Effective strategies for tracking pupil progress at your primary school

Maddie Kilminster - 5 July, 2021

Category : Blog

Effective strategies for tracking pupil progress at your primary school

The way each primary school tracks the progress of their pupils through school varies considerably depending on the pupils in their care; their needs and learning styles. The areas schools choose to focus on will also be a reflection of their philosophy and ethos.  How do primary schools assess their pupils?  Primary schools must report

The way each primary school tracks the progress of their pupils through school varies considerably depending on the pupils in their care; their needs and learning styles. The areas schools choose to focus on will also be a reflection of their philosophy and ethos. 

How do primary schools assess their pupils? 

Primary schools must report on their pupils’ progress to the DfE via three statutory assessments and one Teacher assessment:

  • End of KS1 (reading, writing, maths and science)
  • End of KS2 (reading, writing, maths and science)
  • KS1 Phonics Screening Check 
  • EYFSP (Early Years Foundation Stage Profile) – Teacher assessment

Apart from these tests, schools are free to track progress and attainment using their own methods, without direction from the DfE. In fact, Ofsted’s 2021 directive states that “Inspectors will not expect or accept internal data from schools either instead of or in addition to published data.” 

Many use pre-made frameworks from third party suppliers such as RS assessments (PIRA/PUMA), NFER (National Foundation for Educational Research) tests and the DfE’s EYFS Development Matters framework.

Why do schools assess pupil progress?

Given that Ofsted does not inspect primary schools’ progress data, Headteachers may well be asking themselves, what is the purpose of assessment and why do we spend so much focused time on managing and presenting it?

It’s important to remember that when assessments are managed effectively, and in such a way that conclusions can be drawn clearly from the data, this can have a huge impact on improving pupil outcomes. 

Although they don’t look at the data itself, Ofsted explains in it’s 2021 framework that “Inspectors will ask schools to explain why they have decided to collect whatever assessment data they collect, what they are drawing from their data and how that informs their curriculum and teaching.” 

Objectives of tracking pupil progress 

  • Establish what pupils do and do not know, and check pupils are on track for end of Key Stage assessments
  • Identify where pupils need more support, plan future curriculum content to meet the needs of the pupils
  • Monitor the effectiveness of school initiatives and interventions to improve pupils’ learning
  • Identify priorities for staff development, resources or changes to teaching approaches
  • Make judgements on value for money of provision and consider effective and purposeful use of staff time
  • Report to Governors, Trusts or Directors

Current challenges for primary schools

Since the introduction of the “Assessment Without Levels” approach in 2014, there has been little guidance for primary schools on how they should assess. As a result, many schools have a sense of working in isolation without measures of best practice. The ways that schools are held accountable has also changed, with less intervention from Local Authorities and many schools transitioning to academies within a MAT. 

For many primary schools, “Life without Levels” has prompted them to rethink the methods and systems they use for tracking pupil progress, and whether they’re suited to their needs. 

High staff workload

The stages of a school’s yearly assessment cycle – setting up, collecting, adding and analysing data, as well as actioning interventions – increase staff workload, whilst they’re juggling lots of competing responsibilities across school.

With admin tasks taking up a shockingly large amount of time for Teachers and Middle Leaders (4.2 and 5.7 hours a week respectively*), many find they don’t have time for formative assessments at all.

*GSR Teacher workload survey 2016.

Check out our tips for saving hours a week on admin here.

Progress trackers create extra work

The majority of primary schools tend to rely on manual methods of tracking progress, such as spreadsheets or even paper! These methods may have been used for years, but are very time-consuming to enter, check and analyse data. They’re also much more prone to human error and bias. 

Some schools subscribe to online progress trackers which give them a wide range of frameworks to choose from, and crunch the data for them. The downside of this method is that schools’ data is not linked to all the other data that they hold about each pupil in their MIS (Management Information System), which makes it difficult to understand the wider context of factors behind pupils’ attainment.

See our guide to finding the right system for tracking pupil progress below. 

