These last few terms have been pretty long and lonely at times as an Assessment Leader. As the last academic year drew to a close, I knew that there were going to have to be huge changes afoot, and that it was going to be my place to decide what to do. However, as we had a new Headteacher joining us in September, it was decided that the beginning of the new school year would not be the right time to implement these changes: he needed time to settle into life with us, to get his feet firmly under the table and to get to know how the school ran before making big decisions. As time ticked on, I began to get nervous about having not made any changes, and so we decided that, once I had adopted an assessment system, my year group would trial it. I was, and still am, perfectly happy with that decision: I didn’t want to begin putting whole school systems in place only to find that they needed changing. This would have not only put unnecessary work on the other staff but would have meant they lost confidence in me as an Assessment Leader. I am still completely confident that I am the right person in the school to have implemented this, and that the approach we took was the best one for the school, but it has been a very lonely journey. If it hadn’t have been for some wonderful people who I reached though Twitter (Michael Tidd, Simon Cowley and Louise Dance to name but a few), the journey would have been even more isolated.
I was more than happy to tackle this issue alone: it’s often the way I work best. I like to plan things out myself and then talk them through once I have formulated an idea. I have, however, been envious of other schools who have formulated teams of people to sit and thrash out ideas together. Our isolated approach has led to some issues. As yet, I haven’t formally talked the rest of the school through how they are going to be assessing from September (they have that delight to look forward to on the first week back after the holiday). I am really excited about what we are doing, and proud of what my year group has achieved, and want to enthuse the rest of the staff too. Sadly, little snip though, little snippets of information have filtered through to different people. This is what I didn’t want to happen; I wanted everyone to have the full system presented to them properly so that I could talk to them face to face about the concerns and issues that I am sure will be raised. It has also led to other curriculum –based difficulties. For example, the progress ladders and writing targets we use all need to be changed to fit in with this new way of assessing, but other year groups have not yet made the switch. We are operating in a slight limbo, adapting materials as we go along and using a “best fit” approach for the time being. Ideally, had we been approaching this as a whole staff, we could all have made the changes together.
As we are still going through a trial period, we have made a conscious effort to inform parents of the changes, but in a low key way. Perhaps a formal meeting may have been a wiser approach; after all, many of the children have suffered a perceived fall in attainment due to the change in curriculum mid-year, which is bound to alarm parents. Even a well-intended letter can’t alleviate concerns in the same way as face to face discussion can. As the rest of the school still assessing using NC levels, many of my children’s siblings will have received their end of term reports showing great progress, whereas my children seem to have moved backwards. Of course, I would hope that those parents who are concerned would come in and talk to us, as the letter advises, but I know that many won’t. As well as calming the parents though, I would have liked to have the chance to explain myself to them. After all, not only have I taught 50% of the children involved in this pilot, but I have introduced the system which is being used to assess their supposed shortcomings. I am very proud of the system we are using (and all credit should go to The White Horse Federation for it), and want the parents to understand exactly how it will benefit their children. If the parents come in, I want them to see the impressive maths the children have been doing, and to read the stories which we have spent weeks crafting and are undoubtly the best piece of work they have ever written. I want to show the parents that, even though many of the children are below Age Related Expectation, they have made HUGE progress since our last assessment point. And, perhaps most selfishly, I want to defend the honour of me and my team. On paper, our statistics don’t look good this term: so many of the children are below ARE that I am sure Mr Ofsted would have plenty of questions to ask. But I can answer all of his questions and more, and I wanted to share those answers with the parents. We deliberately gave the reports out a day early, so that they could come in before the Easter holidays. My teaching partner was worried about the number of parents she was expecting to come in and, secretly, I had visions of queues at the door and having to move everyone to another room so I could hold an informal meeting. But, to our surprise, they didn’t come. This could mean one of two things: one, that they were happy with the content of the letter and understood the implications of the changes, or two, that they are going to spend the whole of the Easter holidays worrying about what they can do to help their children. I really do hope it’s the former: I hate to think of nearly 60 families having this weight hanging over them for the next two weeks when a 5 minute chat could easily have put their minds at rest. Perhaps I will have a stream of parents waiting at the door on Monday morning after the holidays. I’m sure I won’t be saying this when the chaos of a new term hits at 8.50 that day, but in many ways, I hope the queue does appear.