,’more detail’ and ‘in depth’? Isn’t the language same as old levels?
Leon Some statements were taken from KS3 levels. Some were written to prepare for new specs. I suspect that this term we will rewrite several of the statements as we unpick what bits are targeted in the right area.
I know that our meetings have been worthwhile when I hear that they have become ‘heated’! When strong views are expressed about assessment I know that I’m in the right school still-if we can’t get passionate about how, why and what we assess-what can we get passionate about!
English sent the briefest of responses after an action packed meeting!; “After much deliberation (sorry Leon) we have realised that our current system and reports are far too complex. Hopefully when year 11 have gone and we get some gained time we could work as a dept to adapt the BSG in line with the new GCSE criteria and then adapt our year 7 and 8 reports.”
Absolutely right to change tack and go again. I don’t want colleagues to stick with something because they think either it might be too much trouble to change or SLT might not like it. If it isn’t benefitting the students and faculty members aren’t happy-come up with something that will be better. I will share an exciting new feedback/tracking/intervention idea English are currently working on towards the end of the term and am delighted that they are streamlining effective practice to aid workload and sharpen their focus.
ICT teach in individual units and they were concerned that different levels of BSG were often recorded for different units so if the next unit received a lower BSG, it may look as though the students have regressed. Giving an overall BSG at the end of the year has prompted them to work on an algorithm to solve the problem!
Their BSG spreadsheet has enabled them to see at a glance which topics specific students need to have intervention support on.
The humanities staff have adapted previous assessments to add in G.C.S.E. criteria/skills and have found the new BSG easier to plan for and track progress. They have produced marking grids to help and feel that self, peer and teacher assessment has been made easier and that the students understand BSG better than the NC levels.
They preferred the Excel format to SIMS for reports and expressed their desire to build in more DIRT/self/peer critique which although ‘lost’ content time was worth the time spent in terms of learning. They favoured a return to a flight-path so the students could see their progress and they also would like to see a motivation/effort grade on the reports. Sometimes students can be well behaved but not fulfilling their potential. The drop-down comments can seem to be inflexible feeding back on this.
The scientists also tried to convince me when I popped into their meeting to have an effort grade [Growth Mind Set criteria]. I did mention I had a nice post for them to read from Pete Jones http://t.co/k5cd3uMPCM and mentioned that I hadn’t pushed my original overarching student skills which I had wanted on the reports [there was so much to plan, I let this go for the time being] Here are a few of them again and perhaps I can do a simple BSG one for subjects. I had already introduced mind-set comments into the SLT report comments as explained in a March blog to emphasise effort and hard-work. http://blog.meolscophighschool.co.uk/?p=1773
|You try your best to be positive about your learning in this subject and try to participate enthusiastically. You think; “I can do it” and are developing into a resilient learner.||You enjoy the success of others in your class too-you help them if they are struggling and know that teaching others helps your own learning||You want to work with students who are stronger than you to push yourself-not to copy but to engage with them and challenge your own learning-you know that there is always going to be someone cleverer, faster, and stronger!|
|You are prepared to look for any small piece of learning that you have found tricky and challenging and conquer it!||You focus on your weaknesses and know that you might need to spend a long time perfecting them. You will try to use your prior knowledge to help but will actively seek advice if you need to||You can plan time-tables, set your own targets and STICK to them! You have a life outside of school but know there are times when learning has to happen and you can make yourself do it!|
|Your behaviour is supportive of great individual and class learning and you have no MCs. You are respectful and helpful to other students and adults in your class||You will lead learning and take responsibility for ‘flipped learning’, ‘co-construction’, take leadership roles||You lead other classes and students, as well as your own class. When asked in surveys and ‘student voice’ activities you respond honestly and thoughtfully so that your comments and feedback are valuable, valued and help to ensure the most effective learning and teaching for all|
|You take responsibility for your own self critique as much as possible and know what you have to improve on and work on to achieve subject mastery. You check that you have successfully met feedback advice and that the learning you give in for marking, is as near to perfect as it can be!Get very DIRTY!||You use teacher or peer supportive criticism to improve your own learning, respond in detail to dialogue and feedback and can evaluate the impact of the advice on your learningYou are skilled at re-drafting and are prepared to make mistakes until you get the quality you want and know will achieve subject masteryUse DIRT effectively and put up with repetition and ‘going over’ stuff again.||If you have successfully achieved your own feedback-you actively seek out a further challenge. If the feedback is too easy-you say so and push yourself upwards and onwards. If you don’t understand the feedback advice-you say so and don’t pretend that you do!|
Science wrote theirs so they are relevant to the subject knowledge needed but would like sub-levels for each BSG to direct students more. They saw this as a disadvantage in comparison to the NC system and this was echoed by some of the students in their answers and a couple of other faculties.
