Diary of a subject leader
Real issues in the life of a fictional Subject Leader
“APP isn’t going away… it’s the next big initiative around the corner… I’d like your department to get your heads around it and feed back to me,” were the words said to me by my line manager during our last meeting. Having agreed, I then went away to spend time reading the materials.
For years the department has struggled with assessing students’ progress. We regularly test their understanding of a range of topics, generating lists of levels and grades that we diligently enter onto the school’s network. However I, like many of my colleagues, often doubt the robustness of this data and I’m sceptical with regard to the use of tests as our main form of assessment. I’m continually pushing the AfL agenda, encouraging my staff to use their professional judgement when assessing progress. I’m therefore confident that they do assess regularly, however I’m less confident that they are prepared to use such ‘informal’ judgements as part of their recorded teacher assessment.
APP looks exciting. It promotes the use of AfL within lessons, it helps track students’ understanding and it provides teachers with a clear indication of ‘levelness’. As a head of department, I welcome any initiative that encourages my staff to reflect on their own practice and raises their awareness of the impact their teaching has on the learning of the students. It’s all too easy to simply plough through the pages of a textbook giving little thought to who really understands and who doesn’t.
We were warned by our LA consultant to start small. Taking this advice on board, my second in department and I agreed to track the progress of a small identified group using the assessment criteria provided. The evidence for this judgement was to come from a range of sources, for example written work, tests, questioning and ‘gut feeling’. As we both teach equivalent classes within Year 9, the all-important moderation of our assessment is made somewhat easier to manage.
It’s early days and as with all new initiatives, its sustainability and manageability are uncertain. Nevertheless, the English department has embraced APP, and they are using it to good effect. My concern is more with the need to change the culture within maths teaching and their reliance on tests as their sole form of assessment. Nevertheless, it’s a step in the right direction.