Achieving consistency in assessment policy and practice: St Christopher’s Multi Academy Trust
Learn more about this key initiative, led by Iain Randall and supported by Scomis, to develop and implement a trust-wide policy for assessment.
Iain Randall, Virtual Lead, St Christopher’s MAT. Gary Henderson, School Leadership Partner, Scomis
Overview – Achieving consistency in assessment policy and practice
The effective management and utilisation of data for pupil progress and attainment tracking is a challenge that leaders will be able to identify with in all settings – from small primary schools through to large trusts.
Learn about this key initiative at St Christopher’s MAT to develop and implement a trust-wide policy on assessment. Find out about the importance of consistency to the trust to enable meaningful comparisons and identify and share best practice to benefit all, whilst at the same time preserving and building on strengths within each school.
Iain talks about how he leads this initiative in a way that has developed local expertise and allowed schools to take ownership of the experience whilst delivering the outcomes the trust requires. He explains how Scomis has helped everyone throughout the trust get the most out of their systems. And he shares the lessons learnt and how to successfully deliver change to a realistic timeline through good communications and engagement.
Gain insights into:
- The collaboration that enabled this to happen
- How using existing resources has enabled cost savings
- How schools working together are stronger together
- How the partnership with Scomis has made the impossible possible.
Many customers find the effective management and utilisation of data for pupil progress and attainment tracking challenging. If you’d like to find out more about how we can help you achieve consistency in assessment within your school or trust please do get in touch.
Find out more about our School Leadership services and how our School Leadership Partners are focused on helping improve outcomes for children, staff and the wider community, by supporting school leadership teams. Working with you to address key challenges, we can help you implement your development plans efficiently and effectively.
“Working with Scomis feels like you are part of the team, less like customers and more like partners. Our partnership has made a huge difference to our MAT and at times it has felt like they are making the impossible possible. The flow of information along with their effectiveness makes their service invaluable for us as are the time savings we have derived. Working with improved data streams makes our lives a lot easier!”
Virtual Lead, St Christopher’s Multi Academy Trust, Devon
About St Christopher’s Trust
St Christopher’s Trust began in 2013 and has now grown to eighteen church and community primary schools serving communities in Devon, Plymouth, and Torbay.
At the core of the trust’s vision is the desire to celebrate the uniqueness of each school setting and enabling them to flourish. Whilst the trust ensures the very best provision for every pupil in every school by working in the background to support and challenge.
ScomisLive is recognised by ISBL as Continued Professional Development (CPD)
Offering over 20 hours of appropriate learning content for School Business Leaders. ISBL members can register their attendance against their annual CPD commitment.
Other related topics
Find out more about how our School Leadership Partners can help you prepare for the questions that Ofsted inspectors will typically ask during the 90-minute call, by having the information you need readily available at your fingertips. And learn how we can help you embed readiness into standard practice so that it is sustainable.
Find out about key insights, emerging trends and expectations summarised from the Westminster Education Forum Policy Conference, “The future of assessment in England – moving forward from the pandemic, support for students of all abilities, and the use of technology.”
GARY: Hello there, my name is Gary Henderson. I work for Scomis as a leadership partner. Can I say welcome to the last session of Scomis Live. Just a bit of background about myself, I have worked all of my career in education, started off as a science teacher and ended up as vice principal at a large secondary school in Cornwall. I spent a little bit of time as well as an IT advisor for the local authority. As my role as a school leadership partner with Scomis, I work close which will school and MAT leaders such as Iain to understand their challenges and help them address and exploit technology effectively.
The challenge Iain and I are going to discuss today is one that will be familiar to many of you, whether you are from a small primary school or, like, Iain, who works in a Trust. It’s about consistency and we are going to especially look at consistency and assessment policy and practice. I have worked with closely with Iain on the Trust journey and I have been so impressed by the approach he has taken to deliver the change, but I thought a wider audience would benefit from hearing his experiences and hence our session today. We hope that you will leave this session with an insight into how working collaboratively across the 18 schools in the Trust, Iain has empowered the schools to take ownership of their experience while delivering the outcomes the Trust requires. We will talk about the lessons learnt and how to successfully deliver change to a realistic timeline through good communications and engagement. So good afternoon, Iain. Welcome to Scomis Live.
