Retaining aspiration in the year ahead

By Sue Macgregor, Director of Education and Product Development, Alps

Following another challenging year for schools and colleges, and for our students, our attention turns to the new academic year.  How do we do our best for our returning Year 12 and 13 students? 

For those returning to Year 13, there is uncertainty around the nature of their examination season in 2022. Add to this the disrupted nature of their learning across the last year of KS4 and across the first year of their KS5 courses, then we again call on the expertise of our teaching staff to skilfully monitor, track and support to ensure that all students make the progress that does credit to their ability and stands them in the best possible stead for their futures. 

Those students in Year 12 beginning their KS5 courses deserve no less. As school, college, and trust leaders, we begin each September by encouraging staff to be aspirational in their student target setting. A robust target setting policy is key to ensuring that teachers and students know and achieve their potential. 

However, we must carry out all our target setting in an increasingly challenging context. There has been no DfE publication of national data since 2019. The prior attainment outcomes for Year 13 and Year 12 are Centre Assessed Grades and Teacher Assessed Grades respectively. We know that the GCSE grades awarded are on average higher than in previous years. How then do we ensure that we can provide students and staff with robust targets that we can subsequently monitor against? 

Retaining a solid foundation
In the Autumn Term 2020, Alps invited schools across England to submit the average GCSE score for their new Year 12 students as part of our research into the nature of the prior attainment of the current students compared to those in the previous two years. Reflecting JCQ published data, our analysis of over 200,000 students’ average GCSE scores confirmed that the average GCSE score for the incoming Year 12 cohort was indeed higher than in previous years. However, again in line with JCQ publication, the overall shift in percentage per grades awarded in 2020 compared to 2019 is less pronounced than might be anticipated, with the proportion of students in each Alps prior attainment band for Year 12 in 2020/21 very similar to those in the national data for 2019.

Alps enables schools and colleges to set aspirational minimum expected grades (MEGs) by using national data sets to generate MEGs that reflect progress made by students in the top 25% of schools, colleges, and trusts. We found that the MEGs for the incoming Year 12 cohort were not significantly impacted by this average increase across the bands. 

Aspiration and challenge
The core principle of Alps is one of aspiration and challenge for students. Our conclusion was that, taking into consideration the slight overall increases in performance by band, there are inherent dangers in applying a national adjustment factor to our MEG banding. Such an adjustment would inevitably disadvantage many students unintentionally and therefore we made the decision to retain our MEGs generated from the 2019 outcomes. We will continue to use the same dataset for your new incoming Year 12 students. 

We believe our decision to retain the 2019 national data to form the basis of our value-added analysis system is crucial in providing you with a level playing field as you negotiate the next academic year. 

Teaching staff require value-added analysis that they can trust when it comes to tracking students against aspirational targets. They will want to establish how on track their students are in the autumn term, then negotiate individual learning plans accordingly. 

For many schools, colleges and trusts, 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 Alps Connect across the academic year. Subject staff can use their 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.    

Keeping track
Our 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 we have a baseline from 2019 data does not detract from this principle. We are still providing 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.  

Sue Macgregor is Director of Education and Product Development at Alps 

Alps is an ASCL Premier Partner. Alps Connect provides an online, effective year-round tracking system – find out more here.   
Posted: 23/08/2021 10:15:09