Assessing primary pupils in PE

Today, I was talking to a secondary PE teacher. We were chatting about assessment and how secondary schools assessed Year 7 students on entry. This teacher explained how much time is wasted in secondary PE departments in assessing students’ skills and starting points when they join the school. If only, he said, primary schools could assess their Y6 pupils before they transfer to secondary schools. So this is a plea to primary colleagues to ensure that our Y6 pupils have the very best opportunities to move forward in PE when they enter KS3. You never know, we may start a trend.

But, where to begin? Fortunately we don’t need to re-invent the wheel because there are a few resources out there to help. Some of them will cost more than others, and many are free. Obviously, the paid resources are relatively superior but you’ll need to decide if the benefit justifies the cost. Two starting points might be The PE Hub (don’t confuse the UK version with the US one), which offers a subscription service that gives access to plans, resources and assessment information. Alternatively, primary schools might like the PE Passport, which is an app that offers teachers online planning, assessment and tracking tools.

However, if you don’t want to spend loads of money, there are some free assessment tools on offer from schools. I have reviewed several and have not be super-impressed by many, especially those that replace levels with levels by another name. However, a TES user, going by the name of Hilly100m, has put onto the TES resource site a really super set of downloads for PE assessment – and they are free. One commentator seemed concerned that you’d need a sheet per pupil but a) how difficult is that? And b) if you’ve the time, it is easy to use the sheets as the basis of an excel spreadsheet. As a starting point for primary PE assessment, I would highly recommend this download. Follow this link – but to connect you’ll need to be logged in to TES.

Even if you only use this for your departing Year 6 pupils, it will be very helpful to the PE Department(s) in their secondary school(s). You might need to provide them with a set of the assessment grids to help them understand your judgements. If you think this is a good idea, spread the word.

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RE Assessment simplified (at last!)

For a good many years, assessment in RE has been against a series of ‘I Can’ Statements, linked to notional levels, similar to those in the pre-2014 National Curriculum. Now, as a National Society (Church of England) school inspector, and assessor for the RE Quality Mark, I encounter school after school that is struggling to make sense of assessment in RE. This is often because they are confused about the use of the I Can statements and don’t understand how the ‘levels’ in RE can stand up in a world where NC levels have gone.

My colleague, Emily Norman, and I have now created a simple change to the existing system, which merely simplifies what we already have – it keeps the familiar but makes it manageable. The materials for this, including assessment Excel sheets for Years R to 9, have been placed online and are freely downloadable from: http://bit.ly/2hUx0Xl

This simple view is based on the following key principles: –

1. It is important to acknowledge that Attainment Target 1 (learning about religion) and Attainment Target 2 (learning from religion) are essential components to RE planning but they are part of a child’s overall development in the skills and understanding of RE. Therefore, they should be a part of any assessment system but not necessarily separated. The separation is a function of planning and formative feedback rather than summative assessment.

2. The way that the I can statements are laid out is against the RE Council’s Six Areas of Enquiry. This makes every sense because it aligns the development of skills in RE with the content. Our table, therefore, includes the REC’s key question which underpin each area. This makes it easier for teachers to see how pupils demonstrate their understanding. It also blends the current thinking about the content domain and the cognitive domain and so aligns with NC approaches.

3. It is no longer appropriate to think about Levels in RE or in any other subject. Therefore, our table is laid out in age-appropriate expectations, with an additional line for Year R, and an indication of when pupils are working towards (WT) or working at greater depth (GD).

4. To depersonalise assessment, since it is the teacher who is making the judgement, the first person references in the old I Can Statements have been re-written in the third person.

It is a key principle of assessment that pupils do not progress linearly and there was tendency to use the I Can statements as a ‘best fit’ system which expected linear progression. Therefore the most sensible approach here is to acknowledge that pupils progress at differential rates and reflect this in whatever assessment recording system we use. Then it would be simple for teachers to highlight the relevant statements. Where this is used robustly, of course, they would be able to identify evidence that the statement applies. Thus assessment can be much more forensic than the rather hit-and-miss system that sometimes characterises a school’s approach.

Ours is not a revolution, more a sensible revision, but we hope that it will help schools to bring the RE assessment into line with other subjects, rather than still expecting some kind of artificial levels. Also, we see AT1 and AT2 as planning tools, their impact on pupils’ thinking is reflected in the statements.

Marking Time

Right now, we might just be seeing a hint of the tide turning against the mad workload with which teachers are burdened. Some more enlightened headteachers – usually those with the confidence of great pupil attainment and progress as a foundation – are beginning to expect less of their staff rather than more.  However, many school leaders are still – understandably – pinned down by the fear of an Ofsted judgement that might be less than good and these folk are finding it hard to release the pressure.  So this blog is about facing reality when it comes to marking.

Much good work has been done around effective feedback. By and large teachers really understand the principle of showing pupils what they have done successfully, what might be their next steps and how to achieve them. But this can become intolerably burdensome. We ned to be confident enough to strike a balance between effective feedback and ponderous detailed marking where the teacher has sometime written more than the pupil. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you know what I mean.

I recently led a review of a vulnerable secondary school. Clearly, leadership were very concerned that marking/feedback was diagnostic, interactive and effective. And there was a real appreciation that leaders should lessen the teacher’s load wherever possible. In practice this meant that English work was marked every three weeks. Good for the teacher, but when we spoke to students they told us, ‘we don’t get our work back quickly enough and, when we do get feedback, it’s sometime too late for us to remember what we had been doing.’ Contrast this with the Science department. On the surface, marking looked a bit haphazard and superficial but what was really happening was that the teacher had a pink and a green marker, students knew that green was good and pink needed attention. As the lesson progressed, the teacher whizzed round the class, looked at developing work in books, and quickly highlighted what needed to be drawn to students’ attention. The result was that everyone knew how well they were doing and what needed attention. because this was while the lesson was in progress, students who needed help could ask for it and get it instantly. Intervention at the point of learning. Which lot of students had the best feedback?  And which took the least time?

This is a message for teachers fighting with a marking load.  We need to be clear who is the audience for our marking.  Is it for Ofsted?  Is it for SLT monitors, or is it for the pupils? The right answer is the last one but how many teachers mark for the first two constituencies? A starting point might be to have a professional discussion with colleagues and leaders around this point.  Look, if the expectation is that you provide detailed, forensic feedback which is accompanied by a follow-up task that you then need to mark. How much work is this?  And how much of it is really effective. A primary teacher taking home 30 books and expecting to mark 30 pieces of pupil response may as well be taking home 60 books. Spare a thought for the secondary English teacher taking home 200 books!

The most effective feedback is always with the child present – it’s a conversation. Or hold the diagnostic discussion with a group. Your task is not to set the child a follow-on task, so much as to find out what they are thinking, why they don’t get it, what is it they don’t understand. Far more powerful than writing a long screed they don’t really understand and setting an activity that they will complete in the way they think YOU want, rather than applying deep understanding. As Doug Lemov (http://teachlikeachampion.com/) points out in Teach Like a Champion 2.0, we should never accept kids’ self-reporting. Don’t assume they know just because they say so. Ask a deep question to check it out.

I saw some great feedback recently. The teacher had written, ‘six of these sums are wrong. Which one are they?’  Great marking – it makes the pupil think.

Ross McGill (Teacher Toolkit) has sensible things to say about marking and feedback. Check out his ten marking tips at http://bit.ly/1NvVKi8. Also, check out his Five Minute Marking plan at http://bit.ly/1VbuD44

We’ll come back to this issue of marking quite soon.