They had found the recording of BSG tricky and matching the BSG to report comments is their next summer focus. They haven’t come up with an easy solution to the time needed for tracking and administration-they have a lot of learning points to assess and have also found that assessing students through skills doesn’t correlate to their end of unit G.C.S.E. skills and a discussion re the balance of skills/knowledge followed.
RE are re-writing their BSG statements to make them more student friendly but as with science and humanities, felt that they had got the core purpose of their assessment right. They liked the fact that students equated BSG with Going for Gold which gave a uniform progression between pastoral and academic performance and felt it encouraged growth mind-set because there is a lack of intimidation caused by levels comparison. Everyone can go for appropriate GOLD and progress can be measured without damaging esteem. Interestingly one of the year 9 students didn’t like this approach-“a person in set 7 can get gold and so can a person in set 1-this is dishonest” A very different perception!
MFL told me that they found BSG more flexible and could get to a high level with the students [they had written their own success criteria] but hankered for the sub levels so they could be more accurate. Progression wasn’t always obvious as sometimes higher levels were reached without fully reaching some of the lower level skills. Recall, which has been a low level skill, is actually such an important aspect of language learning that they felt that they need to reflect this in the BSG criteria.
They echoed RE’s point about all students being able to GOLD and this motivates their students although the students needed help in recalling what they have to do to reach their BSG levels. [Key part of our teaching of course] The benefits for their leadership were that the process had made them think about what they teach in 7 and 8 and they had broken down the skills. This helped to standardize across the faculty.
The disadvantages were the complexity of the system and the need to re-write. There lots of criteria which made it harder to pin-point which one was holding the students back.
Maths The mathematicians felt that “BSG has now proved more detail to parents of topics, based on assessments, students are struggling with and gives them ideas of where they need to get to. What’s tricky is to match our assessments into a whole overview of BSG and with such a large curriculum of skills” They have been whittling these down and it has been hard work producing new assessments to fit BSG and the new curriculum. The BSG information that goes home isn’t as detailed as the internal tracking and intervention sheets and the faculty would like to report home the assessment scores using percentages matched to BSG rather than the old levels way. Some parents on Review Day were concerned that their child was still on bronze and to counter this worry they suggested the introduction of;
B-/B+/S-/S+/G is vital to help parents see some progress students are taking. We as a department would find this easy to implement by simply splitting up further the boundaries
Our BSG reports our based on a ‘best of 3 average’ from each of the main six areas in the
Our BSG reports our based on a ‘best of 3 average’ from each of the main six areas in the curriculum.
Which could quite easily adapt to
We are also keen to share the data we gather, example above, with our parents to help further indicate progress by curriculum area.
“What we have found we do differently from other departments is targeting BSG in a whole lesson, as for example there are some lessons where we would only be covering what we see as Bronze skill (essential) and there are topics that we would call a Gold skill for their ability/age. And so rather than a BSG system for assessments we have used since the start of September a worded level based on assessment to allow students to assess their progress in a particular area.
Students seem to like this measure and some have spoken take learning into their own hands and have asked for extra work when they’ve achieved ‘needs intervention’. However we are finding that as our BSG relies so heavily on these assessment scores some students that are really struggling to pull up their percentages my never make it to Gold. We need to look at our assessments further and see if we need to make any changes.
With the BSG solely relying on raw data we are a little concerned about the number of students not going to make the Gold target by the end of the year. I wait to see the percentage of students that are on target and below. This also leads on to the discussion of how can we reward and praise students like we have in the past for above target. Some great ideas from the department to introduce platinum for the end of the year for the top 10% say of the students that are awarded Gold. We don’t feel the need to ‘explain’ platinum or even go into detail as to how to get there other than this is awarded to those who have produced consistently high results and therefore ‘mastered’ our subject.”
