Understanding student ability to unlock hidden potential
The school had begun to use GL Education’s Cognitive Abilities Test (CAT4), administering it in Year 3 and Year 5, using the data mainly for target setting. Matthew was keen to change this approach. He explains more: “My first ambition was to make clear the purpose and use of the data that we were gathering. We started with CAT4 – asking questions such as ‘who are we?’, ‘what are our profile of learners?’ and ‘what is our potential?’”
CAT4 assesses children’s developed abilities in four key areas known to make a difference to learning and achievement – verbal, non-verbal, quantitative and spatial reasoning. It provides an accurate analysis of potential student achievement and gives schools instant reporting to help them understand what each child is capable of, as well as identifying students who have the potential to achieve more and those who may need support in certain areas.
Matthew goes on: “When we dug into the CAT4 data, we saw that we had a large cohort of EAL learners who had low verbal scores (averaging around 90), high non-verbal scores (averaging around 118) and a high mean overall score.
It was evident that language was holding back progress for many of these children and that their language levels were impeding them from accessing the curriculum in full. We could see that there had been misconceptions of the ability of some of these children, and that there could be rapid progress if their English levels were improved.”
The importance of getting staff on board with using the data
Matthew knew that the key to getting the most out of the data was to bring the whole teaching team with him. He explains more: “My first job was to get my two assistant heads on board and to get them on the same page. We did some rapid training on the GL assessments and the insights that we can gain from the triangulation of data.
After that, getting the staff on board was easy. We built a school identity around the fact that we are an international school, but we have many children who have English as a second or even third language. We knew that their language levels were holding these children back from achieving their potential. Once we looked at the CAT4 data for all of the children, that was really evident. The staff agreed that this was our number one identity.
We presented the data back to the staff as a problem rather than a solution, so that they could have ownership of it. We supported them in understanding the data and what it meant, and then they came up with the solutions themselves. It was clear that with the correct curricular and teaching interventions, many learners had the potential for increased progress. We basically then let the staff get on with it – the teachers led the change.”
The benefits were soon felt, as Matthew explains: “Every teacher became a language teacher – every teacher became an EAL teacher”.
Implementing EAL strategies to remove barriers to learning
The school used a case study approach to review various approaches. Matthew explains more: “Each teacher used the CAT4 data to identify a child or group in their class who had a large verbal deficit (where there was a gap of at least 20 between their non-verbal and verbal scores). These children were then used as a case study to explore the impact of the EAL strategies that we introduced to close the gap.
We used the Bell Foundation EAL Assessment Framework to pinpoint which language barriers the students had and to identify which strategies could therefore be most beneficial. We then explored various methods including small group interventions, phonics sessions, online apps and dual coding being embedded in every lesson (images/words).
The teachers were given regular opportunities for CPD and to share their practice and reflections with colleagues. This was done through learning walks, TeachMeets, speed dating events etc and meant that there were forums where the teachers could share insights with colleagues and report back on what was and wasn’t working.”
The team have seen rapid progress, with impact across the curriculum. Matthew explains: “We have had some ground-breaking discoveries. For example, in maths there has been incredible progress. The work done on English Language skills has hugely impacted here. The maths teaching hasn’t changed, it was already good, it was the language improvement that has made the difference.
We use GL Education’s Progress Test in Maths (PTM) to baseline and track progress – and it was fabulous to see the progress that children made from one year to the next. We really were unlocking maths for some of the kids.”An example of the improvement that the school saw is highlighted below:
The Progress Test in Maths/CAT4 Combination Report
|% of students meeting their potential - June 2022||% of students meeting their potential - June 2021||Increase|
|% of students exceeding their potential - June 2022||% of students exceeding their potential - June 2021||Increase|
Progress Test in Maths data
|% of students making expected progress - June 2022||% of students making better than expected progress - June 2022|
Matthew goes on: “We used the CAT4 combination report alongside PTM to target activity.
We were able to implement additional specific strategies looking at maths vocabulary. For example, our maths co-ordinator ran a parents workshop on vocabulary building, we improved our classroom displays, a maths vocab section was added into the daily planners, we gave our TAs training, language came into maths week, we used talk for maths – there was activity across the board.”
Using PASS data to provide additional insights
The school also began to use GL Education’s Pupil Attitudes to Self and School (PASS) survey. This looks at nine attitudinal factors that are proven to be significantly linked to educational goals. The results enable schools to identify, track and monitor the type of teaching and intervention each student requires, to ensure their wellbeing.
Matthew explains: “We used PASS in November 2021 across the school to look at our students’ social and emotional wellbeing. The discussions that led on from the results were very fruitful, with the staff seeing pointers that could explain why they were seeing certain behaviours. The PASS strategies that are available on the GL website acted as a research hub to support our staff in exploring why they were seeing certain trends.
PASS also helped us to identify a number of ‘fragile learners’. By cross-referencing the PASS attitudinal measure for perceived learning capability with the students’ mean CAT4 scores, we could see where there might be low perceived learning capacity but high potential ability.
The PASS results informed the case studies that the staff worked on, allowing the student wellbeing information to be part of the overall view. We then did PASS again in March/April 2022 to see the impact – particularly on the case study children – and saw an increase in wellbeing that backed up what we were seeing in class.”
EAL attainment continues to be a focus in the school development cycle. Matthew explains: “At the end of the 21/22 school year, our staff were asked to evaluate the overall impact of their chosen language intervention strategies. They triangulated their students’ work with progress and attainment data, as well as classroom observations, drawing conclusions and adding suggestions on how to refine or improve strategies for future teaching staff.
This means that our school now has a bank of case studies that demonstrate both successful and unsuccessful strategies, developing best-practice models for these learners in our setting.”
Going forward, the learning from the EAL case studies will be used in the new academic year through the establishment of action research teams, with teaching staff at the heart of developing best practice in the classroom.
The team have also been able to renew focus on higher attainers. Matthew explains: “We have an increased focus on more able children. We have a good 40% of children in Y6, for example, who are more able in maths – with a score of 130 and above in quantitative. We can now really stretch and challenge these children, as they have the language and vocabulary base to cope.”
Matthew summarises their learning from the first year: “There’s a level of invisibility about children that we don’t get to see on face value or from academic tests alone. The CAT4 data can shine a light on this, widening our perspective of what a child’s potential is and can be.
My advice would also be that the way you use the data with your staff has to be born and bred with the staff, not with the leadership – it has to be something that is identified as being driven by them. You should then begin to see the positive results that we have seen.”