An effective whole-school tracking system is vital for monitoring the progress made by gifted and talented (G&T) students, as well as ensuring that achievement keeps pace with potential says Josephine Smith
While most schools now justifiably claim to be able to identify their able, gifted and talented pupils with relative confidence, many admit that they still have some way to go to match this efficiency with a reliable and consistent means of monitoring progress and determining whether these pupils are fulfilling their potential. A whole-school tracking system allows individual teachers, heads of department and senior managers to do just this: it is also one of the most enabling tools a leading teacher or gifted and talented coordinator can use to oversee the intervention process for a school’s most able pupils, especially those who are not quite living up to their G&T label. Additionally, it enables staff to praise those pupils who are indeed meeting the high standards expected of them.
Teachers in your school might already be implementing their own tracking system in an informal way, but an effective whole-school system supports good practice in enabling all teachers to adapt their planning to suit the needs of individual pupils. If like me, your role as gifted and talented coordinator means that you come up against staff or parents who see G&T provision as divisive, then pupil progress tracking is a good example of school-wide practice that not only enables you to fulfil your role as advocate for the most able, but also benefits all pupils. Without a consistent tracking system, based on accurate data, teachers are less able to intervene in the learning of pupils of all abilities, or give specific and practical advice on how to improve, or to effectively involve others (parents, TAs, subsequent teachers) in that process.
For very able pupils, the issue of ‘intervention’ can be tricky. It is often a lot easier for an able pupil’s progress (even if minimal) to go unchallenged, because in the context of their class their marks probably seem high and the standard of their work commendable. Perhaps as a coordinator, you know there are pupils like this in your school, who work well and whose teachers are satisfied enough with their progress. Colleagues don’t necessarily make the academic demands needed to stretch them further, and bright pupils are left ‘coasting’, achieving acceptable grades without really having to make too much effort.
A successful tracking system should not be onerous for any teacher to use if it is to be sustainable and provide information in a useful and accessible way. Every school collects data as part of the assessment, review, intervention and monitoring system and a tracking system has to work as part of this process, not in addition to, or apart from it.
So how might a teacher-friendly tracking system work? The system below has recently been introduced in a school where, previously, data was collected but not really used at classroom level to inform teachers’ planning or intervention strategies. It needed to be clear and easy to implement, not add significantly to teachers’ workload, and helpfully inform the next steps in whole-school development. Its aim was to raise standards, enabling teachers to be better informed about what pupils need to do to reach their potential and share that process with pupils themselves. This was especially true of developing the most able pupils who had been achieving comfortable Level 5s and 6s in the SATs but had been missing out on the Level 7s and 8s they were capable of.
Your role as a G&T coordinator
You will be able to use the data to print out a progress map for relevant pupils on the G&T register and see at a glance whether the progress they are making is commensurate with their ability and the standards predicted for them. A map showing mostly blue will highlight an able pupil who is meeting or exceeding the standards expected of them; a pupil with a mixture of progress colours will reveal varied success, a mathematically gifted pupil for example might reveal ‘blues’ in just maths and appear to be performing successfully albeit less exceptionally, in other subjects. Of course a very able pupil on course for B grades in all subjects but predicted to achieve A* will be revealed with a map of ‘red’ highlighting the need for some intervention.
Some tracking systems consciously take the onus away from teachers to make the judgements about pupils’ progress, instead relying on spreadsheet calculations and grade or level predictions from Fischer Family Trust. Using the ‘D’ data predictions for pupils, based on the top 25% schools in the country for contextual value added (CVA), targets are set and progress towards them predicted, calculated and reported. This process is more consistent and avoids teachers setting targets that are not challenging enough (for fear of pupils’ underperformance reflecting on their teaching ability, for example). It also avoids inconsistency of expectation among departments. However, it does remove the professional judgement of the teacher whose role in the identification of underachievement is crucial if intervention is to be teacher-led and effective.
