Osiris Staffroom article by Claire Gadsby

It is no exaggeration to say that progress is currently one very hot topic. Of all the themes and nuances within the current Ofsted framework, it is the notion of progress that is potentially the most provocative.


The innocuous little phrase “pupils are making rapid and sustained progress”, which lurks within the ‘outstanding’ descriptor for teaching and learning, is causing particular consternation.


What is the major issue?

Progress is our business. Teachers as professionals know and understand when their learners are making – or not making – progress. Talk to teachers in person and they will be able to give you chapter and verse on how their individual students are doing: there is nothing new here. The current anxiety seems to be about the thorny issue of exactly how to demonstrate that progress is taking place during short lesson observations.


Why this particular course?


Not only does it offer an abundance of practical strategies for first accelerating, and then demonstrating, progress, it also provides an opportunity to explore what we really mean by the term ‘progress’. Few of us joined the teaching profession with the primary objective of impressing the good people from Ofsted. Good teachers change lives for the better: day in and day out, we are helping young people to achieve their academic potential and to become well-rounded individuals ready to play their part in society.


Is it important that teachers engage with, and celebrate, a wider notion of progress?


Yes, progress is about increments of academic achievement but is also about mastering a much wider skills set. Can our learners communicate effectively? Are they getting better at problem-solving and working as members of a team? Part of the issue for our profession is that we have, in some cases, become slaves to the data. In our quest to demonstrate progress, we need to begin by asking ourselves: are we measuring what we really value or merely valuing all that we measure?


Quick check

Where are you cultivating and celebrating pupils’ wider skill sets and achievements including those outside of school? eg Achievement of the week? Top team member? Revision expert of the term?



Where do you look for progress?


Imagine that you are leading an Ofsted inspector around your school and pointing out all of the evidence of pupil progress. What are you looking at? What would you consider to be the very best forms of evidence? I urge schools to think of progress as a song and to ask themselves: are we singing our progress song loudly enough? Some small tweaks can make a big difference.


Quick check

Are your display spaces actively contributing to pupil progress as well as just celebrating shiny, finished work? Try setting up displays as ‘Progress points’ in classrooms and get pupils to engage with, and contribute to these, during lessons.


Is it possible to demonstrate pupil progress during a 20-minute lesson observation?


Absolutely, however, this is not about adopting a range of brand new and artificial progress checking systems merely for the sake of it. We need to remember that, in most classrooms, progress is taking place. Try this for an enormously-reassuring thought: how hard would we have to work in order to prove that progress was not taking place? Feel better? I thought so.

The challenge for the busy teacher is first and foremost to remain focused on the pedagogies and practices which actually accelerate pupil progress. The research shows that classrooms have three times more impact on pupil outcomes than anything which happens at whole school level.

Worrying research also suggests that the average lesson is made up of 70% teacher input. This fact alone means that pupils are very short of opportunities to demonstrate what they really can do: it is very hard to demonstrate progress whilst sitting passively listening to the teacher.


What is the best evidence of pupil progress?


It is actually the pupils themselves. Are they engaged in, and enthusiastic about their learning? Are they willing, and able, to talk about what they are learning and what they might need to do to improve? Furthermore, do the students have a sense of the bigger picture: not just what they are learning, but why?


Other great sources of progress evidence…


Pupil work will inevitably be very important: in a real sense, all that has been previously taught – and learned – is being inspected. Research shows unequivocally that feedback has the largest effect size of all in terms of raising attainment. Feedback can be tweaked quickly and easily in order to ensure that it is genuinely contributing to pupil progress, and that there is evidence of a real dialogue between teacher and student.


Quick check

Are you providing time and support for pupils to respond to the feedback you provide? Does each piece of feedback provide specific details about how to improve? This course provides a range of innovative ways to maximise the impact of feedback including the “purple pen of progress”. Provide students with purple pens to complete their improvements based on your feedback. This provides powerful evidence of pupils’ ongoing progress over time: the more pupil changes and additions in purple, the more effective you know your feedback is.


What happens when progress halts?


Of course, not all pupils are making the desired levels of progress. In some cases, this is simply because teacher expectations, and levels of challenge, are too low. A particularly successful school I visit has a formula for generating targets which simply states: prediction + added challenge = target.

In other cases, progress may be stalling because teachers do not have access to the particular pedagogies and research about what constitutes best practice for certain vulnerable pupil groups. This course is designed to plug some of those gaps by exploring what works best for stuck pupils.


How do I get ready for inspections?


Nobody knows your school and your pupils like you do. As well as ‘turning up the volume of your progress song’ in the fabric of the school environment and in classrooms, you will want to signal that you are aware of your own areas for development and have a working hypothesis.


Quick check

Which pupils are most vulnerable in terms of underachievement at present? Why do you think this is? What are you doing about it? In the absence of the old Self Evaluation Forms, inspectors may be interested in short, bullet-point case studies detailing the issue you have identified, what intervention you are trying and what impact you have noticed so far (be sure to include pupils’ voice and photographs as appropriate). You might ask, “Would you like to talk to one of our recovery pupils?”


Finally, beware the progress paranoia…

As teachers, we need to remember that we know our students best. Demonstrating progress is about behaving as we would normally but giving the students chance to shine rather than over-teaching, over-talking and failing to listen to our instincts. SR


Progress Check — In Your Classroom

What is the current percentage of teacher talk? What are you doing to
ensure that the pupils are working harder than the teacher? A recently-
overheard question from an inspector to a teacher: “For what percentage of that lesson did you have pupils working flat out?”

Do pupils have natural “navigation points” in order to understand and track their own progress. For instance, the default for many teachers is merely to tell the students the objectives for the lesson or to get them to copy these from the board. Neither of these activities fully activates students as owners of their own learning. Perhaps try the ‘pen of power’ technique or one of the many other practical approaches suggested on the course.


Written by
Claire Gadsby

Claire is a Teaching and Learning Consultant and trainer with many years of experience in supporting school improvement. She is particularly passionate about the role that Assessment for Learning (AfL), including Assessing Pupils’ Progress (APP), can have in enhancing pupils’ progress and engagement.

How to Demonstrate Progress

Join Claire on her one-day course this article is based on. Ofsted know how to evidence long-term progress that is: visible during inspection, above expectation, not limited by achievement, and visible year-on-year. Ensure every pupil makes rapid and sustained progress with practical tools to record and demonstrate progress.

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