After twenty plus years in primary education, sixteen as a head, I left to start my own business providing training and consultancy to schools in September 2020. Not perfect timing, with Covid in full swing, but I was ready to see what was out there. No saying it wouldn’t end up as a gap year and a return to headship in due course.
During the first term, bookings were slow but I instantly enjoyed the challenge of the new perspective. I was then offered an opportunity to work with an assessment tracking company, Educater.
Assessment has always been my ‘thing’, I always took on responsibility for it at the schools I was head at, mainly because I believe it is the foundation that all learning is based on, but also because I believe as teachers we can sometimes overcomplicate it. I’m also a bit of a data geek, as my previous SLT will tell you, and as the Educater staff are now finding out – I love a line graph!
I also had a healthy degree of scepticism as well. I’d used online tracking programmes in the early years of my headships, and they never really did exactly what I wanted, they were too straight jacketed, forced you into assessing, recording and reporting in the way the programme was set up, not in the way I wanted it as a head. I’d developed such an aversion to tracking programmes that when the National Curriculum changed in 2014, and we lost levels (who’d have thought we’d have been so distraught at that!), I took it as an opportunity to bin the bought in system we had at school and create my own. I spent many happy days creating a huge excel spreadsheet, writing formulas, getting a much more tech savvy friend to write some macro’s, and when I finally finished, entered some data and a beautiful line graph appeared, it was like I’d won the educational lottery! Did I really want to start recommending to heads that they buy something I probably wouldn’t have bought myself? I was pleased to be proved wrong in this thinking.
I was eager to expand my horizons and was excited when I received my log on so that I could see the Educater system for the first time. Lockdown may have been getting to me at this point as I was playing fantasy headship, a little like those fantasy football manager games you can play. Babbling Brook Primary School only exists in my head, but if it did exist in real life, it would be the best primary school in the world! The first thing I noticed about Educater was it wasn’t a straight-jacketed programme that I had such an aversion to. It’s more like a framework you can tailor to your school, the fictional staff at Babbling Brook will be very happy with this, we don’t have to change our way of doing things to suit the programme, we can set up the programme to suit our way of doing things. There are several pre-written Educater grids you can use, so you have a choice depending on your assessment methodology, and if they are not a perfect fit, they are customisable as well. This was a good start.
There were also some things that I didn’t understand – something called PITA, for me Pita is what holds the tasty part of your kebab, what’s it got to do with assessment? Don’t tell the staff at Babbling Brook, who I’ve convinced that I know everything there is to know about education, but I’m learning something new. PITA is Point In Time Assessment, which can be used in Educater as your main judgement, or as a secondary judgement to measure depth of learning. This is a whole new ball game for me!
I’ve always been a bit of a ‘Greater Depth’ sceptic. My assessment methodology has always been quite linear – you have a series of objectives that get increasingly more challenging, and when you have achieved one, you move on to the next. But I also recognise the value of being able to show whether children ‘just’ know an objective, whether they know and understand or whether they can use and apply as well.
So, at Babbling Brook, we will mark off ‘Stars’ in an Educater grid to show which objectives have been taught and understood and will use PITA to show the depth of understanding the children have, I’m even contemplating relating it to Blooms taxonomy. And because the system is easy to use, it wouldn’t add workload, it’s a simple log on, click a few buttons and you’re done. If teachers keep on top of it, it’s a five minute job every time they have PPA. And even better, it will create a Gaps in Learning report that teachers can use to plan from. I can also use that report as head to triangulate the gaps in learning, with planning and book / work scrutiny – precise, efficient, effective and, to keep OFSTED happy, leading to demonstrable impact. I’m sold!
You don’t have to do it that way, you can have a linear system, or you can measure depth, or you can do a combination of both. If you want, you can have one way for some subjects and a different way for others, that is the beauty of Educater, it really is adaptable to suit your methodology and your school.
I remain uncertain of what the future holds for me, but I have decided that my gap year will stretch to at least 18 months, maybe longer. The one thing I do know, if I go back into headship, the Excel Spreadsheet will continue to gather dust on the shelf and we will be using Educater as our assessment tracking system.
Author: Rob Partington