It would be hard to find a school leader who does not value the importance of improving pupil progress. The same goes for every teacher, teaching assistant, parent or any other stakeholder around each child.
Sometimes we see a divided debate about what the best way is to do this. For some the focus is on well-being and mental health. For others, the focus is on imparting high-level knowledge. There may be a combination of these or any number of other factors as well. Certain things always hold true though. They are the ways in which we can have a very real impact on pupil outcomes in schools, and in the home.
Whichever way you want to teach a class, and however you want to organise and adapt your curriculum, there are many benefits from weaving the following into your plans:
1) Assessment – robust, frequent, and formative assessment feeds directly into teaching and learning
2) High quality teaching – with CPD opportunities for all staff
3) Parental engagement – not only knowing what children are doing at school but giving ways to support at home
4) Learner ownership – ensuring that the pupils can work on improving their outcomes
5) Reducing teacher workload – to give them more time to focus on the individual children instead of filling files with paperwork
When it comes to improving pupil progress and student outcomes all the above are desirable and achievable. So, let’s take a closer look at them one by one.
The impact of assessment on pupil outcomes
Teachers, especially, might find it odd that our list puts assessment before teaching, or it might just seem like “well of course they think that”. Our reasoning is based on the need to know exactly what a child needs to be taught next. All too often assessment is an end point. In high stakes, end of key stage testing this is certainly the case – an end for which teaching was the means. However, we exist because of how important we know assessment is to the classroom. How much it can make a difference for pupils when it is approached in a formative, little and often way.
Not all assessment needs hard evidence or needs to be evidenced at all. A good teacher is always assessing. Seeing who put their hand up first or how quickly a question is answered when cold-called upon. Assessment is built into conversations in every lesson. Assessment sometimes looks like a teacher abandoning all, or part, of a lesson. Assessment takes place when homework is marked and when books are checked mid-lesson. Assessment sometimes looks like a sea of thumbs-ups, or a load of books put into the red tray as they leave the lesson.
While all of this is important what is most crucial is what happens next. This is where recording assessment can be especially useful. Every teacher does assessment in the lesson, and over a series of lessons that week. For example, teaching fractions might start with some games and physical work (perhaps using cut paper plates and chocolate bars), but always ends with some work to check everything has sunk in. Teachers do their assessment throughout that mini unit. They are well on top of who needs support and who is whizzing through the content and needs a challenge.
But when that unit ends, how do we remember exactly where each student was, ready for when we revisit this topic? How do we ensure that if only three students are still needing support that they get this? How do they get to continue this at home or school for a bit longer? Otherwise, we leave this unit for a term and risk them losing their brilliant progress.
Formative assessment practices can help to keep track of progress, not only for each child and teacher but for every school leader too. The purpose for the teacher? It might be to remind them who needs to revisit this just before everyone next term, or who needs extra homework, or who needs an extra session 1:1 next week before they forget. The child needs to know that they have made progress even if they are not quite fractions fluent.
The school leaders need to see how this looks in curriculum coverage. Do year 3 always find a certain topic tricky to get secure in before moving on? Can we buy more physical resources for it? Can we add some CPD for teachers on methods to teach this? Can we add an extra TA to this class when we come back to this? Can we give more time in the curriculum plan for this next year?
When we ask questions like those above from our assessment data, we know it has a purpose. If all we are asking is “Did the class hit their end of year targets in July?” then we do not have good assessment practices in place. Ones that support every student in the school long before those high stakes tests take place are preferable.
High-quality teaching improves pupil outcomes
If we know where the gaps are through assessment, and we know what students are struggling with, and where they are excelling, we can also focus on ensuring that those next steps we identified are taught well. High-quality teaching is essential in the aim of improving student outcomes. Teachers do the job of improving pupil progress in all their lessons. There is no doubt, certainly in our minds, that teachers work on this each and every day. They reflect and adapt both after lessons and during. “Teaching to the top” is a phrase used often synonymously with high-quality teaching. Although we need our assessment too, both formal and informal, to ensure no one gets left behind.
