Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Ring the changes?

Man drawing Venn diagram

What do you do when too many students are passing too many exams? Draw a Venn diagram to find the answer...

Peter Gunn (data manager): Congratulations, Moses on a rousing address.

Moses McClaren (headteacher): I was particularly pleased with: "Certainly in this school every child matters but what matters more is how our reputation is shaped by those children who matter most." Now everyone has the SLT agenda? John, what crumbs can we take from actions arising from Ofsted?

John Knightly (curriculum deputy): Praise for our curriculum diversity, personalised choice and the genuine rapport between staff and students.

Moses: You don't raise achievement by making students feel good about themselves. Young Gunn here is an expert in effective intervention.

Peter Gunn: It's clear from my analysis that too many students are passing too many exams. The point can be best illustrated by this new data tracking tool. You can see year 11 set out in a Venn diagram in three overlapping subsets: those on track for a C or above in maths, those on track for the same grade in English and those on track for three other Cs and above. Each student is a single dot. If I hover the mouse over a dot, the student's name appears.

Moses: The purpose is to attach a value to the achievement of each unit so it's tidier to number the dots.

Deeply Caring (deputy head of motivation): I really must protest. How can we possibly support students without analysing their individual needs and teaching them based on the analysis?

Peter Gunn: When we look at the students in the three overlapping sectors of the diagram we can see that these dots have nowhere else to go. They have reached their full potential, they are value-added useless.

Moses: You mean to ensure success we corral these dots inside this overlapping sub-section and then focus our energies on the dots on the fringes? Marvellous! A masterpiece of micro-management!

John Knightly: Let me get this absolutely clear. You are advocating treating a C grade in English and maths as a threshold, so the school focuses on those students who add value to school results. These are the perverse consequences of setting attainment targets.

Moses: The benevolent consequences surely. Don't you see? The target defines the common purpose which then resonates across community cohesion. The more we deliver, the more future parents will trust us and the better our in-take will be. Now, if the three top sets take the core exams in year 10 in English, maths...

Peter Gunn: Year 10s can also cope with a few short courses - RE and humanities for instance - which can match with a three unit level 2 in IT. We could secure five A*-Cs by the end of year 10 for the top 90 students.

Moses: Brilliant. This allows us to shift our best teachers in year 11 to the other dots. Why not get the students who have reached the five A*-C threshold in year 10 to give one-to-one mentoring support in year 11? We can square this with their parents by accrediting it as a level 3 extended project.

Deeply Caring: So our brightest students while away half their curriculum time for a year helping others to catch up. Where is the morality in that?

Moses: I thought, as an advocate of social justice, you would see the moral imperative in creating a level playing field for all students at 16.

Peter Gunn: Just one problem. There are two other targets to consider: contextual value-added and the new three levels of progress from KS2 to KS4.

John Knightly: Well you won't have to worry about the three levels of progress as it's another floor target. As long as the level 4/5s from KS2 get a C/B grade respectively at GCSE they will join your happy inner circle.

Peter Gunn: Mind you, DCSF saw through the ruse of schools cramming their curriculum with qualifications when they capped the CVA at the eight best passes. What about short course languages for all in year 9? That's a soft target.

Moses: The head of German at my last school concentrated only on key vocabulary in the first half of the alphabet as she was short of teaching time. The external moderator thought the students were aiming at poetic alliteration in their orals. So all agreed then? Intervention in inverse proportion to success will be our guiding principle.

John Knightly, Peter Gunn and Deeply Caring: Absolutely, Moses.

The author is a deputy head in the south west.

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