Art and DT “Having used the B/S/G system, we have realised that the initial statements and comments that were created with advice and guidance now need to be related much more specifically to skills and topics; to account for the wide variety of skills, knowledge and understanding that is developed though Art and Design Technology.
Within a term’s work or the termly rotation, progress cannot clearly be achieved by all students from Bronze to Silver or Silver to Gold, as they may not have achieved all necessary skills in the time, or in Design Technology favour a particular specialism over another. This can make it seem, like students are not progressing as desired during their lessons in the Faculty. We can understand a need to include sub-levels, but as a department we do not wish to over complicate the system.”
Katy and Josie liked the narrowing down to 3 levels for their subjects which resulted in increased and more focussed feedback to students which helps to motivate progress and felt that the students enjoy the simplicity and understand that there are only 2 steps from Bronze to Gold, which is less daunting in a practical subject. They have had to change their comments a few times and have found the time constraint difficult. They have wondered if they should include a distinction level for those students who achieve an early gold [or consider is the gold standard too easy if lots of students achieve it early?] and raised the question that went back to the beginning of our discussions about using 1-9 rather than BSG.
PE Our performing artists were involved in a dress rehearsal on our Tuesday discussion time and PE had a couple of fixtures. Just to fit in with our deadlines are some PE thoughts gathered over the last couple of days.
- Like the idea that all students are all aiming for gold and students feel proud to achieve gold regardless of the pathway they are on.
- Students can get confused as to what pathway they are on and what they need to do to improve and why they aren’t on a different pathway.
- Difficult for class teacher to make pupil friendly resources to display what it actually is they need to do to improve in each category B/S/G.
- Objectives are hard to write as a result to make it personalised for each pathway student, a lot of it is given verbally and generic when setting objectives.
- Peer assessment difficult with mixed ability/pathway groups.
- Possibility of sub levels between BSG to allow for identifiable progression.
- Planning takes longer for each lesson to accommodate for all pathways within PE groupings which can become more difficult.
- Designed our own assessment framework linked to GCSE PE criteria is a positive and allows the department to identify potential GCSE PE students.
- Staff need to get used to the new system framework which has taken time to accurately assess in PE.,
- Based on the seven different strands of PE activities, it has proved difficult to assess outdoors. As we have three pathways including seven different assessment strands within each pathway.
- Translating our information from our data inputting onto Leon’s spreadsheet.
- Solution- linking B/S/G spreadsheet to transfer data to SIMs to save time.
There wasn’t a whole school consultation before we moved from NC levels to BSG with our students. We left it to subject teachers to explain and put into practice-it would be very difficult for the students to think about a new assessment system from scratch and to come up with ideas-BUT I could be wrong. However I felt that it was better to run with the idea and then let them speak so we can listen to their views and feedback.
I was a bit naughty with the first question in asking if they could talk about their learning in terms of BSG and in the second if they knew how to get to the next level of BSG. It was a bit like the old worry that an Ofsted inspector would plonk themselves down in your lesson and ask a student “what level are you on and how will you get to the next level?” Do you recall trying to prepare for that? I thought that some students would raise an objection [or a learning tutor would chip in!] but they didn’t and therefore the comments flooded back that they weren’t too sure, the BSG was too complex to remember or they knew the level but weren’t sure why etc. Some of course did know them and what to do to get to the next BSG and subjects such as science and maths were given as subjects which supported this development.
When I interviewed students on our winter Learning Walk I made the comment that,
With the key stage 3 students, I wanted to find out how the BSG assessment system was settling and if they were clear on what they had to do to achieve GOLD. I don’t expect them to know off by heart all of the skills and knowledge expected in the subject they had come from but wanted to see if they could use subject specific language and let their teacher know which aspects of the course so far their students had found tough and were targeting to make their ‘marginal gains’ in.
I’m happy when I talk to the students if they can tell me where they feel that they have come from in terms of subject specific skills and knowledge over the year or term and then to tell me, in subject student speak what they are currently working on, what they have struggled with and need to focus on, what their next anticipated level of learning success will look like and what support they will need from their teacher or peers. That doesn’t necessarily mean using BSG as terms of reference or recalling accurately everything that is on their intervention sheets.
