About Firthmore Primary School
Firthmoor Primary School in Darlington is a medium-sized school which prides itself on being at the heart of the local community. In spite of high numbers of pupil premium children (around 60%) and low baseline starting points for many, the school has achieved one of its strongest performances in 2018: 97% of children achieved the threshold in mathematics, and 81% in reading. The school benefits from very supportive parents and dedicated, hard-working staff.
The school has been inspected since starting to use PiRA and PUMA and were praised for their consistent and holistic approach to assessment. They’re careful to avoid ‘labelling’ pupils with a score; teacher observations and their own judgements of pupil progress are captured too, and Hodder scores are supplemented with other test data.
The school started using PiRA and PUMA three years ago, to provide a comprehensive overview of where the pupils are and the progress they’ve made.
It is clear that Mrs Dixon is a leader with her finger on the pulse of attainment and progress of all the pupils in the school. She personally undertakes the marking of all the termly tests, which not only relieves teachers of this task, but gives a good sense of the strengths and weaknesses of individual pupils and allows her to identify any gaps in understanding at a cohort level. By keeping teachers slightly removed from marking the tests, it also prevents the risk of ‘teaching to the test’. Top level feedback is shared with staff during progress meetings, allowing teachers to address gaps in pupil knowledge or understanding at a whole class planning level.
Scores are tracked on a spreadsheet to monitor those who are exceeding expectations (pupils with a score of 120+), working at, and working below. In Mrs Dixon’s experience, the tests are a good indicator of likely performance in national tests, although those who achieve above 93 in their PiRA papers often pull out all the stops on the day and achieve the scaled score threshold.
The tests do more than provide a snapshot of attainment on the day and a reliable way of tracking progress within and across cohorts. They also deliver the following range of benefits:
Providing a rank order
By providing a simple rank order of results, it’s immediately obvious if a pupil has moved up or down in relation to their peers. This then prompts further investigation to find out why. If the pupil has gone up the ranks, can the success be replicated with others? If they’ve gone down, what can be done to support that pupil? It could simply be problems with pace (the pupil may not have finished the test), or it may also point to gaps in their knowledge or understanding and a need for intervention and support.
Developing exam technique
Doing well in national tests is, in part, dependent on a pupil’s ability to accurately read and follow the instructions in questions. For example, in a recent Year 1 test, some of the children struggled to read the word ‘draw’, which meant they couldn’t access the question. This was addressed through focused vocabulary work in follow-up teaching, ensuring that this will not be a barrier in national tests.
Mrs Dixon described the tests as attractive and child-friendly.The school has used other assessment materials which lack the child-friendly layout of PiRA and PUMA, and pupils are turned off from the start. The PiRA tests offer a good range of texts and questions.
Showing the first evidence of progress amongst EAL children
Mrs Dixon described how their EAL children frequently show the first glimmers of progress on the PiRA and PUMA tests. “They’re easier to negotiate, children know what they’re doing and it’s a familiar format, so it doesn’t have to be explained every time. It’s lovely to see when they start to make the first steps.”
Comparing data across the cluster
Using the tests provides another benefit to Firthmoor Primary: other schools in their cluster also use the papers, making it easier to moderate pupils’ work, and compare data at a cohort level to see how many pupils are performing above, at and below expectations. This is also a useful way to ‘sense check’ their results. If, for example, they spot a slight anomaly in results, it’s useful to see if other schools have performed similarly. Firthmoor Primary has recently moved the timing of the termly test, to bring their results in line with those of others in their cluster.
The school doesn’t yet use MARK, the online marking and reporting tool provided free of charge to RS Assessment schools, but plans to do so over the short to medium-term future.
The school intends to continue using PiRA and PUMA to maintain their strong focus on high quality, rigorous assessment.