Published on: 03 Feb 2016

A common language in multi-academy trusts to transform all academies to outstanding with the best education

The importance of creating a common language

Lisa Crausby, Principal Improvement Director of Academy Transformation Trust article in Academy Today magazine

Joining a multi-academy trust is a time of change for schools says Lisa Crausby and developing a common language is the key.

Lost learning, a legacy of underachievement, deprived areas – these are some of the challenges the schools that join our fold face. We now have 18 academies in the Academy Transformation Trust family, including primaries and secondaries. Welcoming a new school to a multi-academy trust must be carefully and skilfully handled.

At the heart of what we do is a belief that all our academies can be transformed to become outstanding. After all, our pupils deserve the very best education we can provide. To that end, we have spent time and thought developing strong achievement and academy improvement strategies.

"Welcoming a new school to a multi-academy trust must be carefully and skilfully handled"

It’s a truism of course, but you can’t measure your journey if you don’t know where you began. So the first step for us is to benchmark the starting point of all students.

A mountain to climb

Prior to their school becoming an academy, we’ve found that many of our pupils have actually been at risk of regressing in their learning, rather than making progress. Lost learning is a huge issue and it can feel as though there is a mountain to climb, which is why it’s so important to know exactly what we are dealing with from day one.

In our view, it’s imperative to take a whole-pupil approach to assessment. Put simply, we need that critical insight into ability, attainment and any barriers to learning in order to live up to our promises for these children. We’ve found a cognitive abilities test is a great place to start. It’s an opportunity to standardise the starting point and it lets us see how much lost learning has taken place over the previous years.

Having an accurate take on the situation is a key milestone in how we develop our achievement strategies for each academy going forward.

Support where needed

As you can imagine, with a large group of academies under our wing we need to make certain the support we are offering is proportionate to need. Without a common language, this would be almost impossible to organise fairly. We have a lot of faith in teacher judgement, but we discovered early on that different people and different academies had very different understandings of key assessment terminology.

To counteract this, we’ve introduced assessment points, using GL Assessment’s Progress Test Series, for English, maths and science across our academies. These are looked at centrally, so we can monitor how much ground is being covered, and we’ve set up various types of moderation to support the information being collected.

The results provide a snapshot of where each pupil is, gives us a measurement of progress over time and automatically takes care of the moderation and standardisation we require. In short, using independent assessment enables us to build on the achievement strategies we already have in place.

Asking the right questions

In order for our achievement and improvement strategies to work, and to give structure in a world without levels, we need to be able to rigorously interrogate any information we collect. Data can’t be loose or open to interpretation – this just wouldn’t help us.

Backed up by robust data, we’re in the position of being able to ask the right questions, perhaps such as why Academy A is showing a big discrepancy between teacher assessment and what the progress tests are showing us – and then, crucially, act on the answers.

"Backed up by robust data, we’re in the position of being able to ask the right questions"


Despite this, you won’t find us resting on our laurels. Our next step is to add a pastoral dimension with a pupil attitudinal survey, to discover what different groups across the Trust really think. It’s an opportunity to tease out any hidden negative attitudes, and to rectify them with appropriate interventions.

Multi-trust, multi-task

An added advantage of independently assessing English, maths and science is that it acts as evidence for Ofsted, demonstrating the amount of progress this child, this class or even this academy has made from one point to the next.

It’s always gratifying to receive praise from Ofsted and the Department of Education, as we have done, and proves we are making the impact we want to as a high-performing multi-academy trust. Our results speak for themselves; 71% of our primary academy pupils achieved a Level 4 in 2015, up 17 percentage points from 2013, while the number of pupils achieving five A*–C grades including English and maths went up nine percentage points to 49%. 

We’re confident that our strategy of embedding a common language across all our academies is ensuring the most rapid progress possible, now and for the future.

Lisa Crausby is Principal Improvement Director of Academy Transformation Trust.

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