Assessment, attainment and accountability

Jayne Warburton discusses how the education sector is adjusting to the new challenges of assessing maths at KS2

Despite the fact that UK primary schools have now been delivering the new national curriculum for a full two terms, teachers still have many questions surrounding assessment, attainment and accountability.

From September 2016 the existing national curriculum levels are being scrapped in favour of a ‘scaled score’ in which 100 equals the expected standard. Every pupil will receive their standardised score, alongside the average for their school, the local area and nationally. There will also be a ‘performance descriptor’ of the expected standard for KS2 pupils, with the Department for Education aiming for 85 per cent of children to reach or exceed that standard.

‘What will we do without national curriculum levels?’ and ‘How are we going to measure progress?’ ask teachers – many of whom are already concerned about how pupils will cope with the higher expectations of the new curriculum where content generally has more depth and is more demanding. 

The most notable change to the tests will be in the mathematics papers where assessing mastery and deep learning will be among the main challenges of the new ‘more rigorous’ SATs papers. The new curriculum demands a change of approach to teaching maths and the increased difficulty involved requires teachers to think differently and review the resources they are using. 

Assessment is an integral part of effective teaching and learning and good assessment support is achieved when formative and summative assessments of learning are incorporated, allowing teachers to measure progress and pupils to inform their future learning. Regular assessment activities regularly allow pupils the opportunity to review the key ideas and concepts to check their own understanding.

Of course the best use of assessment is in raising standards. High quality assessment, linked to next steps for teaching is at the heart of any teaching resource worth its salt.  Summative assessments aligned to the new NC which can automatically analyse student results in terms of curriculum expectations will be most useful here. 

Any features which remove the need for time spent analysing a test mark-book and provide an instant snapshot of class and student will be a boon for time-pressed teachers

Should we take advice from Chinese teachers? 

Interest in maths as taught in Shanghai has been intense following Schools Minister Nick Gibb’s recent comments that an ‘anti-textbook’ culture in English schools is leaving pupils lagging behind their peers in top performing nations such as China.  Indeed since Shanghai’s outstanding results were published in PISA international education league tables, two groups of government ministers, school leaders and teachers have travelled to the city to see how textbooks are used extensively to provide structure to lessons.

While recognising that a high quality mathematics textbook can be a great support for the development of both procedural fluency and conceptual understanding in mathematics, I’m convinced that a practical blend of digital and print resources is the best approach.

This allows teachers to implement the material in their own way, at their own pace and provides pupils with resources to help them realise their full potential.

A high quality online digital resource supports engagement and independent learning, while providing teachers with access to real time data so that they can easily differentiate individual learning pathways that support purpose, context and progression around the new curriculum. A good multi-content resource will help develop problem solving skills, fluency and mathematical reasoning to support and prepare students for progression and achievement in the new, more demanding maths curriculum. 

Reducing teacher workloads

I read the results of Education Secretary Nicky Morgan’s ‘Workload Challenge’ survey – aimed at reducing needless bureaucracy to increase teaching time – with great interest, particularly because when I started teaching over 30 years ago we complained about exactly the same range of things that teachers do now, but today there is more accountability!  

It is important to clarify that many respondents noted that the tasks they undertook were not ‘unnecessary’ or ‘unproductive’ – indeed, they were essential parts of working within a school, but the volume was such that they were unable to complete them,  even when working much longer than their contracted hours. In addition, the levels of detail, duplication or bureaucracy that occurred during these tasks were seen as ‘unnecessary’ or ‘unproductive’. Other factors noted by respondents included the volume of work that they needed to get through in the time available, particularly in relation to lesson planning, assessment, reporting administration and marking books, where examples given ranged between 90 and 120 books per day, to 120 – 300 books per fortnight. 

My view is that teachers need to find more efficient methods of marking, data management and planning so that they are freed up to focus on differentiated learning and improved pupil outcomes. 

I find digital resources are helpful here – making it easy to plan and differentiate individual learning pathways from a range of inbuilt resources. These resources can be used for whole class teaching or by individual students following their own learning pathway. All the activities that students complete are automatically marked providing real time data in an online mark book. Teachers can easily follow the progress of each individual child, class and year group through the detailed reports. So instead of spending inordinate amounts of time marking they can work with individual students and focus their learning on where there are gaps in knowledge and understanding. Consequently they can spend more time doing what they do best – teaching.

About the author: Jayne Warburton, CEO, 3P Learning, EME.
Jayne is a former teacher and now chief executive officer at 3P Learning, global providers of digital learning resources, shares her thoughts on the current uncertainty surrounding assessment in primary schools at KS2, teaching and learning methods in Shanghai and reducing teacher workloads.

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