IAIN: Great to see you. Are you well?
GARY: Very well, thank you. Always good to see your smile. So, just thinking about your MAT, in many ways it’s got an unusual make up, so can you tell us a little bit more about St Christopher’s MAT?
IAIN: So we are 18 schools and we are stretched across Plymouth, Devon and Torbay. We started with four schools around 2013/2014 and I was at the time assistant head teacher at St Michael’s in Exeter, one of the founder schools. Over time that grew and grew and at the point where it reached the number of around 15 schools, it was recognised that we needed a bit more support in the middle so I was seconded to work in a school at that stage.
My first job was around data and various other bits have been added on since then. I am still looking at assessment and data now. We have a mixture of infant and junior and primary schools. We have mixture of church and nonchurch schools and we have a really great bunch of heads and we are really proud of our flourishing community.
GARY: Thank you, just thinking about our area of discussion today, can you outline to us what the area challenge is and why it was a challenge for the MAT?
IAIN: So at the time when the schools started coming together each was pretty much doing its own thing. There wasn’t a MAT way of doing things around assessment of data and one of the things that we realised quite early on is an organisation of our size really does depend on the flow of information between different parties and the schools and the centre and the schools and between ourselves and our directors and trustees needing to know how the schools were performing and so we started off using statutory data that was already available like res online and looking at that and seeing what that had to tell us.
Then we realised we were going to need some kind of term data collection to make sure we were able to spot where schools might be getting into difficulty or spot where schools were doing really well in a particular area. At that time some schools were using proprietary tracking systems, a couple of schools were using Microsoft Word to track small groups of people. So in view of that and in view of not wanting to super impose something on everyone, we were asking for a manual data collection each term which I then had to assimilate and try and make sense of and it was a bit of a thankless task at both ends. We needed the flow of information to help us direct school report and schools understood the need to give it, but it was very time consuming. That model led to lots of errors, in terms of, from typos to misunderstandings about what was being asked for and we also recognised that within that one of the biggest challenges was, okay, the information is flowing through, but is it accurate, is it reliable?
So we got to a situation where we had to start tackling the problem at both ends and how were we ensuring that schools were assessing accurately and how were we making sure that the information coming through was being processed accurately and giving a true picture, because one thing I really don’t want to be doing is putting a graph in front of our directors saying the situation is this and that is based on unreliable or inaccurate information. So beginning of 2019, I think it was, we recognised actually we needed to standardise our practices and we needed to put something in place that would streamline both the assessment processes and would also then streamline the data collection processes so that it would reduce people’s workload and increase accuracy. So really balancing out that need for information, but also recognising the workload agenda. I don’t know about you, Gary, but I remember working in a situation where every six weeks we were assessing children, every six weeks we were highlighting objectives of the system and that would add up to a certain value.
Then on we went. It really didn’t feel right and it didn’t feel productive and useful. So we are trying to balance those two things up. The other challenge and it is a real one is cost. We were very honest with our schools about it, we are looking to save them and ourselves money. So that put us in the situation where we really wanted to get out there, see what was out there and try and find something that was going to meet all of those objectives.
GARY: Just thinking about the idea of about seeing what is out there. Why was it, in the end you came down to focus on SIMS. What were the reasons for that?
IAIN: It was an interesting journey, Gary, because I think half of the schools had a package called School Pupil Tracker. Our instinct was, well, half of the schools are using it, let’s buy it for the other half and then we have consistency and then we can use it. So that was our hunch and then one of my colleagues dropped me an email and said did you know that it’s closing at the end of the year? I don’t remember if my jaw hit the floor or my forehead hit the table, but it was a bit like a now what? So we reached out to various people and one of the people we spoke to was the head of my children’s school. We found out that they were using SIMS for assessment and tracking and I think I was a little bit startled by that, and it’s not going to upset you, Gary, because I have been honest with you, at the start my SIMS experience was taking the register. And that was a faff and I couldn’t find my way around and I didn’t like the look of it. I couldn’t believe that something as clunky as that could meet our Trust assessment needs.
