The road to better formative assessment at Shireland Collegiate Academy

By Sarahn Deane, Director of Professional Development

For us at Shireland Collegiate Academy, it all began with a fabulous joint Trust School INSET day. Dylan Wiliam had travelled over from LA to share his wisdom about all things relating to formative assessment. This was in March 2020 and, towards the end of the day, he spoke about how difficult it was to change teachers’ habits in the classroom. A way to foster the idea of change and practice was though TLCs (Teacher Learning Communities).

Intrigued, this prompted a visit to the SSAT website to find out more about the Embedding Formative Assessment Programme and a commitment from Dave Irish, our Principal, to fund and promote formative assessment as our main teaching and learning focus. We were very keen to move away from a CPD model where staff focus on one initiative after another in an attempt to get CPD ‘done’. We wanted a planned programme of teacher CPD, supported by credible evidence that was proven to work!

We had everything in place for a September start but Covid, remote learning, bubbles and absences meant that we delayed the start of the programme until January 2021, with our first workshops and training for TLC leads being via Teams rather than face to face. Even so, it proved fairly straightforward to adapt the workshops to a remote format, even having peer observations through drop-ins on Teams lessons.

When eventually, things became more normal in schools, we were able to really concentrate on what was going on in lessons and look at sustaining development of formative assessment in the classroom. 18 months later and the programme has encouraged staff to take risks, try out new strategies or reprise familiar ones and enhance them further. We have had support and challenge from our SSAT mentor, Dan Belcher, and a recent visit from him displayed the developments we have made in formative assessment. Whole school improvements that we have seen include regular use of whole class response systems; early identification of misconceptions and exploring these with students; embedded use of WALTs and WILFs; cold calling as a way of encouraging all students to think hard; effective use of Hinge questions and a school wide ‘No hands up’ strategy.

“The programme has encouraged staff to take risks, try out new strategies or reprise familiar ones and enhance them further.”

You don’t have to take my word for it – staff have been keen to detail their thoughts on the programme too:

“I thoroughly enjoy getting the opportunity to work with members of staff from different departments, and the fact that TLCs are in mixed groups rather than departments is probably one of my favourite things about the sessions as I love to hear how other departments tackle teaching practices like AFL and feedback. As teachers we often get overwhelmed by the vast amount of work we have to do and, as a result, our teaching practices can sometimes become a little stale and repetitive for the students. After our TLC sessions I find myself excited to adopt the newly discussed techniques within my lessons and I have found student engagement in my lessons increase as a result”. Head of Science, Rachel Fitzpatrick

“TLCs have given me the opportunity to explore different techniques and strategies used throughout a variety of academic and practical subjects. It is great to have the community to discuss our success and our failures and learn from one another. I have really enjoyed mixing up the strategies with some new ideas which are now successfully embedded into my teaching”. Abbey Sheffield, Head of Year 10

“Whilst not the initial purpose of TLCs, it has allowed us to focus on returning to pre covid teaching expectations and promoted greater focus on student engagement with learning. It has been transformative as we have returned to normality in the classroom. Staff have enjoyed having the space for collaborative, purposeful and professional discussions”. David Irish, Principal

Students have also appreciated the formative assessment strategies:

“I think it’s really effective when the class and the teacher build up a good answer on the spot rather than having one prepared earlier – then they can talk through the thinking step by step and it helps us all and then we can create a good list of success criteria”. Year 10 student

For schools about to embark on the EFA Programme I would advise large scale promotion and communication with all staff – even though we are back to face to face, we use Teams as a way to share ideas, save action plans, set up reminders and give out resources. TLC leads should be volunteers or willing conscripts! And finally, we are continuing with the programme for year 2 and I’ll be putting on my thinking cap to look at ways of rewarding regular peer observations and finding ways of getting busy staff to be prompt to the meetings – I think chocolate may be involved.

You can find out more about SSAT’s Embedding Formative Programme here.

Embed formative assessment strategies in your classrooms

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