Forget coasting schools, here’s 3 ways to avoid coasting students

As schools develop their own means of tracking and showing progress, I’ve noticed certain key principles are often used to underpin no-levels assessment frameworks:
  • Subjects are broken down into discrete skills
  • These skills are then grouped into blocks which represent what a student should achieve to meet year group expectations
  • Students are assessed on how many skills within a curriculum they’ve mastered
  • In theory, students should only progress onto the next year’s skills when they have mastered all of the current ones

A real strength of skills-based tracking is that it ensures every child leaves school literate and numerate (as well as competent in a range of subjects) since they must master each topic before moving on to the next. But how can we ensure that setting minimum standards doesn’t impose an ‘achievement ceiling’ on our brightest children? Without levels, how do we even identify high attainers and ensure they aren’t ‘coasting’? The skilled practitioner will collect his or her own evidence throughout the year regarding who is a ‘high attainer’. But this informal, unstructured method of data collection loses its usefulness as soon as the pupils in question leave that teacher’s care. Teachers and leaders need structured, consistent, and objective data about who their top performing students are so they can ensure these students are being pushed to achieve their potential. Here are 3 methods for tackling this problem.

1. Move your high achieving students on to the next year’s curriculum

This method is perfect in theory as it provides you with data on whether your students are working beyond their age related expectations. In practice, allowing students to follow their own mastery pathways at their own pace can be an administrative nightmare. To make this work you need:

  • Well designed curricula which revisit the same topics each year in more depth
  • Up-to-date tracking data (or pre-assessment results) so that when the next teacher comes to teach the student in question they know exactly what they have mastered and what they have not
  • Personalised resources, organised so that pupils can sequentially access harder challenges in each topic (a good VLE and some blended learning would work well for this)

2. Indicate which statements students have excelled in

This method tracks which students have managed the ‘stretch and challenge’ tasks. Set up each statement so it can be marked as ‘Beyond Achieved’ or ‘Stretched’, and use this grade for those students who have achieved above and beyond the remit of the curriculum statement they are working on. At the end of the year, use the number of ‘Stretched’ statements each student has to identify your high achieving pupils.

3. Include some statements just for students who need stretching

You could also make a ‘stretch’ curriculum. Students could dip into these extra objectives if they exceed the expectations for the skill they are working on. The next teacher only has to look at who has been working on the ‘stretch’ curriculum to ascertain who they should be pushing in their class. The aim would then be to have more students attempting the ‘stretch’ statements by the end of the year.