Unfortunately, where there is a “top” we may also find the “bottom”, much as we would like to not think of it that way at all. Great teaching looks at this all the time and tries to scaffold and support those who need it most.
Teachers, all too often, are trying to reinvent the wheel every day, which leads to increased workload and added pressure. It also leaves very little time to work on their own development as much as they would like. CPD opportunities are vital to help teachers to feel they are growing. This is alongside nurturing their own classes. Improving student outcomes often starts with improving teacher outcomes.
The impact of parental engagement
Parents are such a key part of the learning journey of any child, but it’s often hard to get them fully engaged in the school side of this. This may be due to the nature of them also working or being busy with older/younger siblings. They may not always have the time to be in and out of school for meetings. Teachers do not always have time for that either!
Parental engagement is, however, a huge factor in improving student outcomes. They are with their children more than the teacher, in most cases. They also certainly have more 1:1 time with their child. They are influential as role models and in what they can do with their children. We have likely all seen the stats about the impact of a parent reading with a child from a young age. This effect is mirrored in many subjects.
What parents often struggle with is knowing exactly how to help. Asking them to read with their child is easy enough, for most. Simply knowing their parent is reading with them can be enough encouragement for a child to want to try. But what about those who cannot speak the same language as the books sent home? And what about those subjects they might find harder to explain or support homework for? Not every parent knows what a fronted adverbial is, or how best to explain column subtraction. We often hear that “we didn’t do it that way in my day” where a parent lacks the confidence to help. Or they may teach their child misconceptions, when old methods are used with the modern.
Supporting parents is one of the key differences to improving student outcomes. It must include options to make their role more pivotal. Not simply expecting them to “be there” for homework. We need to give them the tools to best support their efforts. So that they can see the fruits of their labour, witness those gratifying and rewarding “lightbulb moments”. They are what teachers love so much when working with children too. At Learning Ladders, this has been key to the development of our resources for parents, alongside curriculum objectives which translate in 100 languages.
When learners are engaged in their own learning they of course grow in confidence. They are more enthusiastic about pushing forward to the next goal. We have found (with our Learning Journey booklets) that pupils are more interested in their curriculum-linked next steps than we would have thought! The conversations which arise from a child being able to say to a teacher “I think I have got this now”. Those “proofs” they bring to a teacher’s or parent’s attention too are really powerful.
Learners often have an over-exaggerated idea of their weaknesses. Particularly, at certain points of childhood and adolescence. It is easy for this to blind them to their achievements. Being able to look back and see 20 objectives ticked off can help to take their mind off the 3 or 4 left. Or the other way round – seeing the big final outcomes is often too huge, but seeing it broken down into 20 or so little steps along the way can make learning more manageable. It can help to tick things off and appreciate those little wins.
Reducing teacher workload to improve pupil outcomes
It goes (hopefully!) without saying that a teacher who is less stressed, less pressured, and more rested, is going to be more energised in the classroom. And this does pass on to the pupils. Over the years we have noticed the discourse change more and more. As workload increases due to statutory changes which cannot be avoided, but we believe there are ways to push back on this and do things in new ways too.
As much as we love assessment and see the need for record keeping for the sake of the whole school picture, as well as for individuals, we know it can take its toll on teacher workload. We have done everything we can to reduce this impact with Learning Ladders. But we recognise that what technology can do in terms of efficiency should not be ignored.
When we are looking at those really useful pieces of paperwork which sit around a child – their test and homework marking, reports, learning journeys, homework creation, lesson planning, SEND reports and much more… we know technology can help to ensure every input from a teacher helps provide a useful output. This, in turn, saves a different piece of work.
Learning Ladders has been designed around all the ‘touchpoints’ in every pupils’ life, so that we can help every person in that mix including, the child, parents, teacher, support staff, SLT, and any outside agencies. We want to maximise input for an output which improves pupil outcomes.
Book a demo at a time which suits you to find out more about how we can help you to improve pupil progress at your school.