Delivering a mastery curriculum

A version of this article first appeared in Teach Primary magazine.

I’m sure that up and down the country there were sighs of relief as the new Education Inspection Framework (EIF) confirmed what every practitioner already knew – what’s important is knowing where your pupils are and where they need to go next; data drops provide an essential high-level overview of attainment and progress but need to be used for quantifiable impact.

Effective formative assessment needs to take as little time as possible, but still be meaningful. It is also useful to remember that we are delivering a mastery curriculum – making sure we always build on secure foundations, favouring extension over acceleration.

Some basic principles will help you with this, starting with a model for teaching in a mastery curriculum:

Model for Teaching in a Mastery Curriculum

The idea is, having identified the desired learning outcomes, to know where the pupils are against those outcomes, either by referring back to previous formative assessment or maybe by administering a short, focussed test. Pupils can then be grouped as appropriate for learning and extension activities, followed by assessment against what was taught to record the final outcomes.

Now we can explore each of those steps in more detail.

Identifying Learning Objectives

This can be done in a number of ways, planning and scheme of work documents being obvious starting points. If previous formative assessments are available then a gap analysis will also identify learning objectives or indicate the next step. For example, the gap analysis report in Target Tracker shows pupils attainment so far:

Target Tracker GAP Analysis Report

Previous Formative Assessment

Previous formative assessment can be used to help group pupils based on what they already know. As an example the gap analysis report in Target Tracker will group pupils based on a National Curriculum or other learning objective. The key here is that, however pupils’ attainment is recorded, it should be used, as Ofsted say:

“When used effectively, assessment helps pupils to embed knowledge and use it fluently, and assists teachers in producing clear next steps for pupils.”

Writing Composition in Target Tracker

If such assessment is not available it may be appropriate to determine pupils’ knowledge and skills through such techniques as class discussion, self or peer assessment or a short test.

As Target Tracker does in the example above you may want to group your pupils based on their ‘depth’ of learning:

  • Not Begun: The pupil cannot demonstrate any of the knowledge or skills you are aiming for
  • Working Towards: The pupil has begun to demonstrate the learning, but it is ‘shallow’ and may not be recalled without reminders, not everything which needs to be learnt has been yet.
  • Achieved: The pupil can demonstrate the required learning, but only in the context in which it was taught and similar and familiar contexts
  • Mastered: The pupil can apply his or her learning in new contexts

This grouping will help identify which learning and/or extension activities are required.

Learning and Extension Activities

You know what the learning objectives are and have grouped your pupils based on their prior knowledge and skills. Facilitating pupils learning is at the core of what teachers do, but it’s worth just expanding on the purpose of extension activities.

The point of an extension or enrichment activity is not to expect extra work from your pupils who have already got it but to give more challenge, such activities:

  • Avoids boredom, pupils are not doing repetitive work
  • Challenges pupils without giving extra work
  • Allows pupils to apply their knowledge
Assess Against Learning Objectives

There are a variety of ways to assess achievement against the desired outcomes. Most important is our professional judgement, but alongside that might be peer or self-assessment or even a short focussed test.

What form the judgement takes is up to you, but generally it will around the ‘depth’ of the pupil’s understanding, for instance using the simple model of learning described above.

Record Outcomes

Of course outcomes can be recorded manually, the two main forms will be either through individual pupil records or on a planning document or class record sheet, generally just noting pupils who have performed above or below expectations.

The problem with manual recording (beyond getting the right combination of coloured highlighters, dates etc.), is the ease with which outcomes can then be analysed and used as described above.

Target Tracker allows the easy assessment of individual pupils, groups, classes and cohorts through clicking on the appropriate learning objective:

Target Tracker Assessment of Individual Pupils, Groups and Classes

Closing Thoughts

So a formative assessment strategy will prepare you for Ofsted’s ‘three I’ judgements:

  • Intent: The curriculum sets out the knowledge and skills that pupils will gain at each stage
  • Implementation: How the curriculum is taught and assessed in order to support pupils to build their knowledge and to apply that knowledge as skills
  • Impact: The outcomes that pupils achieve as a result of the education they have received

… but more importantly will help ensure the best outcomes for your pupils.

Are you ready for your next Ofsted Inspection under the new 2019 Framework?

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Stephan Nicholls

Stephan Nicholls

Stephan Nicholls has worked in education for over 30 years including in leadership positions and as a Headteacher. He is now an Education Adviser, mainly for Target Tracker, but also as computing subject lead and a key stage moderator.