Part of me would scrap any notions of progress type descriptors but the reality is that everyone wants to see them, including the students and that I’m not sure how we could assess progress without using some form of grading as external exams do. They want to know how well they are doing and what they need to do next and many preferred the old NC number system and liked the sub-levels.
Different responses included;
Why do you think that we thought about changing our assessment system and produced this one?
To make their lives more difficult!!
- It is harder as it is not as specific for levels so it is hard to give them an accurate mark.
- Teachers need to further explain what it means to achieve each one- you just know when on silver you’re in the middle, when on gold you’re doing well and when on bronze you need to improve.
- There should be more than just bronze silver gold, before there were loads of levels and now they have gone to three categories.
- I understand what gold/ silver/ bronze means however I don’t understand what each category means for each subject.
- Put numbers back.
- Change back to old system.
- Put in sub-levels like bronze plus, gold minus
- Majority of students understand and can see their progress using the BSG, some find it confusing when they are in-between grades for example
- Pupils wish there was an opportunity to get higher grades, as there are only BSG and previous NC had levels 3-7, they feel they would like to know sub-levels within each, so are they a upper or lower Gold.
- Within each BSG they want to know sub levels
- A majority of pupils believe we should go back to the number NC system, they like to see the progress in their performance up the scale rather than BSG.
- Prefer old levels, as you could keep improving not go from gold back to bronze if you get better.
- One student felt that it wasn’t detailed enough-the purpose should be to tell us what to improve and the BSG system is too vague [staff think it is too detailed!] and she asked BSG be made more specific with silver-/+ etc.
The year 9 students tended to dislike BSG more and a few forms made the good point that for some of them having the BSG system and G.C.S.E. system running concurrently was confusing and some wanted to know how BSG related in G.C.S.E. grade terms. We did discuss using 1-9 G.C.S.E. grades from year 7 or at least ensuring they were in the BSG-should we re-think?
The younger students were more placatory and some felt that BSG was helpful in self and peer critique whilst year 9 students returned to the need for sub-levels and they ‘didn’t get it’ One year 7 form said that BSG was a good idea as it is easy to understand and everyone can get gold or try to achieve it.
When asked about if there was anything else they thought we should assess; a couple mentioned behaviour but effort got the most shouts.
- We would like an effort grade so that our parents could see how hard we are working, even in the subjects we might not be on target in.
- Effort in lessons [because even though you might not achieve your target, you may have put a lot of effort in to trying to reach it.
- Effort in class, contribution to class, team and collaborative assessment
Apart from MFL who wanted to go back to writing comments to personalise, most were happy with the current drop-down system with some wanting the opportunity to fiddle with the comments on SIMS to adapt if necessary. Ideally there might be more opportunity to suggest interventions, a couple of staff thought, but even they decided this was probably unrealistic. There is, of course, the opportunity provided by parent’s evenings, review days and information evenings to discuss progress in further detail.
From both staff and students came requests for effort grades and it may be time to consider re-introducing these with a tighter criteria than previously when we last used them [and decided to scarp them because measuring effort proved to be contentious and imprecise] One form suggested scrapping the picture of themselves on front of the report, a couple wanted them to be less impersonal and most others quite liked them, especially when they were rewarded for them!
When I first stood up and talked to our subject leaders about moving away from NC levels and the opportunity that provided I vaguely recall that I mentioned the chance for us all to consider;
- Thinking about the subject specific skills and knowledge our students need by the time they leave us-these might be different than previous NC ones/other external bodies
- Thinking about these in terms of our different learners-should we have different ones for our high/middle/lower abilities of students to realistically aim for?
- Would the changing curriculum and exams require different skills and knowledge to be assessed-what should we assess, why, how. What were other schools doing?
- Should we track G.C.S.E. requirements back to year 7 and build them up?
- Getting rid of aspects of NC levels we didn’t like-usually, sometimes etc./sub levels, too much information, inaccessible language [for teachers as well as students]
- Introducing factors based on the specific needs of our students/teachers-perhaps a weakness spotted in external exams/reports/moderation or by us in a lesson study/gut feeling/professional knowledge.
- Making the system student, parent and teacher friendly.
- Having an assessment system that helped the students to know what they were doing well and how they could do even better.
- Probably other things that I’ve forgotten!
