Parents know that no two children are the same. So why is it that for so long schools have treated students with the same academic results as essentially being the same, when experience tells us this is simply not true?
At this time of the academic year, students in Years 11, 12 & 13 (Fifth Form and Sixth Form in old money) are often preparing for or recovering from Trial (‘Mock’) public examinations. Traditionally, a school might focus on the raw results of such examinations, so that two students who both achieved, say, five A grades and four B grades in their Year 11 Trials would be seen and treated in much the same way. Their results tell us that they are the ‘same’ in academic terms. However, this assumption and its consequential approach is being challenged very strongly within the education profession; here at Cheadle Hulme School we are placing ourselves very much at the forefront of that challenge.
How? By combining data with human understanding and some common sense.
There might be some who feel that data has no place in truly understanding the child, but that’s not true. Data can provide us with useful information about the potential and learning preferences of a student. A great school will not enslave itself to the data, but it will apply it with intelligence and ask the right questions of each student’s performance, at the right time.
Assessment tools like MidYIS, YELLIS and ALIS play an important part in coming to understand each child. ‘What are they?’ I hear you cry. The quick answer is found on the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring website. Essentially, they are tests which enable schools to better recognise the learning strengths of each student and offer guidance on the student’s academic potential.
MidYIS, taken at Cheadle Hulme School by all Year 7 students, ‘measure(s), as far as possible, ability and aptitude for learning rather than achievement. (It) is not an IQ Test as it is designed to provide a measure of ‘typical’ performance…The tests are comprised of Vocabulary, Maths, Non-verbal and Skills sections. All sections contribute to an overall measure of ability that strongly predicts subsequent achievement. Test results can be used to identify pupils’ strengths and weaknesses, inform teaching and learning, identify gifted pupils and help identify pupils with special educational needs.’
Over time, combining such indicators with students’ performances in, for example, internal exams, we have a very good sense of the academic potential of each student, enabling us to congratulate and praise the student who is over-achieving and raise the bar for those who could achieve more.
Our two hypothetical students, both of whom gained those five As and four Bs in their Year 11 Trials, appear by results alone to be ‘the same’, yet their academic potential data indicates a very different story. For Student A, these results are a monumental achievement at this stage in the school year – a result of consistent hard work over time; for Student B, these results are well underneath potential and indicate that the bar can be raised much higher and support should be put in place to ensure progress.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
We also now have far more insight into the relative strengths of individuals. Tests like YELLIS contain information on someone’s reading, mathematical and problem-solving abilities, and help us to know what a realistic target is for a student in subjects that require different skills; YELLIS can even help when we are advising students on subject options.
Putting together this data with information on student effort helps us more accurately understand under-performance, for example by identifying students who might have particular learning needs that require diagnosis and support. For a few students, where data suggests that under-performance is global and inexplicable except in terms of work habits, it enables us to provide help as delivered through our Academic Mentoring Programme, where we concentrate support and raise aspirations for students who have the potential to do significantly better.
Sharing this data with parents and students is our next step: we are looking at how this can most helpfully be done in order to encourage them (the students!) to aim high, work effectively and choose subjects wisely. The state sector has some interesting lessons to teach us here.
However, whilst the use of data can be immensely useful in the ways described, the bottom line has to be about relationships, which have always been at the heart of what Cheadle Hulme School is about. Our belief is that teacher/student relationships are unique in being able to tailor education to a student’s needs, and we will always put these first within the School. It is exciting, though, to think about – and begin to see in practice – the possibilities when these relationships are informed by accurate, insightful and multi-faceted forms of data that can help us to know our students even better than before.
Former Assistant Head, Mr Andrew Crook