The Covid-19 attainment gap

The pandemic and the restrictions that have come with it, have not only put an added strain on staff time, they’ve also raised new concerns for pupils’ wellbeing and set some pupils back in their academic progress. Staff and pupils have had to adapt to online or blended teaching and learning – which will be here to stay for many classrooms going forward.

Covid also made schools re-evaluate and reflect on how they measure and track pupil progress, with questions such as:

    • What should we do about the missing period of statutory assessment data in 2020?
    • How can a test be standardised when pupils have only covered a portion of the intended curriculum?
    • How will we set targets that are meaningful going forward?
    • How do we effectively establish where each child is after time away from traditional classroom teaching?
    • Have pupils only lost learning or have they gained anything from lockdown?
    • How should we be thinking about “lost learning?” Is that the right language to use?
    • Should we be measuring other non-“academic” skills alongside the curriculum?
    • When should we return to testing as part of the assessment picture?
    • How can I report a “robust” and “honest” reflection of progress to my Governors or Board?

How to manage assessments effectively at your primary school

When the assessment cycle goes smoothly, staff at all levels have quick and easy access to the data they need to really understand which pupils are on track, and take the right action straight away to support those who are struggling. 

When planning your next year’s assessment cycle, here are some of the most important things to remember, put together by former Arbor Assessment Trainers Jackie Gazeley and Patricia Beechey. Check out their bios below.

1. Choose the right assessment system 

It might seem like you’ve always done assessments in the same way – either using trusty spreadsheets or a subscription to an online tracker. But have you ever thought about how much time it takes to input or upload assessment data manually every cycle?

The analysis reports might be just what you need, but do they give you the fullest picture of how pupils are doing across their whole life at school – including pastorally, in behaviour and attendance?

Using the Assessment feature within your MIS might well be the answer. Here’s our comparison of assessment solutions so you can see what we mean:

Spreadsheets Online pupil tracker MIS
  • Customisable
  • Lots of options
  • Online access 
  • Only enter data in one place
  • Analyse assessment data with other key pupil data
  • Take action in same system
  • MAT overview (some MIS)
  • Time-consuming to collect and collate data
  • Risk of human error
  • You can’t take action
  • Relies on data savvy staff
  • Expensive subscription
  • Data must be manually imported
  • Not connected to your MIS
  • Doesn’t show MAT overview
  • You can’t take action
  • Some MIS providers charge for Assessment module (although this could be offset if you can cancel your subscription to an online tracker)
  • Some MIS providers have only basic assessment analytics

It’s also worth bearing in mind the benefits of a cloud-based system (rather than a system that stores your school data on a server). Check out our blog for more info.

2. Choose the right assessment framework

When choosing the framework you’re going to use to track pupil attainment, you should gear it to the way you visualise progress at your school. There’s no right or wrong way to track, but watch out – some assessment tracker products give you tons of choice which can leave you not knowing where to start.

From our work with schools, we’ve actually found that the foundation of most approaches are either a Flat or Rising grade scale. Find out how to work out which is right for your school with our handy quiz. Here’s a quick comparison to get you thinking:

Rising (or Progress) Scale Flat Scale
Is it right for my school? If in your school you like to think of progress as “moving through the grades” – i.e. you use numbered standards that all pupils should achieve after each year, then Rising (or Progress) Scale would suit you If you track pupils’ progress on an individual basis – i.e how each pupil is performing in relation to the expected standard at their age, then the Flat scale would suit you
  • You can see a child moving from grade to grade
  • Underperforming pupils can be tracked precisely against year group expectations
  • Terminology similar to previous National Curriculum which helps parents understand
  • Track SEN progress on same framework
  • Focuses on maintaining or improving attainment
  • Whole school benchmarks
  • Easy to identify underperforming pupils across the school
  • Terminology is easy to explain to parents
  • Analysis is more complex because of large grade scale
  • Benchmarks are year group specific 
  • More difficult to track SEN progress

New EYFS Statutory Framework 2021

From September 2021, the EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage) framework and Development Matters guidance are changing. Find out more from the DfE here.

