Guest post by Nicola Porter, Founder of Education Reporter and former editor of TES Cymru:
Castle Park Primary in Caldicot, Monmouthshire, prides itself as being a school fit for the 21st century. Already a dedicated Forest School with fantastic outdoor learning opportunities for pupils, a new £1 million Learning Plaza was officially opened last month - an open plan classroom for 60 pupils in different year groups to work side by side in light and airy conditions. The Plaza is the first of its kind in Monmouthshire and provides a modern alternative to traditional desk based learning.
Jessica Morden MP opens the Learning Plaza
But besides offering state-of-the-art facilities, the primary is also leading the way in another area of school improvement high on the Welsh Government agenda since devolution – the use of sophisticated data in raising standards.
At the heart of Castle Park’s objectives to improve results via data analysis is the Incerts Assessment System. In a bold move after a trial run by Monmouthshire County Council last year, every one of the local authority’s primary school’s teachers now uses the teacher-friendly system to keep track of pupils’ progress. But it was headteacher Rob Wilshire who started the ball rolling when he used his own initiative to introduce the Incerts Assessment System to the school three years ago. He says it was a “gamble” that’s paid off and teacher assessment could be patchy before Incerts arrived.
Mr Wilshire has made a further ground-breaking move this term by appointing Mostyn Jones – a Reception teacher - into a new post with a paid responsibility for raising standards. Central to Mr Jones’ role is analysing widely available data on pupils’ progress with a focus on data supplied in-house by teaching staff on the Incerts’ system. The 34-year-old teacher is taking a MA in Learning and Management to improve his understanding of good pedagogical practice in teaching and learning – including the effective use of data.
He says the assessment system is helping the school and its teachers to identify strengths and weaknesses in individual pupils and between classes. Easy to use, with colourful graphs and tables, he also says the system is easily understood by teaching staff.
The Incerts Assessment System works by teachers reliably inputting judgments on pupils’ progress into boxes on a progression chart for each core subject. The system “flashes red” if a pupil is having difficulties in any area of English, maths or science. For example, in writing a system could show a child to be excellent at spelling and grammar but to have a relatively limited vocabulary. Once problem areas are identified in pupils extra support is provided quickly and before it’s too late.
Working in close collaboration with John Healy, Monmouthshire’s Acting Principle School Improvement Officer, Incerts has been rolled out cross-county: "Incerts is helping to transform teaching and learning in Monmouthshire. The authority now has a greater confidence in how its schools record pupil progress. Its (Incerts) implementation has been dynamic and it is now the bedrock for driving performance improvement at school level.
“The support for schools from the organisation Incerts itself has been substantial. They have provided extensive training and telephone call support and schools have had little difficulty in integrating the software,” says Mr Healy.
According to the former head, other bonuses of the system are being able to access it online at home, reducing workload, identifying pupils’ next steps for learning, informing target setting and helping to make the transition between classes and key stages more effective.
The Incerts Assessment System is based on the Welsh National curriculum and the seven areas of learning within the play-led Foundation Phase.
With raising standards a Welsh Government’s priority, the Incerts system is seen a powerful ally in the race to tackle a long tail of underachievement in education that has been well-documented since devolution in Wales.
Assessment – where judgments are made on children’s progress by individual class teachers – has come under fire for not being consistent enough and having too many moderation issues since SATS tests at ages seven, 11 and 14 were scrapped last decade.
Head Rob Wilshire said that Incerts meant information on individual children’s progress could be drip fed through the school. With so much externally arrived at data for schools to digest – including the Welsh Government, local authority and Fischer Family Trust – he says the system provides an opportunity for internal analysis and comparisons at teachers’ fingertips. Mr Wilshire said he hadn’t been aware of the benefits of Incerts for writing end of year reports when he introduced it: “It’s taken the laborious part out of writing reports in the old-fashioned way and saving teachers’ hours.”
One in three Welsh primaries is presently signed up to the Incerts Assessment System - including every school in Monmouthshire. In a survey, almost three-quarters of schools who answered said Incerts had changed the way schools used or shared assessment.