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04 October 2022

The Monday Briefing: A Kind of Magic

The Monday Briefing: A Kind of Magic

I had a conversation last week with Laura, the Vice Principal, about our assessment regime, Months Marks, at the College. Not normally one to fall over herself in order to give praise - you have to do pretty well in Business Studies or Economics to impress her - she said it was, quote, (and bear in mind that forms of assessment rarely are the most interesting topics of conversation) ‘the best assessment system she had ever seen in all of her time in teaching.’

Quite the compliment!

How do we do it then?

Firstly, a brief potted history on Months Marks…

I really can’t take any of the credit for the concept - that needs to go to the former Principal Dr Ian Moores. Concerned that results at the end of the year might come as somewhat of a surprise for parents if consistent and regular communication was not forthcoming, he felt that it would be best practice to take a ‘little and often’ approach. In a wider school setting, it is more commonly known as formative assessment. The regular assessment is formative for students, in that it makes clear to them the improvements which need to be made to their practice, leading towards our summative assessments, at the end of each term: the Christmas Mocks; the Easter Mocks; the End of Year exams.

My only part in its formation came with the creation of the ‘Universal Spreadsheet’, a global, multi-tab document which tracks each and every student of the College across their subjects - enabling comparison, both between subjects and across disciplines over time. 

Quite a simple idea, Months Marks collates all of the assessments, in every subject the student takes, for each month, into an averaged Attainment Grade, set in accordance with the most recent grade boundaries within each subject.

Students know where they are within this system - they have clear knowledge in terms of how they will be assessed - the style of questions, the timings, the necessary effort needed to do well - and value this regular ‘health-check.’

Having just completed the setup for ‘Universal Spreadsheet’ for this year, and having also given a fully explanatory assembly to all students on Wednesday, our assessment structure is now starting to form for this academic year. This will be new to many of the students who have newly joined the College across our year groups, and the analytical detail with which we endeavour to get a sense of their performance may come as a shock to many of them. 

Accompanying the attainment grade for each subject is an effort grade. In the hope of maintaining uniformity in terms of agreed standards towards the deployment of these effort grades, all staff met around eighteen months ago to discuss and debate what constituted the criteria for each effort grade, coming up with the handy sheet - pictured below:

Whilst it is important to continually assess, it is important to keep in mind that the Months Marks are indeed formative. This means that how we respond to them is also vital.

All student data is measured, collated and reviewed. We can clearly see the top 10 performing students, and their parents are all sent a video message from me to congratulate them on the progress of their sons or daughters.

From the second Months Marks month, we start to factor in separate commendations for most improved in GCSE and A Level, and this is also communicated to parents.

Whilst we celebrate excellent achievement, we also look to intervene where it isn’t good enough. Our lowest 10 achievers have consultations set up with Laura and myself to discuss how they can adapt their approaches to learning - this is always followed up with an email to parents, with extensive advice given, aimed at bringing about an improvement in application, with the hope that this brings about positive change.

It is hard to describe the impact of Months Marks, but once students are immersed in the system, it is clear that it makes a difference. As stated above, students, and parents for that matter, like to know where they are, as well as the intended destination. Providing regular signposts along what can often be quite a foggy route, can be essential to ensure even progress.

The key trait or characteristic which Months Marks brings is the power of motivation to reach the top of their game - and I mean that universally: It makes teachers think more carefully about the assessments they set; it focuses them to provide detailed marking aimed at bringing about improvement; it identifies problem areas for students, where perhaps learning bling spots could lie. Similarly, with students, it truly makes them care about their performance: they understand more effectively what is required of a good student; they become more familiar with examination requirements; they see every assessment as being important - not just the ones at the end.

Months Marks ensures a different feeling around the College - an academic vibrancy - a sense of self, peer and group motivation towards self-improvement - and the effects can be quite magical.

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