We had the pleasure of talking with Lou Harrison* about how Heather Primary School uses Insight to implement a meaningful alternative to levels.
*Lou was the Head at Heather when we spoke to her, but prior to publishing moved to a new post at another school.
A meaningful alternative to levels
“Teachers really enjoy taking along data to moderation meetings that lets them have ‘real person’ conversations about assessment.”
A New Approach
“As a school, our situation was rather unusual – I had to go on leave for a year just after the announcement that levels were being removed and the school leaders covering my absence had their hands full with all sorts of other things. When I came back to work, we needed to consider how best to move forward with assessment as a school team.
“As we’re part of a teaching alliance, we got lots of support with the moderation side of things, but less at that time on the approach to formative assessment and tracking. It was the actual recording of ongoing assessments that was proving to be a real challenge at that time and everyone we spoke to was getting on board with some system or another.
“Meanwhile, I was attending the Beyond Levels conferences, listening to Dame Allison Peacock and James Pembroke and others. I’d heard people talking about point-in-time approaches to assessment and really liked the idea of being able to talk about the difference in attainment between two points in time in a meaningful way.
“Before exploring Insight, we’d picked up on a system that a headteacher in Hampshire was using. He was kind enough to share his spreadsheet with us and help us get up and running in a hurry – exactly what we needed at the time as we knew Ofsted was imminent! An added advantage was that teachers could get used to the approach we wanted to take, before having to also get used to a new tracking system.
“Our spreadsheet was colour-coded, which was great, but I couldn’t pull out the information I needed very easily or do much with it – I’m not a data person naturally, so it was hard work! But we were getting there and at that point we knew the direction we wanted to take.
“It was around this time that we started having conversations with tracking system providers, but found they were all too complicated, didn’t have a common language and weren’t really moving away from levels-style approaches. Also, while we want to be able to talk about overviews of data, we also needed a system that let us talk about individual pupils – as a smaller school with varying cohort sizes, sometimes up to 10% of our data can represent just one child.
“Then we got some really challenging SATS results – our progress was good, but attainment was poor. We accepted that our spreadsheet wasn’t working as effectively as we needed as a tracking system and we decided to invite James Pembroke in to help us explore our data straight away.
A Good Fit
“I’d seen Insight before briefly somewhere, so it was in the back of my mind as something I wanted to explore. Before James came to see us I’d spoken to him on the phone to let him know I was interested in it, and he was able to show me what Insight had to offer – following his visit, I immediately spoke to Andrew at Insight and had a full demo.
“I could see straight away how our existing approach could be transferred into Insight and the team were really helpful in importing all our existing data to get us set up quickly. That was particularly important as I was keen to have our assessment tracking sorted in a way that really worked for us before Ofsted visited, but particularly to support the teachers’ developing assessment work as quickly as possible.
“Teachers will always take up things that work with enthusiasm, and the teachers at Heather just seem to get on with Insight – we haven’t had to push it, and for me, that’s a marker that this is something good. Also, they can see that we’re personalising the system so that it works for us, and we’re not having to bend over backwards to fit in with it.
“We finally had our Ofsted inspection in late January 2017. They really liked Insight as I had lots of information to share with them. I was determined this time not to print out lots of information in advance – I wanted to be more dynamic, as that’s what Insight’s all about. I had it up on a big monitor and could pull up any data the inspector needed.
“There was one point where the inspector wanted me to talk about our Pupil Premium children. I explained that this wasn’t a single conversation, as many of our PP children are also on our SEND record. I was able to use Insight to demonstrate this and the inspector could see the overlap in our groups. He was glad we could produce the information – it was so helpful!
“Your assessment systems are providing you with an increasingly clear understanding of how well pupils are doing, both as individuals and in groups. Your tracking of pupils’ progress has led to some very precise support for those who are at risk of underachievement, and there are some compelling success stories….
“The assessment information is usefully and simply presented and gives teachers and leaders a very clear picture of how things are going. As a result, leaders have both a holistic view of each year group’s performance alongside a more detailed analysis of the progress that every pupil is making.School short inspection report 17 Jan 2017 (p2-3)
“Closer to home, our Governors are also happy. They like looking at the % secured summaries, which show pupils’ security against our whole curriculum, as well as against what’s been taught so far. They feel empowered and they’re really excited about how successful Insight is.
“We’ve also been working with Assessment For All on a research project, and they do ask for numbers of pupils making expected progress. We’re still able to answer questions about progress meaningfully by talking about changes in these % secured summaries.
“I personally love the colours and the design – simple things like being able to see pupil names more clearly than in a spreadsheet just means you can instantly get the information you need.
“Teachers can update Insight as they go, after lessons – we’ve even been using it during lessons. They like the overview of the colours that show how pupils are doing against our expectations. We do a lot of moderation with other schools, and teachers really enjoy taking along data to moderation meetings that lets them have ‘real person’ conversations about assessment.
“Best of all, we don’t need to have data deadlines anymore – those long and intense sessions when we’re up against the clock ‘doing’ data. Assessment is no longer an uncomfortable ordeal based on statistics – Insight has helped us make it an ongoing conversation about learning again.”