The pursuit of value

Posted on 7th Dec 2015 in School news, Learning difficulties

Clare King, Headmistress at The Moat School, says a new assessment technique could hold the key to measuring a school’s performance 

What is the role of an educator? When you peel back the layers of bureaucracy and buzz-words that exist in the increasingly competitive schools sector, this remains the ever-present question we should ask ourselves as head teachers, teachers, SENCOs and parents. The role of ‘teacher’ in education goes beyond the responsibility of passing along information. The primary function of the teacher includes teaching a variety of facts and skills to pupils but, additionally, the teacher encourages a sense of value and meaningfulness intended to stimulate a child’s social development. The aim is to produce well-rounded, articulate and inquisitive young people who are able to question the world around them, and confident in their ability to analyse their own learning along the way. But how do you measure a school’s effectiveness at doing this?

Traditionally schools have been measured against each other using simple results and league tables. From the point at which exams were standardised we had an accurate measure of how one student fared against another and therefore how to quantify the success of a school. So how do you compare a gritty urban comprehensive with a prestigious boarding school, for example, when schools with selective entry can cherry pick the highest achievers and compete on a very unfair playing field?

The Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM) is an independent not-for-profit organisation with over thirty years of experience in pioneering value-added assessments. As part of Durham University, CEM are the leading body on measuring effectiveness and provide feedback to schools to improve their delivery of learning. It is CEM’s MidYIS (Middle Years Information System) assessment (taken in year 7, 8 or 9) which forms the basis of interesting data that can serve to more accurately illustrate a school’s relative performance.

The assessment measures ‘developed ability’ – a student’s underlying raw learning potential, free of the influence of curriculum-based teaching. To establish a baseline, each student takes a test in four parts - vocabulary, maths, non-verbal and skills – which contribute to an overall curriculum-free measurement. The tests are intended to gauge aptitude for learning rather than achievement and allows a teacher to accurately determine areas for improvement in their students.

These baseline figures can be used to predict achievement and GCSE grades for an individual and, from these predictions, it is possible to see where a school has added ‘value’ to a child’s schooling. When a school increases students’ achievement level relative to other schools, this relative advantage is called value-added. Once students have taken GCSE or have KS3 teacher assessed grades, their results are collected for value-added analysis. 

Choosing the right school for your child can be one of the most daunting tasks a parent will ever undertake. This can be considerably more overwhelming if the child has specific learning difficulties (SpLD). We all dream of our children excelling at school – in maths, English, sport or music, but for some children, just getting through the normal school day can be challenging enough. With a bit of luck, a pupil’s school will flag up any learning difficulties around Year 2 and suggest an assessment, although many children with SpLD can remain undiagnosed for much longer.

Parents may have suspected their child was not keeping up, even though his or her intelligence appeared ‘normal’, otherwise it could come as a bolt out of the blue. It is at this stage that parents usually wonder what they should be doing.

Increasingly, for the parents of a child with a specific learning difficulty, the measure of a school’s success and subsequent suitability comes from outside the traditional measures of achievement and, although the GCSE results of a particular school will definitely be of interest to a prospective parent, more often the pastoral care and nurturing learning environment that a school encourages forms the basis of any decision.

Specialist schools provide children diagnosed with a SpLD the opportunity of receiving an academic education in a safe and supportive learning environment up to GCSE for children between the ages of 11 to 16 years. It comes as no surprise to parents that their children often possess extraordinary talents and creativity and it is an important goal for these schools to identify and foster this by providing additional courses in non-traditional subjects such as creative and performing arts, food technology, computer technology, art and design, media studies and design technology. Pupils will need individual timetables that address their needs and classes must be small with a high teacher/ pupil ratio. A school may often offer an enrichment programme that enhances the pupil’s skills academically, emotionally and socially. It is well known that the progress of pupils at these type of holistic specialist schools is typically outstanding. This reinforces the belief that, given the opportunity and resources at the right age, despite their difficulties, these children can make meaningful improvements to the quality of their lives and their contributions to society.

The MidYIS assessment, and subsequent value-added scores, could hold the key to truly understanding how well a student has achieved and how successful a school has been in helping them on their journey.

Clare King is Headmistress at The Moat School.

The Moat School is an independent secondary day-school for pupils with specific learning difficulties. CEM reported that despite increasingly complex cohorts, average value added data over 3 years shows The Moat School performing in the top 5% of schools nationally
For more information about The Moat School, please click here.