Children will be returning to the classroom full time on 8th March. For everybody this is an exciting time as well as one filled with questions. My aim throughout this blog is to share with you the approach that the Victorious Academies Trust is taking to support our community’s safe and comfortable return.
The importance of clear communication
At the Victorious Academies Trust we are sensitive to possible concerns that our staff, parents and pupils may have and aim to ensure that through clear communication we share our planned actions for a successful return. Information from our Chief Executive Officer, Karen Burns, is shared with parents about the planned return of pupils to school. Our schools focus on learning, and by ensuring that children, staff and parents are fully informed it means that they are in the best position for a positive start.
Our first few weeks back in the classroom
In the first weeks, attention will be given to ensuring pupils and staff feel confident in their settings, enabling them to be as productive as possible. The well-being of all our communities is at the heart of the Victorious Academies Trust. If pupils are insecure then learning is delayed. Each of our schools are individual and are working hard to use the time within the first week to settle pupils back into school routines and celebrate and discuss learning and changes that have occurred during the lockdown period.
Once the children are settled into school, relationships renewed and key information shared, the focus moves to addressing pupils' learning needs. Pupils’ learning during lockdown has been tailored to suit individual pupils and our school communities. Once the children are settled we will be using NTS Assessments for Years 1-6 in Reading and Maths to support teachers in identifying gaps in knowledge. We are aiming to broadly follow our normal assessment calendar which matches the NTS Assessments suggested time frame (see diagram below).
This academic year, we have delayed testing each term by a couple of weeks to provide additional teaching time. Pupils in Years 2-6 in September 2020 completed summer term tests of their previous academic year in the first weeks of return to school. This information provided a baseline on which to build and provided up-to-date relevant information for gap teaching for the autumn term. New to Year 1 pupils followed the normal NTS Assessments schedule: autumn tests were taken by pupils in November/December, the spring tests at the end of March and the summer tests will be taken at the end of June.
The information gathered will be used as an additional tool to help plan a structured learning map, which will underpin further learning. Teacher assessment is a regular feature of teaching at our schools. Our teachers know their pupils well and bring this knowledge to bear when setting expectations. The analysis of the tests, teachers’ subject knowledge and their understanding of the pupils they teach, bring together a highly effective learning environment in which all children will feel confident to take risks and as a result make gains.
The data we will use to identify and address knowledge gaps
The data collected this year will be viewed as a picture of a point in time. We will not be using NTS Assessments data to make a comparison of attainment of current year groups with that of pupils from previous years as this will have limited impact on raising pupil attainment. After the summer term assessment window, we expect to be able to draw some conclusions related to progress (especially with older pupils), but the main purpose of scheduling assessment will be to support teachers to effectively and efficiently respond to pupils' gaps in knowledge. The information gathered from the termly assessments (for example, gap analysis) will focus teachers on children’s current knowledge and their gaps and inform the development of bespoke intervention programs. Teachers will use this information and draw on their own curricular expertise to prioritise the order of what they need to teach to enable pupils to make connections and build on previous learning.
Using data to save time
We are conscious of the need to reduce teacher workload and with this in mind one of our schools has been trialling MARK Plus. This is a tool that supports whole school analysis and provides various easily accessible reports supporting teachers by highlighting pupils’ performance against key indicators. The reports are clear and concise and this helps focus discussion on the key points. The impact of the pandemic has interrupted the full rollout of this product but the potential that this program could offer is impressive. Schools within the Victorious Academies Trust are also taking full advantage of Shine, a diagnostic tool which provides a structured approach to delivering short focused intervention for Reading and Maths. This program links to the pupils’ responses in the NTS Assessments papers and supports gap teaching ensuring efficient use of time and resources across our schools. By the end of the summer term, the Trust envisages that all pupils will have made progress and be close to their planned trajectory. The pandemic has ruptured normal practice and expectation and we recognise that the data will present a picture that is like nothing we have experienced in previous times. However, it will demonstrate the resilience of pupils and staff and highlight progress over the coming year.
Enabling pupils to have successful futures
Our CEO promotes learning as the key to enable all children to have successful futures and escape the poverty trap but, alongside this, she values individuality and promotes the well-being of all within the Trust. We are all aware that we cannot make up the time that’s been lost, but we can ensure that the time available is used effectively. This approach is supported by the Trust's leadership who, through regular termly meetings, share expectations and discuss the questions, the challenges and successes with individual schools that are highlighted through data analysis. These meetings help identify key themes across the Trust and share expertise. This practice will continue this year and be even more crucial to helping our pupils make accelerated progress over time. The excellent subject knowledge of our teachers ensures that the curriculum map is structured to support pupils at all levels to make connections in learning and enable them to achieve their full potential.
Don’t erase. Reshape
The pandemic has hit everybody in all walks of life and the impact of this cannot be erased. Our plan at the Victorious Academies Trust is not erase it but to reshape through support of excellent teaching, analysis of data to target gaps in knowledge and prioritise improvements. All with the help of NTS Assesssments, the advanced analytics in MARK Plus and targeted interventions accessible via Shine.
School Improvement Officer
Victorious Academies Trust