The problem with the blog and survey answers is that they can paint quite a black and white picture and don’t actually represent what is happening in the classrooms. I need to know if people aren’t happy or have solutions to offer but also need to see assessment in action and the wordy BSG comments that may be seen on paper reports [probably our fault for giving too much work in too short a time] aren’t replicated in lessons I see and work I monitor. Students are discussing their learning and self and peer assessing with friendly criteria and assessment seems to be fit for the day to day purpose in which it was intended of allowing both teacher and student to see the next steps where learning should go. The use of the assessment for data to support intervention, feedback to parents and information regarding learning progress of individuals, cohorts etc. whilst being problematic, has probably worked as well, if not better than the old NC system. However the main points that have come out of this huge discussion seem to be; [and tell me if I’ve missed a key aspect]
- The comments are too NC wordy/not student friendly enough in some cases-hence most of you are changing them/working on them based on your experience this year
- Some still have too many comments/too many skills/knowledge to assess/just too much! We did try to encourage at the beginning the slimming down of any system BUT the hardest part of any evaluation is often deciding what needs to be left out! English are thinking about everything again, others are cutting to the chase of what is really important.
- I would be worried if the students couldn’t tell me what the current state of play with their subject specific learning was and couldn’t say what they needed to do to improve/progress. Are some of them saying this or are they saying that in terms of BSG they aren’t sure for whatever reason? If it’s the latter, shouldn’t we rethink how we use BSG and perhaps talk to them about the key learning requirements for each skill needed to be achieved for GOLD by the end of the year [or term] If they achieve them all they get gold, if they get a certain number silver etc. We can discuss this in the September inset.
- Some subjects and students would prefer sub levels back again and certainly something at either end [below bronze, above gold]. Others don’t want them and as with marking/feedback I’m not against individual subjects adapting the system to suit their learners and their particular needs. All I ask for the time being is that if you feel that sub-levels would help is that you are able to tell me why and consider if there is an alternative solution. The feedback to parents via progress and written reports would have to be as standardized as possible but a good flight path would aid individual student interpretations for parents and link to G.C.S.E. and national standards.
- There was a push for effort assessment/reporting from some staff and students and we could incorporate a GM grading system into the autumn progress grades if that was acceptable.
- The students weren’t so sure-they are always conservative in their views and don’t like change. Perhaps we should have explained more to them [we did to the parents on information evenings who usually have their children with them] as to why we were changing and said more about the benefits of BSG as year groups at the start rather than letting the system develop in front of them. I’m hopeful that when the changes are made and they get use to the system, they will grow fonder and see the value. They are always hard task-masters and critical friends!
- Staff were kind in their feedback-I have asked for too much in terms of work-load and some of the comments were probably produced too quickly [and borrowed too readily from the old NC] because of the pressure of time. It’s good to learn from mistakes but not when they are caused by pressure from above! I’ll try to give as much time as possible for the re-thinks and adaptations.
Has the time spent been worth it professionally or should we just have stuck with what we had?
The issues with individual schools setting out on their own assessment paths and the inherent problems of transition, varying standards and accountability has been well documented. The decision to end NC levels came from above and schools have reacted differently. Dame Sally Coates in her recent book ‘Headstrong’ where she outlines her beliefs re school leadership [well worth reading, although her approach is very different than our way!] berates the government for their “dereliction of duty” in leaving such a fundamental issue to schools. She wrote that “experts not classroom teachers and school leaders should be thrashing out these issues and creating a coherent framework.” Any internal discussion of assessment systems would she felt be; “distracting from the core purpose of improving outcomes for young people.”
I did feel pangs of guilt when reading this over the holidays-but not for too long! The conversations within our school have focused on our core purpose and assessment is part of that and worthy of finding time to discuss, implement and discuss again. It’s easy to look at the tiny sample of BSG criteria I’ve shared to think that for all of our talking, we haven’t actually got anywhere! They look like old levels and there are calls for sub levels to come back. There has been no radical revolution. And yet, I can’t recall more heated discussions and both senior and middle leaders having to stand their ground and justify their cases against articulate spirited dissention! This is the way schools should be led and if you have managed to get to the end of the blog and have read it because you are interested in the AHT learning and teaching post currently advertised at MCHS and still believe that this might be the perfect school for you; get your application in and convince us that you possess the skills, qualities and mind-set to make a real difference here to the learning and development of all in our community.