But, having seen from the primary that it was working, reached out to yourself and Craig and we had a little meeting and we started to discuss it a little bit more. In the meantime one of the key things for us, I know you want to talk about today, is we were absolutely passionate, we were not going to sit in a Central Office like this and make a decision like this on behalf of everyone. So we put out to the schools to ask if heads and assessment leads in schools wanted to be part of the working party to attend demonstrations and it was a bit like something out of Britain’s Got Talent. We had different people coming in and showing their slides and they would ask the questions and we had some online demos which were absolutely disastrous and so the group really was involved with everything from the start and the group, when we talked about it really actually felt of all the systems we had seen, SIMS was going to be the way to go.
It met the cost element because we were already paying for it, it met the flow of information element because it was already there in all the schools, so we would be able to harness that information remotely and it met the workload element because we felt actually, although we liked some of the packages, we thought it would be very easy to spend 16, 17, 18, £20,000 a year on something that is already made and already done, we felt that was going to shoehorn us into someone else’s way of working and someone else’s intuitive processes and we didn’t want to be reliant on that, we wanted something no bells and whistles, nothing that does your data well, making you a cup of tea and all the rest of it. We just wanted something simple and what we saw in SIMS was something simple. So I think that was kind of the USP for us.
GARY: So you are at the point where you have decided you are MIS, now what you are thinking about is a consistent. As you say, all the schools were delivering, or assessing in very different ways. So how did you start to bring them together and a common format across the MAT?
IAIN: As I say, we had been tackling the problem at both ends. We were wellused to the assessment cycle by then, so we were able to publish the dates ahead of time, people knew when they would be submitting data, so we knew when the dates would need to be ready. And we have had lots of moderation exercises across schools, within schools, we have encouraged the use of validation weeks so that often times, like this term for example, Friday the 1st of April is our data collection day. Most schools will have a soft data collection internally the week before and then run their own validation processes, sometimes with support from school improvement, just to check, check, check. Not just accuracy, but also gaps, did we miss anybody? Have there been typos and did we use the wrong code and all the rest of it?
A lot more of our schools now use tests, for example, from NFER to help validate their judgments, which wasn’t standard practice before. So there has been that growing understanding that we do need that triangulated data and that leaders in school do need to check before they say to me, yes, it’s okay to look at. So obviously the bulk of that work goes on in schools, usually in the summer term we do bring in the advisors to help us with our writing moderation, because that is something that some schools find difficult to triage late, so there is a lot of that that still goes on. That is very much schooldriven and a lot of the heads now will get themselves together in clusters to peer moderate. We have about half a dozen small schools where your Year 3 and 4 teacher does not have a partner teacher to check their books against, so that has been done quite creatively and during these lockdown times we have used things like Huddle and Teams and other systems which has enabled us to do that remotely. That has been schoolled, at our end of things because of the sophistication of the design we designed a system that wouldn’t dictate how the judgments had to be reached. The only thing that the system dictated was when the judgments would go in and what codes we would have that all schools would have used and would have in common, so that we have a common language and expectation. I can remember clearly involving the heads in that, how many codes do we need, we settled on working towards expected depth, we had lengthy debates about do we need a code for a bit more expected but not quite greater depth yet? But the heads were Adamant they didn’t want that, they wanted the simplicity. So it was a very collaborative process moving forward I think.
GARY: You have that collaboration, getting together to reach the end goal of a grade for a child. There has also been some work in the background in making sure that the schools feel supported and about entering that data as well, hasn’t there?
IAIN: 100%. The mark sheets you helped us put together were very easy to use, once we have shown people the way around and we continue to show people the way around. One of my chief learning points from this, as well as in the first instance of not going with our first hunch, but really exploring what is around and as well as that second point about trying to involve as many people as possible another is that we didn’t rush, we took a school that didn’t have an are proprietary tracking system and we tested our materials, we tested our mark sheets and our tracking grids and we tested our training and our codes with one of the largest schools to see how they got on. That gave us the confidence to see that rolling things out was going to be achievable.
