Better results from primaries set a challenge for KS3 curriculum

This article is taken from a case study in the Leading Edge Leading Change Innovation Grants 2014-15 publication.

This Leading Edge school saw assessing without levels as an exciting opportunity, but its new Y7 intakes were offering increased (though welcome) challenges…

climbing wall 300Further to last month’s Ask the Expert about life after levels: Assessing without levels can be an exciting opportunity to give departments flexibility in how they progress and develop learning.

But staff at Smestow School, Wolverhampton, realised that to achieve flexibility while still meeting accountability requirements they needed to reassess the range, reliability and validity of their summative assessments.

This was a particularly acute challenge as the school’s year 7 intakes had improved: they were more active in their learning and required a more engaging diet of activities.

Smestow had been working closely with its feeder schools and realised that the work being produced, and the levels being attained, were of increasingly higher standards.

The school needed to assess whether its key stage 3 curriculum was challenging enough, and built effectively on the work done by primary colleagues.

Pros and cons of Bloom

Smestow learned much from piloting an assessment system using Bloom’s taxonomy, which they had already been using to develop deeper learning. The pilot operated in three different subjects and across key stage 5.

Shallow learning was represented by the knowledge tier of Bloom’s, moving through the application tier to a deep learning tier of evaluation, analysis and creativity.

The conclusion from this pilot: there are many benefits for teaching using Bloom’s, but this ‘one size’ did not suit all subjects and didn’t necessarily enable the tiered approach to learning development they were seeking.

In history, the Blooms-led process was straightforward, as the two teachers who taught in KS3 met regularly to plan and assess together. The hierarchical language of Bloom’s taxonomy worked well for them, and allowed students to see a natural progression in their learning. Students were able to respond to feedback referring to the Bloom’s hierarchy as a guide for improvement.

But Blooms did not help in PE. Here they discovered the key was to move from teaching and assessing traditional areas and towards assessing key skills. This required staff Inset to ensure consistency and reliability in teachers’ assessments; and a quality assurance system that moderated teachers’ work to improve consistency.

The systems technology pilot was successful: Bloom’s hierarchical language allowed students to move from developing an understanding of a key concept or process, to applying it through the making part of the curriculum, and finally evaluating their work.

teacher plasticine 300The students found the process very helpful. They were independently moving from the phases of acquiring knowledge and designing into application – through the production of models – without prompting from the teacher.

Staff produced curriculum guides as both self and teacher assessment grids. Students were able to clearly identify where they were in their learning and what they needed to do next to move their learning forward.

The students would sign off a section of work and the teacher would countersign if they agreed.

Students were able to clearly identify where they were in their learning and what they needed to do next

Assessing impact

The main success of these pilots was to improve students’ development and engagement in their learning – whether they used Bloom’s taxonomy or other ways of assessing progression.

Students gained a greater understanding of the stage they were at, and what they needed to do to improve, because teachers were spending more time ensuring that students were aware of progress.

Staff generally were impressed and pleased that students were moving away from talking about levels and sub-levels to really understanding what they had learnt and what they needed to learn.

The next phase was to embed the new KS3 curriculum and ensure students in years 7 and 8 are more challenged and engaged in their learning. Smestow is moving away from wholesale use of the Bloom’s language because they don’t want departments to be held to one type of learning theory; they want them to choose the best options for their students.

Following primaries’ lead

Instead the school is using the ‘emergent, developing, secure, mastery’ framework which many of its primary feeder schools already use. However, they will use this framework to look at the development of students’ learning over the whole key stage rather than by year, as this would have been too much like the old levels approach.

Use of this framework can only be effective if all summative assessments are rigorous, internally moderated and externally validated. This will allow the school to move away from school-led data collection points throughout the year.

Instead departments will monitor students’ performance and tweak schemes of learning as and when required, to ensure all learning gaps are closed by the end of KS3.

Departments will monitor students’ performance and tweak schemes of learning as and when required, to ensure all learning gaps are closed by the end of KS3

The key is to ensure that all summative assessments produce reliable data that is then acted upon by teachers and departments.

Smestow’s suggestions for other schools:

  • The starting point is curriculum, not rigid assessment points.
  • Use this opportunity to design an engaging, challenging curriculum for KS3.
  • Allow departments more freedom in what they assess, and how.
  • Ensure summative assessments are rigorous and valid.
  • Ensure effective quality assurance.

Smestow School is part of the Leading Edge network.

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Visit Smestow School’s website.

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