Published on: 13 Nov 2018

Reliability in a world without levels

By Andy Daly, Principal of Swavesey Village College, Cambridge Meridian Academies Trust

The Cambridge Meridian Academies Trust (CMAT) was formed in 2011 and our vision is to provide high quality and dynamic education for all children at the heart of our local communities. We have 11 academies in the Trust right now – three primaries, six secondaries, an initial teacher training partnership (The Cambridge Partnership)  and a Leadership and CPD provider (Leadership East), all based in and around Cambridge and Peterborough. 

We started to look at introducing standardised tests into our programme of assessment following the removal of national curriculum levels. Put simply, when levels went, staff were in the dark. With levels, we all knew where everyone was on their progress trajectory and could moderate these levels across the schools to support collaboration and curriculum planning. Without that marker, we needed something that would provide consistency and quality assurance.

It seemed most sensible to introduce the assessments at Key Stage 3. As Ofsted’s report on ‘Key Stage 3: the wasted years’ said, ‘The importance of a good start to a pupil’s secondary school education cannot be overemphasised’. We couldn’t agree more. These are crucial years to get right before the start of GCSEs and we wanted to do everything we can to make sure students make as much progress in the first stages of their educational development.

Most of our schools use the Cognitive Abilities Test (CAT4) as a baseline in Year 7, so they were used to the style and format of GL Assessment’s tests. Adding the Progress Test Series in English and maths into the mix was a no brainer in terms of the benefits. Instead of levels, our new national benchmark was the standard age score. This benchmark has given staff extra confidence that they have a very accurate gauge of how much progress their students are making.

Most significantly, though, the cohort question level analysis is a great tool to evaluate the curriculum and look at which topics we are delivering well and which we may need to focus on more carefully. The data provided from the assessments also enabled us to cross reference with our own internal assessment and identify students who may need additional support or catch up and the specific topics they would need to focus on.

Another key driver was that the tests were externally marked. As a Trust, we don’t want to add to staff workload and the externally marked option was very welcome. This, in turn, means that there is more time to look at the data and make sure it supports staff in terms of their planning and identifying gaps in students’ knowledge and skills.

At a MAT level, we share progress data in broad terms with the governing body and trustees, but we look at the data in much more detail with the schools themselves. We have set up  cross-Trust English and Maths groups, and by looking at the question level analysis, we can find out which elements of courses are strong and which need further work. It’s helping us work collaboratively to support both individual schools and to share best practice across the network.

My one piece of advice for MATs looking to introduce standardised assessments across their Trust is to make sure the data is used at a classroom level to support planning and curriculum development. As important as it is for head office to see the patterns and trends across the Trust, the data has too much value not to be used proactively by subject leaders and teachers to make a positive difference in the classroom.