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Aspiring Senior Leaders – An SSAT Case Study

This SSAT case study details an approach to defining and monitoring student progress that saw a 23 percentage point increase in the number of students making three levels of progress, from 34% in 2011 to 57% in 2013. The project was designed and implemented from concept to whole-school strategy by Wendy Smith when she was head of maths, as part of her Aspiring Senior Leaders course in 2013-14.

As you read this case study, you might consider the following points around how your own school is approaching life without levels – as well as how individuals are supported to lead change.

  • How will you define what progress looks like in each subject?
  • How could this model be effective in your new definition of progress after levels?
  • How will you ensure that accurate data links to effective intervention?
  • How will you ensure that any model is minimum effort and maximum impact?

Setting a ‘flight path’ for progress, from year 7 to 11

SSAT: What is your project?

Wendy: The project set out to develop a way for subject leaders to monitor pupil progress, as opposed to attainment, to ensure that students falling behind were quickly identified so that appropriate intervention could be taken.

SSAT: What were your key objectives?

Wendy: When I started at the school where my project began, Ofsted had recently switched focus from pupil attainment to levels of progress. As a school, we were data-rich, but department heads were not very confident in analysing that data. The main objective was always to raise the percentage of pupils making expected and good progress across all subjects and to close gaps between different cohorts of pupils. The method I decided upon involved finding a way to make the data we had more accessible to subject leaders, so that they could make data-informed decisions.

The main objective was always to raise the percentage of pupils making expected and good progress across all subjects.

SSAT: What did you do?

Wendy: The idea for the project formed after a meeting with an Ofsted inspector during an inspection at my school (my role at the time was head of maths). The inspector regularly referred to the RAISEonline reports, and especially the progress grids for English and maths for the previous year 11 students. This sparked an idea that if I could replicate the grids for all years, I would easily be able to identify where students weren’t making good progress early, and take appropriate action. We would also be able to use the grids as evidence of improvement during future Ofsted Inspections. I approached the associate head involved in data collection to discuss my idea, and he agreed that the idea was worth developing.

As we wanted to use the grids for all years we first had to agree on how many levels of progress a pupil should be expected to have made at any stage of KS3 or KS4. Using national transition data and taking into account our preferred value-added score, we developed pupil ‘flight paths’ through each of our tri-annual data collection points from year 7 to year 11. This meant that at any point we could see by a student’s current level and their KS2 results if they were on track to achieve 3 or 4 levels of progress by the end of year 11.

At any point we could see by a student’s current level and their KS2 results if they were on track to achieve 3 or 4 levels of progress.

Having agreed these I then set about designing a grid similar to the raise on line ones, for each data collection point for all years and ensuring formulas were correct to calculate the required percentage figures. Then it was a matter of exporting the data from SIMS and using pivot tables in Excel to populate the grids. I did them for maths and the associate head did them for English – we would see how informative/useful they were before progressing.

As soon as I’d completed the first grids I could see how beneficial they were going to be. I developed the grids further, so I could see separate grids for different cohorts of pupils displayed on the same page. Any gaps between cohorts were immediately obvious, as well as the number of pupils that would need intervention to address the issues. The associate head was equally as excited about the English grids.

Any gaps between cohorts were immediately obvious, as well as the number of pupils that would need intervention to address the issues.

Over the next term we put relevant intervention in place for the students identified and at the following data collection point, reviewed their progress on the grids. The improvements in progress across all years was impressive and so we decided to roll out the process across all subjects.

To help colleagues learn how to populate the grids, we developed a series of CPD sessions for middle leaders, followed up by individual training for subject leaders who required further support.

Evidence of success

  • The tracking grids resulted in improved year-on-year progress in maths – from 34% students making three levels of progress in 2011, to 57% in 2013.
  • Tracking grids are now being used across the school to target intervention. Rates of progress are improving and gaps between cohorts are closing.
  • Heads of departments are now more confident in using data and are more able to discuss progress of pupils at review meetings. Senior management is able to give a full picture of progress to both Ofsted and the Governors.
  • As the grids can be used to track specific cohorts of pupils (SEN, pupil premium, EAL, etc), staff responsible for the progress of those pupils and the associated budgets find that they are better able to allocate resources and to monitor effectiveness.

SSAT: What lessons have you learned?

Wendy: On the whole everything worked and the objectives have been achieved. Of colleagues who had a reluctance to use data, most were encouraged to persevere once they saw the potential benefits of using the grids. However, there is still work that need to be done to improve the process because of the following:

  • There is reluctance from some heads of department to go through the process of populating the tracking grids after each data collection – not because they don’t value the information they provide, but because there is such a long time between data collections that when the time comes to extract new data, they have forgotten the process since the last time!
  • Students do not make the same rate of progress through every subject, and do not always have the same starting point. For subjects that are not taught at primary school, the’ flight paths’ still start at the KS2 average score. This can result in the majority of year 7 pupils not making expected progress on our grids.

SSAT: What does the future hold?

The process of creating the grids is a lot simpler, more flexible and quicker, which means that staff training requirements will be minimal.

Wendy: I’ve moved schools since starting this project, but have continued to develop the tracking grids to overcome the problems highlighted. I have done some training on SIMS and am now creating the tracking grids through that. This means that data will no longer have to be exported and then put through a pivot table in Excel. It also means that data is always up to date for different cohorts of pupils. The process of creating the grids is a lot simpler, more flexible and quicker, which means that staff training requirements will be minimal. I have already used the grids to measure reading age against actual age and plan to develop a similar grid for numeracy skills.

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