With over 2, 000 pupils, Bluecoat Academy in Nottingham knows the value of a consistent assessment strategy. GL Assessment’s Complete Digital Solution is helping staff see the whole picture of an extremely diverse student body.
Over the past 300 years, Bluecoat Academy has evolved from a small charity school to a community of over 2,000 students aged 4 to 19 across three different sites.
Based in inner-city Nottingham, this Church of England school is enjoying rapidly improving results. 63% of Year 11 students achieved 5A*–C including English and Mathematics in 2015, showing a 6% improvement from 2014, and pupil premium students are making progress significantly above the national average.
Steve Cox, Assistant Principal, comments: “We like to think of our school as truly comprehensive. We cater to all abilities within our diverse intake of pupils, which includes a large SEN cohort as well as many who speak English as an additional language.
“Our aim is to personalise our lessons as much as we can – and that requires robust and consistent assessments to validate our teacher judgements.”
An all round picture of students
To gauge an academic and non-academic picture of students, the academy now uses GL Assessment’s Complete Digital Solution (CDS) to establish a starting point and monitor progress. CDS incorporates seven digital assessments, including the Cognitive Abilities Test: Fourth Edition (CAT4), the New Group Reading Test (NGRT) and the Pupil Attitudes to Self and School (PASS) survey, which together provide critical insight across ability, attainment and attitude.
Cath McCarney, Vice-Principal, explains: “We use CAT4 to benchmark Year 7 entry and examine ability. We have over 75 different feeder primary schools so this greatly helps validate the Key Stage 2 results. We useCAT4 again in Year 8 to inform GCSE option choices and we recently started using NGRT to assess children’s reading and comprehension skills.
“Against the backdrop of Progress 8 accountability and ‘life after levels’, CDS came at the perfect time for us. We were interested in gaining an insight into the motivations and learning barriers of our students, and the Dyslexia Screener was already being used. As well as being so comprehensive, CDS helps bring consistency across our different sites and externally validate what we are doing.”
The school is now in the best position to notice any trends and quickly act on them.
Cath continues: “We’ve noticed a decline in the average point score of CAT4, perhaps due to a cohort that is more diverse than it used to be, and we also know one site currently has students with higher abilities than the other. With CDS, we can drill down into exactly what is going on and adjust teaching, learning and the curriculum accordingly.”
Steve continues: “Literacy levels tend to be significantly lower than the national average so we have organised extra English and phonics. We focus hard on improving reading ages throughout the school. In fact, we’ve set a really ambitious target for each student to improve their reading age by two years in every academic year.
“NGRT is central to helping achieve this – we use it at the beginning and the end of each year, and in the interim to monitor progress.
“This means every member of staff is able to focus on the different reading ages in the room – an important piece of contextual information. For example, in a Year 11 class I teach, two of the 15 students have reading ages of less than seven years old, while the remainder span reading ages of between 14 and 17 years of age. There is no way I could give all the students the same material and expect them to understand it. Knowing the range of reading abilities means we can differentiate the text, personalise resources and provide outstanding lessons.”
Attitude makes a difference
The PASS attitudinal survey examines many of the softer issues that can affect a pupil’s learning, such as confidence and feeling connected.
It is now being used across each year group, to remove barriers that could prevent learners achieving their potential.
Steve comments: “As part of our approach to ‘life after levels’, teachers monitor students’ attitudes to learning anyway and give them grades for this six times a year. But PASS provides us with a way to cross-reference and verify what our teachers have noticed.
“As a result, we recently ran an intervention afternoon for those in Years 7 and 8 who PASS highlighted as having a poor attitude to learning, preceded by a parents’ evening where we explained to parents how we’re going to support their children.
“In Year 11, we also noticed a small cohort of boys with very low expectations of themselves. We were able to set up a ‘soft’ intervention; a mentoring programme of just 15 minutes per week, to focus on these boys. “In both cases, we rapidly saw a definite improvement of both attitudes and projected grades.
“The information from PASS is helping our higher ability students, too. We have a high attaining student who is predicted A*s almost across the board. When her PASS results came back, we were surprised to see her confidence was worryingly low. Our Year Leader intervened on a pastoral level, spoke to both the student and her parents, and then went through her work with her to build her confidence and reduce any lingering anxiety and stress.”
The best education
The academy has invested heavily to make sure the Senior Leadership Team, Subject Leaders and non- teaching Year Leaders understand and are able to rigorously interrogate the data. Steve says: “In our view, data literacy is really important.
It doesn’t necessarily give you the whole picture, but it does play a huge part in helping you see it.”
Cath concludes: “For our students, the benefits of these assessments are extremely wide ranging. We can personalise teaching, implement a range of interventions, support and challenge appropriately, grow aspirations, and equip them to take best advantage of life’s chances. Ultimately, we want them to believe in themselves, the way we believe in them.”
Benefits of using CDS at Bluecoat Academy
• Validates KS2 results from more than 75 feeder primary schools
• Brings consistency of data to a large, diverse academy set over multiple sites
• Ensures appropriate interventions are put in place, for both higher and lower achieving students
• Backs up teacher judgement when it comes to students’ attitudes to learning, and provides extra depth of insight
• Enables teaching to be highly personalised, increasing the chances for optimal outcomes for students
• Ensures staff are able to see a complete picture of students, both individually and as a cohort