How can we use Balance to predict progress? Is this the right question?


By Susan Cowell

James Bowen recently stated, “We have to be brave. Our teacher assessment systems should have two basic criteria: do they provide useful information to improve our teaching and learning and are they manageable? If the primary consideration is ‘How can we use this to demonstrate progress?’ Then I’d suggest that you are asking the wrong question. We need to break free from the long-established mindset that numbers in a chart can act as a reliable proxy for learning having taken place.”

The Redressing the Balance report, 2017 supports this, emphasising that “The core focus of assessment should be on supporting learning, not simply tracking progress.”

This is why we designed Balance to be so flexible and not rely on a predetermined algorithm because progress is different in every school and for every child.

So, how do we show progress in schools? Without a clear answer to this question it is very hard to predict progress. One thing is clear: we mustremove ourselves from linear lines of progress. Progress takes form in many different ways, including effort, depth and consolidation. By predicting the future, we begin to play a numbers game; becoming a slave to the data and losing sight of what matters most — teaching and learning! That’s why Balance does not set a linear line of ‘expected progress’ like many other tracking systems. It simply is not realistic and leads to teachers constantly feeling the pressure to accelerate learning.

Assessment should start and end with the learning and this is why we are encouraging our schools to focus on using Balance to capture learning and effectively identify any gaps in understanding and plan next steps and interventions.

It is easy to get hung up on the numbers and to focus on the ‘Age Related Expectations’. We will of course, support you as you start to customise Balance to represent what progress looks like in your school. However, before we can do this, we are strongly advising that over the next few months, we work with you to ensure your teachers are using the system in the most effective way that truly does represent the learning that takes place in the classroom, whilst reducing workload.

In the meantime, we encourage you to focus on arguably the most useful analysis you have available in Balance, the Class Analysis.

Class Analysis — Know your curriculum

The Class Analysis section of Balance allows the teachers and SLT to gradually monitor the learning that is taking place in each class in their school. By capturing each child’s depth of understanding against objectives taught, teachers can soon build up a realistic picture of the areas of strength within their class and the areas that need further support.

Pupil progress meetings can be conducted using class analysis, teachers’ planning and a selection of books the teacher would like to discuss. Teachers should lead the conversations around learning, highlighting strengths and areas of concerns, allowing school leaders to ask the ‘right questions about learning’, using the triangulation of class analysis, planning and books to judge attainment and progress. Class analysis will also allow you to identify gaps, creating new precise learning events for bespoke groups of children. No one will be left behind!

Make the most of Balance!

If you would like to book in training to help you get the most out of Balance and really get to grips with the Class Analysis, please get in touch and we can talk through the training options we have available.