Woodnewton Academy Trust in Corby, Northamptonshire, currently consists of two primary academies and is soon to be joined by a third. With a high proportion of vulnerable children, GL Assessment’s Cognitive Abilities Test (CAT4) and Pupil Attitudes to Self and School (PASS) are used to ensure all children are supported effectively.
Woodnewton - a learning community came about as a result of the amalgamation of Woodnewton Infant and Nursery School with Woodnewton Junior School in 2006. Woodnewton converted to academy status in June 2012 and in January 2013 Woodnewton sponsored Exeter – a learning community and the Woodnewton Academy Trust was formed. Exeter has 26% of pupils eligible for free schools meals and an above average number for whom English is an additional language.
The schools have a significant number of looked after and adopted children on the roll. Helen Bushell, specialist teacher for vulnerable children at the Woodnewton Trust, explains her dedicated approach: “We have a growing number of vulnerable children coming to our schools - more than at any other school in our local authority - thanks to our reputation for making sure these children reach their potential.”
On a day-to-day basis, Helen faces many sensitive issues. “You see the statistics in the press all the time – it’s these children who go on to become over-represented in the homeless system and who run higher risks of teenage pregnancy or going to prison. We take the need to turn these children around very seriously to make sure this doesn’t happen.”
To achieve this aim, a personalised approach is needed. “We’re very aware that looked after and adopted children may have been subjected to an element of significant trauma in their past and that placements can break down. So we work closely with foster and adoptive parents to ensure these children feel self-fulfilled.
“I’m a firm believer in addressing emotional and social wellbeing issues, and it’s important to use the research and tools available to us to ensure we do the best we can.”
A good start
Woodnewton has been using CAT4 and PASS to baseline their pupils since January 2014, with Exeter set to follow their example shortly. The results will help the Trust decide how best to use its Pupil Premium funding.
“We receive Pupil Premium funding of around £110,000 for Woodnewton and £150,000 for Exeter. It’s imperative we spend this money wisely for the emotional and social benefit of our most vulnerable pupils.”
Ability and attitude
CAT4 assesses verbal, non-verbal, spatial and quantitative ability. The resulting data can then be used to identify a pupil’s strengths, weaknesses and learning preferences, allowing schools to offer a learning environment conducive to pupils maximising their potential.
PASS is a psychometric measurement that surveys pupils’ attitudes across nine core attitudinal areas about themselves as learners and the school environment, all of which can affect levels of attainment, engagement and wellbeing.
“Assessing the children has been straightforward and we completed the bulk of the school within two weeks. For Key Stage 2 children, we mostly tested them in classes although we did do some one-to-one testing for those with special educational needs.
“Looking at individual PASS reports, there have been a few surprises. In particular, it’s been good to see that many pupils have great confidence in their own ability as learners, and that some are saying, ‘I am clever’ and ‘I’d like harder work.’
“There are still some children left to be assessed either because they have joined the school part way through the term or because they have been away, but I am looking forward to being able to see if there are many trends across cohorts that we need to address.”
Closing the gap
Combining results from PASS with CAT4 can answer questions raised when there are discrepancies between achievement and cognitive ability.
“With CAT4, we can look at who is exceeding their potential and who needs to be accelerated. It helps us see if we have any bright children who are underachieving and therefore need to be challenged more. When it comes to vulnerable children, it’s a delicate balance, so we are hoping to use the two assessments together to make sure we get it right.
“During pupil progress meetings, it’s very helpful to have insights into both cognitive ability and attitudes, not least as it makes us question what we’re doing. Are we over-compensating? Is our ethos correct? Are we engaging our pupils? It helps us get the focus right at school.”
Having accurate information on where the issues lie means the team can also forge ahead with a solid progression plan. “We can be decisive on how we are going to use our Pupil Premium funding. We can get to the heart of the issue and address them. We can also set realistic targets.
“Going forward, my plan is that we will use PASS in March at the start of the Pupil Premium year. This will help inform interventions and evidence the impact they are having. We’ll also share results with carers and the local authority to make sure we are all on the same page.”
From the beginning
Helen’s team also assess their youngest pupils as they know that the earliest years of a child’s life have a major impact of future outcomes. They have found WellComm, a speech and language screening toolkit, particularly helpful.
“We knew children were starting in the Early Years Foundation Stage at Woodnewton with achievements below that expected for their age, so early assessment was a must.
“Using Wellcomm, we realised than more than half of the children came in the Red or Amber stage of the traffic light system which was a shock. Amber means extra support and intervention are required. Red means you should also consider referral to a specialist service for further advice.”
Tailoring the learning process
“Once we realised the severity of the situation, we were able to put interventions in place and then reassess. We had made fantastic progress, with many children now scoring Green, meaning no further intervention required.”
“We’re known as a school of excellence and it’s very important to us that this continues. We have a very committed team and at the core of everything we do lies the child and their learning.
“We tailor the learning process to help pupils achieve their goals and assessments such as CAT4 and PASS help us effectively support the needs of our pupils. Perhaps the highest recommendation came from the vice principal who said to me the other day, ‘This is what all schools should be doing.’ “