Our journey to embed formative assessment

Reading time: 3 minutes. Relevant programme: Embedding Formative Assessment (EFA) resource and support

Clare Taylor, EFA Lead, Helsby High School, describes key features, including staff enjoyment through teacher-centred development, and student involvement in success criteria

We implemented the EFA (Embedding Formative Assessment) CPD programme because, as a school, we are committed to the principles of formative assessment that underpin it. EFA was an ideal opportunity to revisit formative assessment in a more formal way; to reinvigorate its use to support students’ learning in preparation for a shifting educational landscape; to refocus on strategies and principles we believe to be vital to pupil progress and school improvement.

We felt the content would support staff by giving them the opportunity and structure to reflect, discuss and refine their own practice. And through this, they would feel empowered to support all students in becoming more independent and in making good progress. We wanted staff to:

  • feel valued
  • enjoy the time set aside to discuss their practice in a supportive and professional manner
  • feel motivated by the opportunity to make their own choices on the areas of their pedagogy to focus on
  • enjoy the opportunity of working on an area for as long as they felt necessary to ensure it was embedded within their practice.

Before beginning the programme, the first task was to ensure that the TLC (teacher learning community) meetings were on the school calendar. The second was creation of the TLCs, each of which had some 10 teachers, and assigning leader roles. TLC leaders came from a variety of departments. Most were main scale teachers, some had TLRs but none had a whole-school leadership role. This gave opportunities to colleagues and ensured that staff saw the process as teacher-centred. Most groups were cross-curricular but some were grouped according to subject. This decision was made due to staff preferences – a key factor in engagement.

The TLCs were teacher-centred: most leaders were main-scale teachers, and the teachers determined that the groups were mostly cross-curricular

TLC leaders met with me in advance of a meeting so that we could discuss the materials and consider any issues that might arise. I ensured that all materials for the sessions were ready for each meeting. The leaders followed the agendas in the project pack so all sessions had the same content – but they delivered the sessions in their own way, taking the lead from their members.

TLC leaders were on board: they were passionate about the principles. Staff welcomed the EFA programme because they saw the principles and materials as part of vital strategies for excellent T&L.

To support the peer observation element, in the second year we developed an ‘open door’ week each half term to facilitate peer observations. This created a greater range of opportunities to observe and share the teaching and learning principles and strategies focused on in the TLC meetings. The support of our lead practitioner was key in enabling us look out to what was happening in other schools, discuss any difficulties and share our successes.

Positive impact on student outcomes

At the end of the two years of the programme the impact on student outcomes was positive. This was evidenced through external data in the form of examination results in both achievement and progress measures, where we moved from a negative to a positive P8 figure. Internal data reflected improved student progress, and lesson visits and observations taken as part of departmental reviews showed improved classroom practice. Students can articulate success criteria and pathways to their academic goals much more confidently, and this knowledge and understanding is much more widespread across the student population.

One of the most powerful impacts was how the programme gave staff the time to reflect on and refine their own practice. It created a real sense of value about day-to-day teaching and learning in the classroom.

EFA is now truly embedded in the school culture. The open door programme continues, enabling staff to share good practice and observe others on a regular basis as a learning activity. The EFA principles form part of our development of common expectations for lessons, which are shared with students. It also played an important role in the development of our whole school feedback policy.
As a result of the programme there is more engagement with research and more open discussion about our pedagogy. We are ensuring that there is a focus on learning, not just teaching. And we continue to refine our approaches.

The EFA principles form part of our development of common expectations for lessons, which are shared with students

SSAT have been working with Dylan Wiliam for over 15 years on introducing the Embedding Formative Assessment programme into schools. Over the last three years we have worked closely in supporting schools to effectively implement the programme through the SSAT and Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) EFA project. Our expertise will ensure that the programme is effective in improving student outcomes, fostering a positive change in school culture, teacher practice and student engagement and responsiveness. Find out more about getting involved.

Read on the SSAT blog: A formative journey: making students active in the learning process

Clare Taylor, Helsby High School

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