Find out how Arbor can help with the new framework, whether you’re an early adopter of the new framework or will change over in September.

3. Build your assessment process around staff workload

It’s important to make sure you establish a way of working in assessment that makes it as easy as possible for staff to input and access the data they need, and to cut down on the number of steps it takes to act on the results (e.g. to follow up with parents, or to set up an intervention).

Here’s a few more tips to cut down staff workload:

  • Space out data drops to allow time for pupil progress to be visible
  • Record all assessments centrally to remove the need for paper and pencil records
  • Record data that will enable you to track pupil performance and moderate teacher judgements, such as Reading Bands or Standardised Scores 
  • Make sure all staff have access to the data that’s most relevant to their role, without having to request a report from the office

4. Draw conclusions and take action to support pupils

When it comes to analysing your assessment data, it’s good practice to make sure there’s a closed feedback loop which makes clear how you’ll adapt provision, teaching methods or whole school initiatives based on the findings of your results.

As Ofsted states, its “Inspectors will be interested in the conclusions drawn and actions taken from any internal assessment information, but they will not examine or verify that information first hand.”

Make sure it’s clear to key members of the school community the next steps you’re putting in place to support pupils and groups of pupils, staff and whole school development. Everyone has a role to play:

  • Teachers – Monitor and report on pupil and class level progress, update parents and set up interventions
  • Subject Leaders – Identify strengths and weaknesses in pupil knowledge and curriculum delivery across the school
  • SLT – Track the impact of school improvement initiatives within and between pupil groups and across the school. 
  • Governors/Trustees – Review headline data based on strategic key performance indicators
  • Parents – Ideally receive automated reports through a Parent App, with personal comments or contact from their child’s Teacher 

Jackie Gazeley

Jackie has been working with schools as an Arbor Trainer since Autumn 2017 specialising in assessment. Before Arbor, she was a Teacher for 32 years in a range of schools, a SENCO and Behaviour Lead in three different schools, and then a Headteacher for 12 years in two inner-city Primaries.

Patricia Beechey

Patricia has more than 40 years of experience in education. As a teacher she has both taught in and worked with, a wide range of schools across the UK and internationally. Her roles within schools have been varied, but include 17 years as a Headteacher, leading an outstanding primary school. Since leaving Headship, Patricia has continued to work as a freelance Education Consultant for both the International Values Education Trust and Arbor Education.

How Arbor can help

Arbor Assessments for Primary Schools is more than a tracker – it’s an integral part of your MIS. Capture pupil progress alongside attendance and behaviour, and build a rounded view of your pupils from Early Years to Year 6 – at last. 

Understand your data using familiar Arbor tools, and create interventions or follow up straight from your Assessment data. Plus, because Arbor has in-built communications, it’s easy to keep colleagues and parents in the loop. 

Top benefits of managing assessments in Arbor MIS:

  • Track pupil progress across all areas – Compare attainment, behaviour, and attendance to fully understand how your pupils are doing
  • Engage parents in their child’s learning – Easily share updates on pupil progress through the Parent Portal and the Arbor App
  • You don’t have to be an expert – Use our handy guide to choose one of our two assessment approaches, and get going straight away with guided setup. Learn from your data straight away with simple, visual analysis screens
  • The only MIS for managing trust-wide assessments – Finally, the tools you need to roll out assessments across all your schools 

“It is both clear and detailed. Arbor assessment has completely changed how we report to both children and parents as they are able to see what progress has been made both in a granular way and in broader terms.”

– Anthony David, Executive Headteacher, St Paul’s Church of England Primary School and Monken Hadley School

Find out more or get started

Already using Arbor? Find out how easy it is to set up and use our built-in Assessments feature – including ready-to-go assessment approaches. Get in touch with your Account Manager today at: account.management@arbor-education.com. 

New to Arbor? We’d love to show you how Arbor could not only transform the way you manage assessments, but could make a measurable improvement to the way your primary or secondary school works more widely. Get in touch to book a personalised demo today.

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