The ongoing school improvement support that I am giving the Head Teacher, Senior Leaders, Governors and staff at Al-Ashraf Secondary School in Gloucester is proving to be incredibly rewarding. This small, Islamic, independent school received a visit from Ofsted last November and a number of areas for improvement were identified. I have been conducting lesson observations and providing feedback to both teachers and the Head Teacher, mentoring staff, as well as offering suggestions as to how teaching and learning may be invigorated and a broad and balanced curriculum ensured.
Today, the purpose of my visit was slightly different; to deliver a CPD session to all staff that centred upon assessment. Whilst I had prepared a formal multimedia presentation for the event, I deliberately made sure that this was not too content heavy, so that participants had time to present their ideas, air their opinions and attempt a number of hands-on activities. The school needs to re-visit their assessment, recording and marking policy. I was keen to ensure that ‘staff voice’ played an important role in shaping any new policy; this is vital if procedures are to be embraced by all and a degree of consistency and accuracy become evident throughout the school.
I used the ‘5Ws + how?’ approach to instigate thinking about assessment. I then introduced the ‘people in the tree evaluation’ drawings to gauge how individuals were feeling right now about assessment and to encourage some discussion among staff. I felt the latter to be really important as many staff are part-time and rarely have the chance to interact fully.
I wished to move on swiftly to the main part of the presentation as time was at a premium. Firstly, I looked at Ofsted’s full report and highlighted the areas for improvement that related specifically to assessment/assessing, reporting and evaluating pupil progress across the curriculum. I emphasised that this was not simply the responsibility of teachers, but that leaders had a significant role to play too. I hoped that this would promote a degree of collaborative working, so that some of the current challenges that the school faces can be tackled efficiently. Next, I projected the school’s current assessment policy and guidelines and stressed the following:
- There is a need to standardise assessment across the school.
- There will be future monitoring of assessment via ongoing observations and work scrutiny.
- Part of my role is to monitor and feedback to HT/SLT/Governing Body.
I pointed out that any change should be regarded in a positive light; the last thing both I, and SLT, are advocating is more work for teachers. Hopefully, the link to Ofsted and its comments about ‘pupils’ work’ (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/school-inspection-handbook-from-september-2015/ofsted-inspections-mythbusting) and the excellent, short, movie clip released by the DfE, entitled ‘Working Together on Workload’ (https://www.tes.com/dfe-teacher-workload), helped to convey this message.
Teacher interaction is always a feature of any CPD session that I run, so it was time for our first activity (see below). I ‘zoomed in’ on the geography STEPS grid and exemplified how I might link this with a recent Year 8 key assessment piece that I had used. This included a grid with grade criteria and tips for less time-consuming marking, but still provided highly effective feedback. The school may decide to incorporate elements of this in its new assessment, marking and reporting policy. Whilst participants were attempting this activity, I wandered around the room and chatted with individuals, guiding them or answering any subject-specific questions that they had.
After a brief look at what other local establishments are doing, in addition to an independent school slightly further afield, I set attendees the following activity. I do wish there had been more time to complete it, however, as this proved to give a valuable insight into what was taking place in many other subject areas and an opportunity to pick up some great ideas to enhance teaching and learning.
Finally, it was time to draw the session to a close. Our plenary began with me steering a whole group discussion to enable staff to put forward their ideas and share their thoughts/feelings about assessment. We then revisited the ‘people in the tree evaluation’ drawings. Individuals were challenged to do the following:
Interestingly, only one person had shaded in the same character on both ‘At the beginning …’ and ‘Towards the end …’ of the session drawings. Everyone else had chosen different characters, stated that the CPD event had given them plenty of ‘food for thought’ and suggested that they had ‘travelled’ some distance during the morning, although they still had some way to go. Once the Head Teacher and Senior Leaders have drafted a new policy, consulted with staff, pupils, Governors, parents/carers and finalised procedures, then it is proposed to spend another hour looking at reporting on the first INSET day in September.
I look forward to working with the Head Teacher, Senior Leaders and members of the teaching staff throughout the next academic year too … onwards and upwards from here, hopefully!
A recent e-mail from the Head Teacher, Mr Patel, made my morning spent at Al-Ashraf Secondary School hugely worthwhile:
‘… it was a very informative and engaging session. Thanks for your input. Hope we are able to revamp our policy based on the ideas that came out.’