We then, this was December 2019, we then rolled it out to the remaining schools who were about to use their pupil tracker license and left everyone else for a bit and then all of that was going swimmingly until the pandemic hit and we had to roll it out to the rest of the schools in the throes of lockdown. Because of its online nature, we were able to do that remotely and the team that came together to look at the demos has stayed together. We still meet regularly as an assessment working party. They were involved in agreeing the design of the mark sheets, what should be on there and how they should work and how they should work. They were my critical friends at times very critical and needing to be so. And they now operate, we operate on a patch model, so each of the schools has an assigned data lead which may be from their school or another school and they are then the first port of call for training new staff, introducing the mark sheets and supporting people with entering the codes.
I have to say from a SIMS point of view, the only data entry issue that people have had is either they sometimes put things in the wrong column, which is relatively easily rectified or they have struggled to understand and are making a point in time judgment and that is not SIMS’ fault. That is about continuing to talk people through, it’s the autumn term, based on what you have seen, what are they looking like they are going to get at the end of term? Put that in, look where they are now and we will keep doing that every autumn and spring because that is part of the challenge of the way we decided to work. But it’s begun hugely beneficial in terms of sustainability, in terms of upskilling other people and giving opportunity for middle and senior leaders to have a wider trust impact. It’s been a really good use of work from that point of view.
GARY: Because you are quite a wide geographically spread map, have you, how have you overcome that with access to different people’s SIMS?
IAIN: So we all the data leads have remote access to all their schools. So they can just sign in once and then move between schools and I have to say, Gary, one of the unexpected benefits of the pandemic is that everyone is now used to using Teams. So deliver onthespot bits of training for an administrator in a village in the west of Dartmoor becomes an easy and efficient thing. We might get a message saying I am struggling with this. We dial in and that training guidance is provided and the entire thing might take ten minutes. Where as before, even for their data lead that would be probably an hour, hourandahalf round trip. So the use of technology itself has enabled us to do that. So from this point of view, geography is not a barrier anymore and tomorrow morning I am doing my term lead SIMS for leaders training and colleagues all over the trust will be trialling into that.
GARY: Are all the schools now on Scomis hosted?
IAIN: So all schools are, yes, they are all hosted.
GARY: So that means you can dial into, you can get into any of the schools SIMS to look at the data in there. Yeah. So as a data lead, is it easy enough for you to get hold of that data?
IAIN: Yes it is, the way I tend to work on data collection is obviously we lock it so that people can’t make any changes. The way we set things up around the reports is at that point in time, leaders in the school can download the reports they want, I will be downloading the same report and using that to give my welfare data about schools that we can use for benchmarking and tracking our overall trust trajectory. So it’s really very efficient and very democratic. I would be keen from the start working for the trust that we are democratic with our data and it doesn’t sit with a bearded middle aged data nerd in glasses like me, or just with the Head’s office, but a way that can be shared with governors or the subject leads and the middle leads and the senior leads and the SENCOs. They have accessed what they need, we wanted something that was going to be available to everyone, like my school improvement leaders, so we are all seeing the same information and we are all able to form a perspective and we are all able to move really quickly from entry to analysis without having to go through somebody else who would interpret it for you. I have to say some of the reports that you have designed for me are very patient. I will say could you do this? You will say let me think about it and it comes back looking like I wanted it to. I am really keen on the visuals and how things look and that means we are able to put the information in people’s hands in a way they can quickly understand and assimilate.
GARY: For me one of my phrases is all about you look after the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves. Which is basically look after how the children are achieving. So how have you used your MIS to feed back data to the classroom teacher?
IAIN: So what is really helpful is that even as teachers are putting data on, because it’s got all the children’s learning journey in front of them, they can see for themselves that their child is making progress, not making progress, that is giving them instant visual feedback. We also use the tracking grids which is a onepager, it’s trendy to have one pagers now. That includes the children’s starting point, with their current data on a matrix basis and really draws attention to who is at risk of falling behind, whether they are slipping back from expected. A lot of teachers now instantly that data is on, they can pull that tracking grid and start preparing for their pupil progress meetings. It’s standard practice in our schools to talk about the data and it means that that preparation is done, because we don’t have to. Before they were having to sit with a piece of paper and do some kind of Ven diagram, who are we worried about and who are we not worried about? There it was, make a few notes off to PPMs and able to get into conversations about okay, I recognise there is a group of children at risk of slipping behind. What needs to be in place for them? The dialogue is not about the who, it’s about what next. So it’s a big time saver and so teachers mainly use the marking sheets and the tracking grids but we do have class level reports that they can use. The trouble with that is that the group sizes get smaller and the percentages are perhaps not so beneficial.
