Re-calibrating and bringing the agenda back to teaching and learning
Will we remember 2020-21 as the Covid Year? Probably, but I hope not. For students in their final year at school – whether that is Year 11 or Year 13 – it would be particularly sad if that were to happen. The first few weeks have inevitably been dominated by face masks, one-way systems and hand dispensers. I am sure every school leader has heard from the parent whose friend’s daughter ‘goes to a school in Sussex’ – not sure why it is always Sussex – where they have cracked every complexity of the risk assessment whilst also delivering world-beating on-line learning. Only every time you ask which school it is, you get told that they have forgotten or their friend asked them not to say!
The challenge is how to re-calibrate and bring the agenda back to teaching and learning whilst at the same time reminding, prompting and cajoling everyone to maintain the discipline to combat this vile disease. The key for me is to hone in on each individual student: to talk to them about their experiences during lockdown and how they coped, to discuss their aspirations and ambitions and to map out their learning journey. In the era of lockdowns, there is even more of a need to share the big picture so they can see how the various parts of their learning fit together. I often quote the BBC news as model practice: the newscaster tells us what is being covered, delivers the news but then re-visits and re-sets the agenda at regular intervals so we can make sense of it all.
Alps can be used for exactly this purpose – to shape the agenda around individual students and to bring teaching and learning and student achievement back to the centre of what we do. At Thomas Hardye we ask college leaders, our equivalent of a head of house or head of year, to use the data with tutors to help inform discussion with students and to check against progress. We talk about unlocking potential rather than reaching potential; the data enables us to discuss the probability of attaining a grade without placing a ceiling on achievement. For subject areas it is more important to look at scenarios, using the data to check that the learning for that particular student or that particular group is secure or imbedded, or whether for there is scope to increase progress. Who best to intervene with, extend or support and the most effective way of doing it. That can stimulate rich professional dialogue.
It is difficult not to mention centre assessed grades and the summer debacle in any reflections on the start of term. If it did nothing else, it reminded us of the importance of teacher judgement and the complexity of awarding a single grade that sums up progress. I was mildly amused by the assumption that this is done flawlessly and perfectly in those summers where we herd students into exam halls. If teachers are to have the best chance of reaching accurate judgements, they need access to good quality data, proven and tested, as regular and routine part of their work. Alps provides such a tool.
Headteacher of the Thomas Hardye School