In my previous post on data I looked at how, as a head of faculty/department, we could use cross-subject data to inform our steps forward and reflections. In this post I will attempt to talk about how we can use data within our subject, either at a classroom or whole department level, to improve our department from a subject specialist perspective.
Every subject has assessment objectives at GCSE and I believe these can be effectively implemented at Key Stage 3 level. In history the AOs range from subject knowledge and utilising sources to key concepts and analysing interpretations… in fact that’s all four of them. English Literature also has 4 AOs, English Language has a whopping 9 AOs (although some go untested officially), the sciences have 3 each according to their respective subject pages on the AQA website. If we look carefully at performance breakdowns by assessment objectives we can start to see strengths and gaps in our teaching
Every exam board (to my knowledge) has an analytics tool that allows you to see how your students performed in each AO as a total percentage and then compared to national average. This is the Enhanced Results Analysis section on E-AQA, probably my favourite part of their website, nerdy right?
To get the most of this took we need to look at breakdowns in the AOs, and in individual questions. In history it may be that your AO1 and AO2, knowledge and key concepts (causation, significance etc) has been very strong, but when it comes to AO4, utilising interpretations, your class is performing worse. What gives?
Firstly, to get to the point where you know they are performing worse you have to set a criteria. Never compared based on overall percentages as some AOs and questions are much harder to get marks in than others. AO2 in English Language tends to be harder to score highly on than AO6 for example (by 11% last year nationally in AQA). So, the best thing to do is base it on the distance from the national average, which it should show on your analytics page of your exam boards website. Apologies if this is something you already know but I think its all amazing as a tool. If you are 2% above national average in AO1, 5% above it in AO2 and 1% above it on AO3, that would suggest that your AO3 section is the area for marginal gains whilst your AO2 teaching techniques are, comparably, your strength.
Every department, in my opinion, should do this kind of analysis because there are always areas for improvement within our teaching. As a head of department, it’s the kind of information I need to see in order to see where there are gaps in my curriculum and teaching (more on that later). However, if we can provide our staff with a breakdown on this, it could be very useful for them to see how they are doing in each AO. Wouldn’t that be excellent subject specific target setting for staff of all experiences for the year? I’d love to have known, confidently, what the weakest part of my history teaching was when I started and I still love knowing it now. It opens room to improve. Do I teach concepts such as change and continuity as well as I teach contemporary source analysis?
As a head of department, if the same area is a target for all staff maybe there is an issue with the curriculum or the delivery of the curriculum. Have we plotted in a lot more opportunities to assess certain AOs at the expense of others? Do assessments in Key Stage 3 not have enough of a blend of these various AOs? Are we teaching students the skills early enough and effectively enough to engage with the GCSE curriculum? This isn’t teaching to the test as the AOs at GCSE are perfectly valid and stringent ones to use in KS3 as well. If I know that as a department we need to get better at AO4, I can look into getting training organised or actions planned to try and improve that. Maybe I’ll add additional slots for it to be taught in each year.
Another very useful piece of analysis that can be conducted here is if you can find a member of staff who is strong at one AO when the rest of the department isn’t, it could be an excellent opportunity to empower them by giving them the chance to do faculty training. For example, if I know there’s a member of my department who is better at source work (AO3) than the others, perhaps myself included. So, as it is something I want to improve for this round of exams, I’ll pop into to see this staff member teach and find what they are doing that is different and get them to deliver some training on it. A win for the staff member who gets to deliver the training and become a faculty expert in that AO but also a win for everybody else who may be upskilled in the process.
There is of course an obvious danger in this approach, focusing too heavily on marginal gains for one assessment objective in a way that leads to the others falling away slightly. Try to keep doing the things that were working well in those other assessment objectives and use crucial assessment points such as mocks and staff feedback to make sure that they haven’t suffered as a result. Of course, in some cases, such as curriculum tweaks, it may take a while to bear fruit completely, but monitor the impact where you can and see if your staff are feeling comfortable and confident about the changes.
The exact same analysis can be done on a topic by topic basis as well as a question by question one. Are students performing better in Paper 1 section A than Paper 2 Section B compared to national average? Why is this? When are they taught during your 2-3 years of GCSE teaching? Are you and your staff as confident about some content as you are about others? If not, how can we change that? Are my students performing worse in a module because we teach it in Year 9 and revisit it in Year 11 or are they performing worse in it because it isn’t taught as well in general? More questions! Questions are good.
In history for example, if staff are more confident about Hitler’s Germany than they are about Elizabethan England, do a few knowledge sessions in faculty where one expert feeds back some crucial and course relevant information in preparation for the next weeks teaching. In English there will be some poems or books that people prefer or are more knowledgeable on than others. Confidence in a topic breeds good results. Students naturally, I’ve found, get better results in topics that we both enjoy and are confident about as teachers. Give your staff time in a faculty meeting to read about course relevant content and watch their teaching flourish. I didn’t know a huge amount about Elizabethan England when I first started teaching it but now that I’ve also taught Tudors at A-Level, my students at GCSE get a far better deal because I’m more confident with the subject knowledge.
Again, I have found myself writing far too much here but it’s something I’m passionate about. Hopefully it’s been useful.
Questions to ask of AO, topic and question breakdowns:
What AOs and questions are students performing worst in compared to national average?
Why may this be the case? Is it down to teaching or curriculum? How will I know?
Have we plotted in a lot more opportunities to assess certain AOs at the expense of others?
Do assessments in Key Stage 3 not have enough of a blend of these various AOs?
Are we teaching students the skills early enough and effectively enough to engage with the GCSE curriculum?
What staff are good at certain AOs and questions based on the data? How can I utilise this to address the departments training need but also empowering those members of staff?
Are students performing better in one topic than another compared to national average? Why is this? When are they taught during your 2-3 years of GCSE teaching?
Are you and your staff as confident about some content as you are about others? If not, how can we change that?