When I asked the Headteachers of Independent Schools about issues that keep them up at night, this was one:
“Demonstrating progress- particularly for bespoke creative curriculums and SEN students who do not learn in the classroom environment: are photographs enough and do they demonstrate just how well a student is progressing?”
Below, I share in brief my thoughts about the matter including what I have learned from experience. I hope you find it useful.
For whom are we demonstrating progress?
As educators we want the children that are in our care to benefit from the time they spend with us in school. We want them to learn, discover, develop, achieve, make progress and be ready to move on into adulthood and citizenship when they leave us. Each teacher might know how well their pupils are doing at any given time but of course it is necessary to demonstrate this to others. We need to let parents and carers know how well their children are doing; we need to let school leaders know how well the pupils in our class are doing; we need to let those who refer pupils to our school know just how well pupils are benefiting from our provision; we need to let governors and trustees know how well pupils are doing and we need to demonstrate to inspectors how well our pupils are doing – curriculum impact. We sometimes forget this but the most important group of people we need to demonstrate progress to is the pupils themselves. Sometimes, pupils can get so discouraged or focus exclusively on what they are not doing well they overlook what they are doing well. Sometimes pupils have been deeply scripted to believe that they are no good, that they cannot do anything right, that they will never amount to anything – getting them to begin to see themselves differently is a challenge. Demonstrating progress to pupils is an essential tool for rebuilding confidence, self-image in addition to supporting pupils to improve.
It can be challenging for non-association independent schools
There are many established ways of demonstrating pupil progress but most of them are suited to the national curriculum and to pupils who are able to engage with a subject – based curriculum by participating in lessons in the classroom and writing in their books. Progress 8 for example, a measure of the progress made by pupils between Key Stage 2 and 4 relies on the availability of pupils’ Key Stage 2 results and pupils’ attainment across 8 qualifications at Key Stage 4. This is easy enough to do in a mainstream provision however it is quite challenging to do in many non-association independent schools. When pupils are referred to non-association independent schools, referrers do not always provide enough data about pupils’ previous attainment. Key Stage 2 results for example are not always available, especially if pupils have been excluded from multiple schools before they are referred to an independent school. After they arrive, it is not always possible to ensure that at Key Stage 4 they are studying up to 8 qualifications that can be used to calculate Attainment 8. This is because many pupils are referred to independent school at the beginning of Key Stage 4 having had significant gaps in education hence making it impossible to take on 8 substantial qualifications at this late stage. And so, with no Key Stage 2 results or Attainment 8, the Progress 8 measure cannot be used so other measures must be sought.
What about schools that have a bespoke creative curriculum?
When schools follow a subject- based linear curriculum, it is easy enough to track progress by checking the levels (and sub-levels) or grades (and sub-grades) at which pupils are working at specific intervals – such as P-levels; National Curriculum levels (if you choose to continue using them); GCSE grades; Entry Levels and Levels 1&2. Because they are not required to follow the national curriculum, most non-association independent schools have a bespoke curriculum. For example, they might forfeit a subject based linear curriculum-opting for a thematic approach. In that scenario tracking progress will not be as straightforward as it is when it is done by subject. Also, because the majority of the time, pupils are referred to independent schools at non-standard transition points, they have a relatively short length of stay at the school and so schools also have to monitor and demonstrate small steps in progress. This can be done by tracking:
the progress visible in pupils’ books, coursework, workbooks for vocational qualifications, electronic folders, video records
pupils’ achievement of aims, objectives or tasks towards a work-based qualification, an award or a certificate
SEN pupils’ achievement of their IEP targets or other individualised targets
There are a variety of platforms that make it easy to record small steps in progress such as Classroom Monitor, BSquared, Pupil Access, just to name a few. These platforms can be customised to include further classifications of progress such as how secure pupils’ knowledge or skills are or the level of independence with which they can carry out procedures, solve problems and so on.
In terms of demonstrating progress over a longer term such as the end of each year or at the time a pupils completes Key Stage 4 or 5 it is easy enough to look at measures such as:
% of pupils who move on to positive destinations after Key Stage 4 or 5. Positive destinations are wide ranging and can include moving on to sixth form (even if it is at the same school), further education colleges, apprenticeships, higher education, employment, independent living,
Achievement of the outcomes stated on a pupils EHC plan
Overall improvement in personal, social and other skills such as speech
Making sure starting points are accurate
In order to be able to demonstrate progress whether it is over a short or long term, it is important to have an accurate starting point. Schools should ensure that they obtain as much data as possible about pupils’ prior attainment and conduct their own initial and diagnostic assessments in order to accurately evaluate value added. With pupils who have special educational needs, the process of carrying out initial and diagnostic assessments should be managed in such a way as to ensure that pupils are in the right frame of mind to complete the assessment otherwise inaccurate starting points will be recorded making it impossible to calculate progress later.
What about SEN students who do not learn in a classroom environment? Are photographs enough?
Learning outside the classroom is beneficial for SEN pupils – exposing them to new sensory experiences, giving them opportunities to practice their communication skills; developing their life skills. Whether they are learning in the community, in the school’s garden or at a farm - capturing the learning that has taken place and demonstrating progress is not as straightforward as it is in a classroom. Photographs are a common way of capturing the learning but are they enough? Not really. If, however they are accompanied by pupils’ annotations describing what is happening in the photograph and summarising what they have learned then it is possible to demonstrate progress. Teachers can easily chart the skills being developed and the knowledge gained over time. Sometimes, the level of pupils’ needs is such that they cannot annotate the picture, in that case a video might be better because you can record pupils as they reflect on the experience. Teachers can also record their observations of pupils as they experience learning and attach these to the photographs. It is all about being able to capture what has been learned and later chart progress.
In all this, let us not forget to demonstrate to the pupils, how much progress they have made. Make it clear what they have done well, what they need to do better and how they can do it.