GARY: The small cohorts with the percentages become meaningless, don’t they?
IAIN: What is really powerful with that, Gary is because we have 3,500 pupils when we pull the data together we are able to give that whole Trust picture and then our scores can benchmark against each other and then we have, as well as that the overall sense of how we are progressing.
GARY: What other tools have you used to bring that data together?
IAIN: As you know, I am a bit of an Excel geek, so I usually pull the reports down because they are exportable as Excels and then I have a master sheet that once that data is slotted in, it starts updating the percentages for each year group across the Trust. So I can quite quickly see how that is coming together and then I use that to generate a range of graphs and charts that I put into my reports.
There has been a little graph that yourselves have created called the Manage Reporting Service which is still quite new. We are still learning what it’s for and where it fits in. It’s based in Power BI and that looks at SIMS for all of our schools every night, pulls a range of data through and then gives us the ability to interact with that data in a lot more refined way, we can filter by school, by pupil premium, by EHC plan. It really does give a quick visual picture. If a trust lead like me, 18 schools, 3,500 pupils, to able to answer a question of how many EHC students we have in Plymouth, I can do that without having to go into each individual SIMS. It’s not just the assessment data it pulls through, it pulls through the exclusions data which has been useful for me because I have to report on exclusions. It also pulls through staff data. I know the HR team at our Trust make huge use of tracking staff absence and other staff indicators to help them find the right support where it’s needed.
So that is the only bit we are paying extra for, but relative to our size, it’s a very small amount for our pupils. I know the plan is that heads in our schools will be able to see our profiles. That is going to start changing everything, I think there is a risk in an organisation like this that people feel the job is done when they put the data on and they don’t see where it leads to and sometimes that can lead to gaps.
One example is the Manage Reporting Services pulling through the EAL data and that showed up that about 40 or 50 children in the school don’t have a language at all and we have those gaps we are keen to see we close. Some of the data, like assessment is only ever going to be a termly thing, but a lot of the data like exclusions and attendance and staff absence and wellbeing, those kind of indicators, that is daily data. So I am exciting that next year we will be able to put those in the heads hand and make use of that intelligence themselves.
GARY: Going forward, you have done this work, you have it embedded, how do you ensure it stays embedded? I think in some ways you have answered that. Then, how do you see the next steps for the MAT? Where do you want to start taking things in another direction, which you sort of touched on with the MRS?
IAIN: I think definitely that live interaction with live data is a logical next step for us around the things that are relevant. At a personal level I am looking to hand the project over. I think we may well have internal capacity now within our assessment leads to take more responsibility for running the project.
In terms of how the data goes on and how it looks in SIMS, my big vision is to make no change at all. One way we keep things embedded is to stop fiddling and making adjustments. I think, really, it’s about squeezing as much knowledge and expertise out of yourself over the next 1215 months into those data leads so we can start creating more bespoke reports. I think we have our fixed ones, but it would be great to have internal capacity to say, can we produce a table that compares those different sources of information in a report. It would be great to be able to do that without having to go back to you. So building the internal capacity, fundamentally our internal capacity is that we do have, we have stuck with this system now for twoandahalf years and we have got a lot of people trained in it and we have the core group of data leads who know that little bit more and are able to upskill people when they join. Fundamentally the product itself, once you know your way around and the route for things to click, click, click, is actually simple to use, so it’s much easier to embed something that is simple.
IAIN: That is my big vision. A bit boring really!
GARY: What I like about St Christopher’s you have not gone for the big bang thing, the trouble with explosion is that it can knock people over, what you have done, caringly, is carry people with you. And I think you have done that so well. It is brilliant.
