“Every one remembers a good teacher”, but do they remember how many hours that teacher had to sweat behind the classroom completing all the paperwork? For many people the only tangible evidence of all this work is a yearly report, and that’s only if it ever arrives at home! But the truth is that teachers are needing to spend almost as much time away from the classroom as they do in it – and the current emphasis on assessing school performance just compounds this.
What do they do in all these forgotten hours? A fair amount of time is planning, but an increasing amount is about assessing the progress of each pupil and then making some sense of the morass of resulting statistics. Each assessment is lengthy to complete, can be quite complex, and has a big impact on how each individual child is taught.
Children would learn even if they didn’t attend school – the difference at school being that teaching is structured. This structure means that children have clear learning outcomes that should be achieved. And, of course, as soon as you have some intended achievements you need some assessments. Hence all the paper work.
Help, though, is at hand from a rather unlikely source. The Educator is an Internet based magazine that is produced by a West Country based small business. Now, for the first time, it is possible to do much of the tedium and complexity of individual assessments online using the NGfL.
“It is just the first of many services that will be available from The Educator, but on its own it is already a great help to the modern teaching day. We want The Educator to make a dramatic improvement in the time teachers have available to spend on their priorities,” said Jonathan Bishop, one of the magazine’s editors.
Initial reaction has been quite favourable, with teachers boasting of a significant reduction in the time necessary to get well produced results. The service has only been operational for a month or so, and is unique not only in how it manages to simplify a rather complex task, but also in that it is entirely free for schools. Much of the positive reaction is a consequence of the fact that the assessment service is really the culmination of many years of work, and has benefited from the careful tutelage of a number of teachers.
Peter, a teacher in one of the schools starting to use the service, has been producing not just simple assessments but also comparisons to overall class statistics. “It gives me more time to concentrate on what the assessment really mean in terms of bettering each child”, he says, “and takes away the slog of churning through numbers”.
For each child Peter initially completes a baseline assessment. He answers a series of questions (based on those recommended in the government’s assessment requirements) about the child, and enters some information about the school and class. On submitting the form, a graphical representation of what it all means is returned immediately to the computer. The information is all stored anonymously and kept safely so that it can be aggregated for class or school-wide comparisons.
This baseline assessment incorporates the scales set by the QCA, the government agency responsible for assessments, and gives a picture of a pupil’s capability that can be used as the basis for later understanding of learning gain. Analysis of the data relating to each pupil’s performance is essential to understanding how best to teach them and so is the reason behind The Educators electronic assessments.
The next stage of assessment is at Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 of the National Curriculum. Peter’s school uses The Educator to assess the pupils’ capabilities at this stage as well. “These are more than simply electronic record keeping – we use the graphical returns to understand the level of attainment, set targets for each child, and then use the planning advice related to that target for each child.”
It’s particularly useful for special needs children where this type of analysis is a legislative requirement.
The precise planning for each pupil, of course, still depends on professional judgement of teachers. The Educator serves by providing some excellent information for informing that judgement, and keeps the National Curriculum requirements always at hand. As schools use this service as the basis for determining future teaching and learning, they will be able to note patterns and trends much more readily, and develop teaching strategies genuinely in support of each pupil’s progressive success.
A further of all of these well presented individual assessments is that they can be used to respond directly to parents in a much more informed way. Something that is appealing more and more to schools in this increasing competitive world.
So is that all The Educator is about? Well, not if you listen to their plans for the future: “The Educator is all about taking the Internet from a spare time curiosity that something that becomes an indispensable tool for anyone involved in education”.