The impacts of the Embedding Formative Assessment programme on Uppingham Community College

After years of utilising SSAT’s Embedding Formative Assessment (EFA) programme, UCC reflects on how EFA has redeveloped their curriculum and outcomes

UCC is a successful EFA Ambassador 11-16 school for 900 students in Uppingham, Rutland. In 2015, we became part of the Embedding Formative Assessment Programme run by SSAT with the EEF, within a cohort of around 70 schools across England. The programme ran for two years and has refined and improved our formative assessment practice as teachers. More than that, it has had a far-reaching and profound effect on the way we run our internal CPD and training.

For the two years of the programme, all of our teachers (including SLT) and some TAs were organised into cross-curricular teacher learning communities (TLCs). They met for 75 minutes every four weeks in twilight workshops, led by a team leader and following a structured agenda. Over the course of the two years, there were 18 workshops in total.

During that time, we were guided through the key elements of formative assessment and given ample opportunity to explore the pedagogy, innovate in collaboration with colleagues and gain feedback. Some of the areas we focused on were:

  • Using summative tests formatively
  • Hinge questions
  • Directed questioning
  • Use of purple pens.

Actually, at the end of the two-year programme, we identified that as a staff, we were collectively using 95 different formative assessment techniques regularly with our students. Teachers had the freedom to develop the areas of formative assessment that best fitted their curriculum area and teaching style. As a school, we never had to prescribe what teachers worked on – this happened organically throughout the two years.

Key ingredients we identified to make EFA work well

  • TLC composition and balance: take time to carefully organise the TLC groupings.
  • Element of choice for teachers: allow teachers to choose what works for them.
  • Premise: ‘all teachers want to get better’
  • Team leader briefing: – run the week before each workshop to ensure clarity.

Spin-off benefits of EFA

  • Professional development of TLC team leaders as leaders – teachers who didn’t necessarily have leadership experience were chosen. The workshops gave them a chance to run meetings and work with a variety of colleagues. As a result, they grew as professionals and potential leaders.
  • Professional development of TLC team leaders as teachers: we found that, because they were running the sessions, these teachers invested more energy and effort into the process and therefore gained more from the programme in terms of their own practice.
  • Our best teachers really flew – they embraced the collaborative and reflective approach, and thus became even better through the EFA process.
  • Our ‘plateaued’ teachers were rejuvenated – many of our longer-serving teachers were given new motivation and inspiration by EFA.
  • DNA of teaching and learning was not prescribed – our school approach to learning&L evolved throughout the two years and beyond. We have not had to dictate which areas to prioritise.

Staff testimonials on EFA:

“I think for me it is really simple. In my whole [previous] school career there hasn’t been designated time set aside for colleagues to get together and have some time to actually talk about teaching and learning.”

“You can say I tried that and it was a disaster. In our group we have kind of almost driven each other on a little bit, it’s quite nice to reflect and talk to each other. I think it’s having that time, built within the term.”

“Because it runs over a long time period it has the ability to change your behaviour, so it becomes intrinsic.”

“There is a shared sense – everyone does it the same, knows what it is.

“Being inspired to try innovations has reinvigorated my interest and love for the subject.”

“The increments of change are quite small so you try something and you develop it a little bit then you develop it a little bit more and now I am quite an expert in that thing. It’s a gradual, deeper type of learning.”

Beyond EFA

We have now had two years of ‘post-EFA’ training and CPD. We have retained much of the structure of the EFA programme in our approach, including TLCs every four weeks and structured, reflective agendas. We have looked at other areas of pedagogy such as metacognition and self-regulation, and have done this using the CPD template that EFA provided. We have also found that as a school and teaching staff, EFA has given us a common language of both teaching and training that has dramatically shaped our provision.

Watch how EFA transformed Uppingham Community College over the years here

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