Starting points and support
This case study looks at how a secondary mathematics team planned their implementation of Assessing Pupils' Progress (APP), including the starting points for planning, generating support and working with the English team on their APP project.
The APP project started at the school in May 2009 against a background of a long-standing whole-school focus on Assessment for Learning (AfL). Following the removal of compulsory testing at Key Stage 3 and a number of personnel changes, the mathematics department was 'reconstructed' around the APP initiative.
The feeling within the mathematics team was overwhelmingly positive, with a clear sense that change and improvement were being driven from within the team rather than being imposed externally. The idea of the pupil 'learning journey' was central to the whole project and assessment was built into each 'journey' rather than seeing it as 'testing' additional to and separate from the process of learning. The department also saw its own progress in terms of a learning journey and the parallels were positive and helpful.
The whole approach was trialled in the summer term of 2009 and a new mathematics scheme was introduced for Year 7 in the autumn.
Support to introduce APP
An LA consultant spent two days a week in the school to offer advice and support for this and other projects. This support was invaluable to the project. However, the school also appointed two teachers as Advanced Skills Teachers (ASTs) in mathematics. These teachers attended network meetings and workshops and used a substantial amount of their time to help develop the teaching resources and assessment approaches. In addition, they supported teachers in other schools as part of their role.
There was an active APP network and the LA paid cover for teachers to attend. The group met once a term and the ASTs from Kirk Balk School were able to share their developments in mathematics more widely. A lot of work took place between these meetings, including support from the ASTs and from the LA consultant. Joint planning was often undertaken by the teachers, along with peer observations, follow-up discussions, emailing questions, answers and support. This network was very helpful in moving this initiative forward.
The school used a coaching model of support whereby all new teachers are assigned a coach, but the scheme is open to anyone who wants to improve their own practice. The school has used this to help spread effective practice around the implementation of APP. They have based their approach on a 'pass it on' principle: one teacher coaches a colleague, who in turn coaches another colleague, and so on. The scheme is built around a cycle of joint planning, then teaching and finally observation and reflection.
Links with English
The English team at Kirk Balk School has been developing APP for longer than the mathematics team and their support and experience has been invaluable. Assessment in English has been richer than in mathematics, particularly as a result of the need to assess both reading and writing. The English team felt that many of the AfL approaches sat comfortably with their general approach to teaching and learning, so many of the strategies that they employed as part of the APP project were simply developments of existing practice. Many of these ideas and strategies have been adopted by the mathematics team, for example, the emphasis on sharing assessment criteria with pupils and the idea of building the teaching around learning journeys. There was a strong feeling at the school that this sharing of ideas across contrasting subjects has considerable potential in opening up fresh ideas. In this case, it is clear that the collaboration was extremely positive and the mathematics provision at the school was enriched as a consequence.