Feel like you're wasting time tapping pointless numbers into your tracking software? It's time to shop around
Here we are, a few years on from Mr Gove’s unexpected announcement about the scrapping of levels, yet it still feels like we’re only just beginning to get to the bottom of what assessment should look like in this brave new world.
Indeed, in some cases, it seems things have only got worse. But perhaps there’s something in the old adage that things inevitably go downhill before they get better. Now we’ve had a while to get our heads round what the new curriculum – and its tests – look like in practice, many of us are beginning to see a new light.
Technology inevitably has a role to play in getting to grips with large amounts of data. Whatever we might say about the importance of teachers knowing their children, there remains some merit in storing information in a manner that can be used for other purposes. Senior leaders want an overview of attainment, Ofsted inspectors like to see that schools are monitoring groups, and governors need something simple to grasp but still detailed enough to be useful. Technology has a place – but it must be as servant, not master.
If you’re considering replacing your current tracking software, or advancing from a simple spreadsheet, make sure it fits your needs. Like buying a new car, there is not one answer for all, but rather we should find the right product for our own needs, and not be sold a pup by a dodgy salesman who promises the earth. Here are my top five questions to ask yourself – and those salespeople – before taking the leap into a new, expensive product.
If a tracker comes only with a pre-set list of objectives, then it will fall at the first hurdle. Every school prides itself on the uniqueness of its curriculum, and rightly so. We adapt to serve the needs of our pupils, and so it should be with assessment. We’re bound by a single standardised model at the end of each Key Stage, but the software should still give us the freedom we need to track all pupils.
The needs of teachers and leaders are very different, and we must remember that it’s the former who make a direct impact on the children. If submitting numbers into the tracking software each half term becomes merely a burden, it is offering nothing for teaching and learning and should be discarded. If teachers are to record anything, then we should consider it like the mark books of old, providing brief summaries of children’s learning, not meaningless numbers and graphs.
The very best forms of assessment can easily be shared with pupils and parents so that everyone is informed about progress. We often talk about stakeholders, and these are no doubt some of the most important. If what we collect on our computerised systems is just numbers and codes, then what information do we give to those who most need it, and why aren’t we recording that instead?
One of the biggest issues with the old system of levels was the interminable march through various stages. The new curriculum is clear that we should be securing children’s knowledge, not simply skimming over the surface in the hope of leaping through the levels. As soon as we return to a model of steps, the temptation to nudge into the next band as each term passes becomes significant, rather than identifying what best to teach your pupils next.
The wonder of technology is that it can so quickly do what would otherwise take hours. However, this can tempt us to multiply the work we do because of the time apparently saved. In these days of recruitment and retention crises, we should absolutely make use of the benefits of technology to reduce teachers’ workload; we must also be careful not to add to it. As the workload commissions earlier this year reminded us, data collection should not become a burden to teachers.
If any representative from a tracking firm can persuade you that their product ticks all these boxes, then may it be the beginning of a long and happy relationship – for all involved.
Michael Tidd is deputy headteacher at Edgewood Primary School in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire.