Starting the Autumn Term in the right frame of mind – how can Alps help?
Following a tumultuous Results Season which has proved challenging for schools and colleges and for our students, our attentions turn to the new Academic Year. How do we do our best for our returning students, both those who have not been through the CAG process and those returning to start their KS5 courses? Here we discuss a few of the issues facing us at this time and provide some pointers as to how Alps analysis and Connect Interactive, our online platform can support you in the coming year.
As tough as these last five months or so have been, and as tough as this coming year is shaping up to be, we would be wise to approach it with a sense of optimism. Our students mirror much of our emotions, even in large classes, and they need us to be positive, constructive, and encouraging. They need us at our very best. In our classes, the experiences of lockdown and of returning to school will give rise to a range of emotions and mindsets amongst our students. There will be those that are nervous and who are unsure of what their future holds, those who are convinced that they have fallen behind, whether true or not, and those who have become disaffected entirely. There will be students who have sailed through the work that we have set and those who have genuinely struggled to make progress on their own. Couple this with the fact that we are likely to have classes full of students that we do not know. Our approach to the year ahead must aim to foster trust from the outset and instil the confidence in all of our students that they can develop the skills, bridge the gaps and master the content for the next impending examination season whatever form that that might take.
The remainder of this article discusses how Alps analysis can support with some of the specific situations facing schools and colleges this Academic Year.
1. The new Year 12 intake – target setting
Your first hurdle with students joining your Sixth Forms is in offering appropriate guidance in terms of course choice. This year you are likely to have more students who have achieved the entry requirements for A Level courses, and this will require additional academic and pastoral support. In terms of target setting, outcomes this summer have led to concerns over the inflation of average GCSE scores meaning that some students would be placed in an Alps prior attainment band higher than expected, resulting in a higher Minimum Expected Grade.
Perhaps this presents an opportunity to widen our thinking. Ability and intelligence are not pre-determined or fixed. With skilful teaching, motivation and support from teachers and parents, students can achieve high performance. Afterall, these GCSE grades were arrived at through a stringent internal standardisation process. Those were the grades that we felt our students would achieve had they taken their examinations, and perhaps we should challenge and encourage them towards these MEGs as they enter their Key Stage 5 courses.
Many schools and colleges will have planned a formal assessment early in the Autumn Term. Submission of early tracking data into Connect Interactive will allow both subject and pastoral staff to analyse progress quickly and effectively. Teaching staff can model outcomes for their subject area and identify students who may need additional input to allow them to succeed at this level, whilst pastoral staff can gain a horizontal overview of each student.
You may find that some MEGs may need to be adjusted following this formal assessment, basing target setting more on teacher judgement. Alps will work with schools and colleges over the coming term to identify ways in which we can support them in tracking students effectively towards 2022 Key Stage 5 outcomes.
2. Learning habits
Students in Year 12 beginning their Key Stage 5 courses will have had a large break in their learning habit. This is not ideal at the start of their A level journey, but it is not an insurmountable problem. Many, we hope, will have been looking forward to the fulfilment and challenges of returning to full-time learning. There are so many strategies used to engage and support new Sixth Form students, but all should include a clear roadmap detailing the content and skills that will be required to achieve success. They should know where to access support to help them solve problems for themselves and how to assess their learning effectively. Teachers will have mapped out when formal assessment will take place and how that will be used at a student level to move their learning forward.
3. Students returning to Year 13 and Year 11 – back on track
A large percentage of learning towards the two-year courses has now happened remotely. We need to establish how on track they are very quickly in September and then plan individual learning plans accordingly. For many schools and colleges, this means setting formal assessment tasks early in the term and using outcomes as a basis for intervention. Some may already have carried out formal assessment in June/July. At Alps we call this starting point the MPZ, or Monitoring Point Zero, and we advocate using it as the basis for your tracking and intervention in Connect Interactive across the Academic Year. Subject staff can use the MPZ analysis to identify key intervention priorities, looking for example at whether there are patterns of underperformance at specific grade boundaries, which might guide their learning and teaching strategies in lessons.
4. Targeted support and intervention
There will be many students for whom this period has not been an easy one. We will be concerned about the progress made by our SEND students for example. Intervention programmes will be critical to help these students get back on track, rebuilding their confidence step by little step.
When using Connect Interactive, you should ensure that you add appropriate customised fields to your analysis to allow teaching and pastoral staff to track the progress of these performance groups across the coming Academic Year.
Positive engagement with parents and carers may help us to understand the challenges which have faced their children during lockdown, and by identifying the areas of academic challenge, together we can determine the best way to support them across the next few months.
The Government provision of additional catch up funding for those disaffected and disadvantaged could be important in re-engaging those students who have switched off to learning, or who have been unable to access the virtual world.
5. New skills to continue to build upon
This period of remote learning will have brought additional skills to the repertoire of classroom teachers. They have constructed activities designed to challenge, engage, and support students in different ways. Many of our students will have been energised by them. They may have conquered a question that had they been in class would have resulted in a hand going up for immediate help. Therefore, we will see in many students a growth in resilience, a fuelled independence. Your recovery curriculum will undoubtably contain aspects of blending independent learning opportunities with catch up programmes.
Connect Interactive allows you to be very flexible and creative with these approaches and with your assessment models. You can submit as many gradepoints as you like into Connect, based on different types of assessment, to compare the success of each approach and determine how well students have mastered the necessary skills and content.
6. The importance of accurate monitoring
Through the process of determining your Centre Assessed Grades (CAGs), you will have learned much about the way in which teaching staff arrive at predicted grades. Connect Interactive was used by many Senior Leaders through the CAG process as a tool for determination of previous prediction accuracy. In the area dedicated to monitoring accuracy, trends can be constructed which provide valuable insight into how internal teacher predictions compare with outcomes for historical examination seasons at all Key Stages. Our monitoring accuracy tool allows you to focus on and improve further your monitoring accuracy across the year, which will be vital to identify the students and subjects that require additional targeted support. In addition, there is still a real possibility that CAGs may need to be relied upon in the future.
At Alps it has always been our philosophy to enable schools and colleges to track the progress of induvial students. Alps analysis has never tried to mimic Government accountability measures, but to provide a compass for teachers and senior leaders to identify underperformance and to take the necessary steps to ensure equality of progress for all their young people.
This year is no different. The fact that we have a baseline which is less well defined than others does not detract from this Alps principle. We are still providing you with the tools you need to make that difference to your students. Now more than ever, they need you to be absolutely certain in demonstrating to them how they are performing against the national progress picture. They need you to know where and when to intervene to allow them to excel, and they need you to be able to have the tough conversations when there are barriers and where progress is not happening as it should.