Setting up a tracking system
1. Using available data (CAT results; Key Stage 2 and 3 scores; Fischer Family Trust predictions; transition information; internal assessment data), teachers set realistic but aspirational targets for each pupil they teach within their subject for the end of the year and end of the key stage.
5. Effort in class and homework are reported separately.
The data manager collects and collates this information using it to produce reports for parents but also at-a-glance colour maps of pupils’ progress for class teachers, form tutors, heads of department, heads of year or key stage managers and of course gifted and talented coordinators, all of whom are looking at the same information with slightly different foci.
Using the data
The role of the G&T coordinator is to ensure that the data is used to inform good practice for gifted and talented provision and isn’t just collected for its own sake. What provision is made as a result of the data is, of course, far more significant than the data itself. It could be used with pupils themselves as part of learning reviews or personal learning plan (PLP) conversations between pupils and the leading teacher. A review of targets will be much better informed, with the data to support hunches or anecdotes from subject teachers. As the government encourages all schools to ensure pupils have PLPs, your school tracking system could form the backbone of this system.
Increasingly, schools are using PLPs to discuss curricular pathways: for gifted and talented students, an established tracking system will leave them in no doubt about their areas of strength, the potential they have and the reasons they should be ambitious about both their future plans and their current learning. Uneven patterns in the tracking data will help inform the pastoral support and intervention your school offers, while particular success in specific subjects will send a clear message to teachers about the need for more challenging extension opportunities. Such clear information will also be useful to parents in supporting and developing their child’s particular strengths and may give pupils themselves clear signposts towards their future plans.
Tracking data and the conclusions it helps you draw can also be used as evidence to reassure parents that their child is indeed meeting his/her potential or of course to challenge and refocus pupils whose parents are justifiably disappointed by the slower rate of progress their child has made. Departments looking to improve results may well be glad of your analysis of the data for the most able pupils and will respond well to the assistance and advice you can offer or direct them to (eg to promote higher level thinking skills). Your analysis will be helpful for the whole-school self-evaluation form and will inform the report you may be asked to present as a G&T coordinator to the senior team or governing body each year.
A tracking system may just be the missing part of the cycle that links up the other work you have been doing as a leading teacher. Your discussions, whether formal learning reviews or informal conversations with able pupils; the workshops you have organised to promote more advanced learning skills; the coordination of good practice across departments and the various intervention methods you have overseen all follow logically on from the identification of able pupils and then the tracking of their progress. Your work now becomes part of a consistent cycle with key jobs taking place at relevant points in the school year lending your work an organisation and focus it may have been lacking previously. If you have found yourself identifying and updating the G&T register early in the academic year, but then organising events and holding mentoring sessions at rather random times, the tracking process with its demarcated reporting and review points will help you construct a calendar for your G&T work that will make for more consistent provision. More than anything, a tracking system will add weight to the discussions you have with colleagues and the training you lead on identifying and supporting the progress of your most able pupils across the school.
If your school already has a tracking system in place, you might like to consider how it can help you to monitor the progress of your gifted and talented students more effectively. If not you can be at the forefront of a key whole-school initiative that will compliment your role and make a significant contribution to the academic mentoring that can really help young people reach their potential.
If the concept of tracking is relatively new in your school perhaps you might start with an understanding of how RAISEonline can provide interactive analysis of school and pupil performance data. It replaces the Ofsted Performance and Assessment (PANDA) reports and DCSF’s Pupil Achievement Tracker (PAT) and aims to enable schools to analyse performance data in greater depth as part of the self-evaluation process. Main features include reports and analysis covering the attainment and progress of pupils in Key Stage 1 to 4 including contextual information about your school including comparisons to schools nationally. As a G&T coordinator you are able to use RAISEonline to look at data not just for the whole school, but groups of pupils such as teaching groups or specifically defined groups of pupils such as those on your G&T register. You need a password to log on to relevant areas of the site. Access details have been sent to all primary and secondary maintained schools. Ofsted/DCSF have provided schools with an administrator account which allows them to create further users for their school. You will need to ask your headteacher for details.