I was intrigued by the collaborative and transparent approach to assessment that an online system, open and shared between the whole teaching staff, would entail. For the independent boarding school where I was Deputy Head of Juniors at the time, adopting this approach would mean revisiting some fundamental assumptions about the part that assessment could play in the next phase of our development. After extended discussions among the whole-school leadership team, we took the plunge and bought the Incerts system.
Each subject is broken down into core skills and competencies that build upon each other. Once they have ‘benchmarked’ the children using both classroom evidence and test data, they have a base-line National Curriculum level (or a different type of numeric score as an alternative) from which to track day-to-day progression. Quite simply, each time a child achieves one of those skills or competencies, the teacher ticks a box on the screen and the progression can be seen by all the teaching staff. The beauty of the system is its sheer simplicity, and even staff who are not confident with technology have found the system highly intuitive and flexible. It can be accessed in a variety of ways: either from an internet browser or by using one of the apps for smartphones and tablets that Incerts have developed. A teacher carrying an iPad, for example, can easily capture evidence, perhaps photographing some written work or recording a child’s reading or their performance in PE, and attach it in support of the judgements they have recorded.
Once Incerts had been configured and the first assessments made, the impact was immediate. Staff commented how much time the system was saving for actual teaching. Assessments could be made during lessons quite unintrusively, and teachers found the system helpful in identifying targets and adapting their planning around individual children’s needs. Within a short space of time, the easy-to-interpret analysis pages had drawn attention to some areas of difficulty for children, and timely interventions were made.
However, it would be imperative to explain and contextualise this information alongside the standardised data that we collected in the summative assessments. Historically, parents had only been able to gauge their child’s comparative ability through standardised scores. By using Incerts, we were now able to show them clear and concise graphs that indicated the actual progress made during each academic year, as well as an accurate and evidence based National Curriculum level achieved by their child in every subject. The depth and quality of the information that we were able to convey ensured that the learning conversations during parents evenings were of the highest quality. They were evidence based whilst still allowing for subjective opinion, and they improved the professional image of our school and our colleagues in the eyes of parents. Teachers were able to show parents key pieces of work alongside progression graphs using school laptops and on tablets, which illustrated how their work in the school was being supported by appropriately modern technology. The impact of termly reporting to parents was even more profound as we could easily show contextualised data and graphs coupled with a highly-personalised commentary for every single child. Along with specific progression and target comments that were generated by Incerts, our teachers added their own advice to help parents support their child at home to help them achieve these goals. If the frequency with which they were being produced at dinner parties is an indicator, the quality and detail of these reports was having an enormous impact on the academic reputation of our school in the local community!
Engagement of Pupils
The pupils themselves were also directly motivated by the way teachers shared Incerts with them. They loved seeing the colourful progression graphs and being able to revisit their work in the online portfolio. They commented most of all, though, on the sense of momentum that they felt when teachers were immediately setting new structured goals for them the moment they achieved success. As most of the targets within Incerts are skills-based, the teachers are free to continue to develop schemes of work specifically for each cohort of children. Whilst we as a staff believed in the benefits of subject specialist teaching, Incerts remains equally appropriate for topic-based or ‘creative curriculum’ approaches. Meanwhile, as parents were ‘talking up’ our academic rigour, the results of the children were confirming it. Entrance to our Senior School was by examination, and over two years our Junior School secured an unprecedented 8 out of the top 10 results, including all of the top 5 places in the last academic year. Remarkably for a non-selective school, our average result for Mathematics was over 10% higher than our best performing academically selective rival. For the first time ever, our Junior School pupils secured every single academic scholarship on offer in the Senior School.
This article first appeared in Prep School Magazine in 2015.