NGRT was eye-opening. It showed that about 60% of the pupils were below their expected age group. Knowing this meant we could implement strategies to help close those gaps.
When running a ‘virtual school’, where pupils who are looked-after and in foster care are placed in schools all over a major city but tracked and monitored from a central point, the need to have some sort of comparable uniformity of assessment is vital.
National curriculum levels previously offered a way of comparing the performance of different pupils, but their removal led Nancy Barnett, the lead education adviser in literacy at Birmingham Virtual School, to opt for GL Assessment’s New Group Reading Test (NGRT).
Nancy, who liaises with up to 50 primary and secondary schools, explains: “The Virtual School works with schools all over Birmingham and beyond if we have young people living out of authority. Virtual School Workers consult with schools over the progress of individual children. We each have a class list of children, and we track and monitor the performance of each one.
“I advise teachers, as well as the children’s foster carers and social workers, on strategies for improving their educational attainment. Every child will have an electronic personal education plan (EPEP) which includes information of where attainment needs to improve and what strategies might be used to achieve this.
“Looked-after children often have gaps in their literacy and numeracy, and may experience social, emotional and other problems, or have special educational needs. Their attainment may be affected by their past experience, and many will be working below the levels that may be expected for their chronological age. Nearly all will need academic or emotional support of some kind.”
Nancy carried out her own trial of NGRT to find out whether it might be used by colleagues across the city. She sent out the test to schools, having registered 38 pupils and their school for the tests on GL Assessment’s online testing system, and ended up with 32 completed tests.
“I felt that we needed a common language across the board that everyone could understand. Foster carers and social workers don’t necessarily have a background in education but if you’re able to say to them that a child who is 12 has a reading age of an 8-year-old, then they get a grasp of what the problem is.”
From the NGRT results, Nancy was able to establish that 19 pupils had a reading age that was a year or more below their chronological age, while 13 were working at their age level, or a year above. Five of the pupils were reading at two or more years beyond expectations.
“It was eye-opening,” Nancy says. “It showed that about 60% of the pupils were below their expected age group. Knowing this meant we could implement strategies to help close those gaps.”
In some schools this meant implementing phonics and work on comprehension. In another school, book vouchers were used to purchase books for use at home.
“When they were given the results, class teachers were able to target specific areas of weakness, with strategies such as ‘Drop Everything and Read’, focussed reading groups or with reading volunteers and paired reading, in school. Some implemented reading clubs after school, and in some cases, resources were purchased with Pupil Premium funding to support literacy.
“In the case of one high-performing child we implemented supplementary work on inference and deduction. This child’s results matched those of the teacher’s own assessment, so this was particularly pleasing.”
“From my perspective, I was able to ask them to do a test that didn’t add to their workload, because there was no marking or need for them to understand a mark scheme. It was all done online with the results sent directly to me,” said Nancy.
“NGRT has helped us hugely to obtain useful and useable data about the pupils in our care.”