So, we have had questions coming in, if we go in the questions that we have had so far. Any questions we don’ answer before the end of the session, we will catch up later on and send their answers to them.
So, what do you see, as a MAT, building that local expertise, what are the benefits of a MAT? You put a lot of time and effort in building the local expertise with the assessment needs, how has it benefited the MAT?
IAIN: It benefits as one thought is that they will lose all autonomy and but that is off set. and having the data leads, we are open to feedback. From schools and able to shape and to reshape thing, based on feedback. We have been able to respond really quickly, if there have been gremlins. Because the fact that we have been engineering it ourselves, it has, to be honest, hard work, there have been gremlins, we haven’t got everything right but it meant that we have been able to pick those things up quite quickly. As I said, it means it is sustainable going forward. But a real positive is, it means there is a group of staff there, who’s involvement and awareness and understanding of the MAT is not a big faceless organisation that makes us to do things, it is something that they are a part of and something with a contribution to. As we come together as a group of 18 schools, we are starting to see that happening mover and more in our areas. So, some of my team are teachers, some of the team are senior leaders but they all know that they have a wider contribution to the group. And I just think it is a huge benefit to everybody.
GARY: That leads on to the next question, which is: How applicable is this approach to other developments that MAT’s intending to implement?
Well, it is very applicable. Always on our agenda to seek unlocking capacity from the schools. We do have a school improvement team, a number of skilled and knowledgeable individuals but we are a finite resource and there are 18 schools. It is not a secret that we want to improve our schools and a number of our schools our grading requires improvement. At the moment we are benefiting from intensive support and waiting for that phone call, so we can’t do everything from the middle. We have to build networks of people, used to working with each other, who recognise where the strengths and the talents are. This year we have a number of staff working as subject champions for their areas, working as lead practitioners to get out, to give support to each other at the peer level. We have a long-standing peer review model, where heads work with the team that I work for and support schools we valuation and improvement, so, it is very in keeping with who we are and who we want to be and how we want to work. And not just within the school improvement side, there is more collaborative working going on between the office staff. And in other functions of the business too. It is very applicable. I would say if other Trusts are thinking it of going down the route you have 35 schools or 5, it will be good to be thinking about, right, who is leading on it for that school, for that school, who is the work, party to drive this? As anything that depends on one person is vulnerable.
GARY: Yep. Nice one. OK. That is the last question we have time for, I think.
Can I say a big thank you. Ain for your time and sharing the journey. As always, it has been a pleasure to talk to you. If people out there are listening to this, if they identify with any of the challenges that we spoke about this afternoon, please get in touch. I am morning happy to have a chat to see how we at Scomis can help. A big thank you for joining us today, in the words of John Ebdon, “If you have been, thank you for listening.”
Now, to hand over to Debbie and Hilary to say a few brief words to bring ScomisLive to a close.
DEBBIE: We hope you enjoyed ScomisLive as much as we have. We set out to provoke curiosity, to give ideas and clear pathways for your organisations, staff and students can take to achieve best practice. We have not only explored the future of EdTech but explored much broader challenges that will resonate with all of us from wellbeing and resilience, through to inclusivity, strategy and leadership.
We have heard big and sometimes radical ideas from our keynote speakers, we have heard about the direction of travel for the next few years from key players in the EdTech arena. We have heard how colleagues in the sectors are tackling challenges here and now with the support of Scomis.
HILARY: We would like to say a very big thank you to everyone that contributed to ScomisLive. Our visionary keynote speakers, Zoe, Daniel, Sugata and Emma, the leaders from group ParentPay and Arbor and Microsoft, and GTECH, ISL, the Learning Foundation and Babcock LDP and a thank you tole schools and the Trusts that have given helpful insights in the sessions that they kindly delivered and thank you to the Scomis team that worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make ScomisLive a success. Most of all, thank you for joining us. We hope you are inspired by the possibilities presented to you, taking away learnings and insights that have a positive impact on you, your staff, and ultimately, the children in our schools. Don’t forget that Scomis is always here to help. Take care, we hope to hear from you very soon. Thank you very much.
DEBBIE: Yes, thank you, everybody.