16 May

Prize winning turkeys don’t just get fat by weighing them.

Information acquired from regular measuring allows the farmer to make appropriate changes to their diet to achieve a successful outcome – the target weight.
In order to meet the needs of the conventional content focused primary curriculum, subject or cross-curricular topic-based approaches to teaching and learning have been employed.  Typically, long-term plans, derived from the content, have been designed around several key topics for each year group and the medium-term plans that follow include a range of relevant activities to ensure children achieve appropriate learning goals or levels.  Assessment procedures, alongside agreed national levels, and often at the end of a unit or series of lessons, have been implemented so that teachers may address the needs of the children towards progression to the next level.
The reformed 2014 Curriculum is a standards focused approach to what is taught and assessed each year, without national curriculum levels.  The curriculum becomes the means through which children demonstrate their progress and, notably, with less specified content, it aims to allow schools to focus on all children achieving expected standards of knowledge and understanding. Simply, its purpose is to provide specified goals or ‘land-marks’ for learning achievement with age related standards to be reached, by the end of each year group, and not ‘sign-posts’ or curriculum levels.  When developing schemes of work or teaching sequences, and recognising that planning must focus on assessment, it is thought that schools will have the opportunity for greater autonomy when planning a curriculum that meets their individual needs.
This approach begins with analysing, unpicking and clustering the age related standards to interpret the knowledge, understanding and skills children should acquire.  Significantly, frequent and short-term assessment activities, including observation, are then planned to help determine progress towards the standards.  Evidence gathered is interpreted and teaching decisions are made, including how to provide targeted support for those above and below the expectations.
When planned for and carried out in small increments, assessment allows frequent judgements to be made and informs schools on how effective they are in facilitating children’s progress and achievement.  School-based assessments are fine if teachers use them to make the right choices about what really matters.  They must be reliable, valid and do what they want them to do.  That is to provide evidence of the effectiveness of teaching and of the curriculum on the progress of each child.
A farmer surely cares for his free-range turkeys.  He provides a safe environment and keeps a close eye on the birds’ health, emotional well-being and weight gain, adapting their menu plans accordingly.  Raising standards, without providing support for children, is truly a recipe for disaster.  Planned assessments should not be barriers to great learning and do not have to look or feel like tests.   Good support comes in many ways and engages learners in their own learning.  Within an environment where teachers believe, value and care, children thrive on constructive feedback and direction.  Standards should be shared and celebrated when achieved.
Here the analogy ends.  The turkeys wouldn’t be such willing participants if they were aware of the celebration!

A headteacher reflects.
This article expresses the views and opinions of an experienced headteacher. Mandy believes that a great school is a busy school which is never quite satisfied, constantly questioning, challenging and thinking beyond the status quo; raising expectations, increasing learning and celebrating success. She believes in providing an education, which is relevant to the needs and aspirations of children and develops independence, intellectual curiosity and motivation.A headteacher reflects.