Ready, aim, fire part 2 – setting new targets

The new year brings so many new things. New teachers, new groups, new examination demands and strategies and inevitably new targets for students.

I’ve blogged before about how we used to set targets (  so I won’t go extensively over that again other than to say that our previous targets were based on the notion of “expected” progress and “outstanding” progress. We used the classic 3 levels from KS2 as the expected and 4 levels as outstanding. Now to be fair to everyone involved this system reflects a time before progress 8 and attainment 8 and everything else involved in assessing how successful we have been with the students. It also reflects a time earlier in my teaching career when I was less prone to really considering the roots of everything and their logic. At that stage I was still desperately trying to improve my teaching (still am) and was keen to meet the targets set for me and my students by the SLG whereas now I’m part of the group setting the targets!

Now we used this system both to assess our effectiveness with students and as an integral part of our appraisal process using 3 levels of progress as the benchmark for all teachers. It always felt slightly punitive to those teachers with weaker students but then 3 levels was “expected” so to demand anything else was counter intuitive. It seemed like having a higher group (particularly group 1) was akin to getting the golden ticket. Any student going on to achieve an A* would return a minimum of 5 levels of progress making the teacher look brilliant. A top group student finishing their GCSE with an A would still have secured “outstanding” progress for themselves and their teacher despite potentially making less progress in their secondary life than they did at primary school. Contrast this with a level 3 entry student who makes three levels (good) progress and is only deemed “expected”. All this and I haven’t even mentioned a sub-level entry point! Hopefully you see that it always felt rough on the teachers of lower ability students but also did not offer the highest ability students the targets they would want. For example, the last top ability group I taught was a year 10 group back in the old days of multiple entry. I think I taught them pretty well but they benefited from being highly self motivated and driven. At the end of year 10 they had recorded 7 A* grades and 11 As from 28 students. Now I like to think I’m ok at teaching but I didn’t  deserve to claim those crazy levels progress as mine, they belonged to the students.

So when, at Easter, I was tasked with assessment and reporting one of the first things I began working on was our targets. In conjunction with Brian Lewis our outstanding data manager, we began to look at the evidence for student achievement from outcomes both internally and from the national transition matrices. This showed a number of interesting things. Take maths for example as this is the subject I teach. When we looked at the highest attaining KS2 students we saw from the transition matrices that an overwhelming majority achieve A* grades (something like 76% of 5a students if my memory serves me correctly). We then compared this to our own data and saw that all of our A* grades came from ether the 5a or 5b entry groups. Surely it makes sense for these students to be given a target of an A*? We worked our way through other grades and other scenarios trying to find the most challenging grades for our students whilst maintaining feasibility and common sense wherever possible.  We also wanted to avoid setting our students targets that they would achieve but not give them access to further education. I always wince at the very thought of giving students a target of a D, slapping them on the back for 5 years telling them how “on target” they are and then commiserating with them when their college options are limited.

Eventually we came to a tiered approach. Our highest attaining KS2 students have targets that are 5 levels, there are 4 level targets for those coming in near the top of their KS2 levels and there are 3 level targets for the lower band an those middle band students from the bottom of their KS2 levels. While this all sounds a bit nuanced we hope it will accurately reflect our prior attainment whilst setting challenging and worthwhile targets. we also created notional flight paths to be able to inform students, teachers and parents whether the student was on the right track in line with our overall assessment procedures. Finally we made our best possible stab at mapping the new numerical GCSE grades in based on all the info we could find from the DFE.  They look like this….

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We were simultaneously considering how this would affect the school progress 8 scores when the new tables are released and modelled this to try it out. If all students reach their new “minimum expected outcome” we will have a P8 score over +1.0 – here’s hoping!!!!

We know it’s not perfect, the changing landscape with GCSEs makes it difficult to be so. We also know we are currently still using levels and the absurdity of sub-levels whilst we work on the best solution for future years (watch out for a blog on this soon) but we think that it makes sense for now and sometimes that is enough to be going on with.

As ever if you’ve got comments and thoughts please let me know either here or at