I’ve just finished a few lines of introduction for the latest edition of ‘Hoc Age’, our termly school digest. Once again, I found myself using the phrase ‘value added’ with respect to exam results and the thought occurred that this concept might not be understood equally well by everyone. Truth be told, some teachers still regard it suspiciously – alchemy – witchcraft – a dark art! Well, it has just been Halloween.
At BGS, when we describe our exam scores a broad reference to value added is included. So, for example, we said of our summer results that:
“A record-breaking 76% of all GCSE exams taken were awarded A/A* or 9-7 grades, well over three times higher than the national average of recent years” and at post-16 that “A Level students are celebrating outstanding successes with 17% of all exams awarded A* and 55% A*/A grades” followed up by “outstanding GCSE and A-level success is available to everyone at BGS by virtue of the value that we add to every student.”
I will try to unpick this latter statement if I can without delving deeply into the world of statistics, which I came to love (should I admit that?) when completing my Physical Geography/Earth Science Ph.D and realising that many of the numerical techniques I was using were first developed to assure the quality of beer! The joy of science …
… but back to value added.
Many schools like BGS subscribe to a service provided by The Centre of Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM) at The School of Education, Durham University that provides an analysis of the value that a school adds to each student. In existence for over 30 years in more than 70 countries, and using the test data of millions of young people, CEM’s methodology is evidence-based and draws upon academic performance data from a variety of schools and colleges. As CEM say on their website, they provide “baseline assessments that support educational tracking – giving you measures of an individual’s potential and progress through school” and “diagnostic assessments that help inform teachers where interventions may be helpful to improve pupil outcomes”. It is in these two regards that BGS makes use of CEM analyses.
Put simply, from CEM we get a highly accurate indication of what any one student is likely to achieve at GCSE (MidYIS analysis) or A Level (ALIS analysis). CEM also aggregate data for whole school cohorts or individual academic departments and track longitudinal patterns over time to determine statistically if young people are achieving results broadly in line with, or better or worse than, expectations. (More aggregation, more data, more reliable and valid analyses). If a school or a department can show that their students are doing better than could be expected, and this pattern is significant statistically, they can be said to be adding value.
Educators know that academic success cannot be measured by raw grades alone. A truer picture of examination performance emerges only when these data are put alongside value added analyses to help answer the questions ‘did my child achieve the grades they were capable of?’ and ‘has the school done its job properly?’
We know that children in a typical class are not all the same. Inevitably, they are going to get different exam outcomes and not everyone scores A*s, nor should they expect to. When we celebrate academic achievement at BGS we acknowledge that breaking records is not the only game in town, not the ‘be all, and end all’. Beyond the strapline statistics, we remain keenly aware of the many exam successes that represent a personal triumph for those students who achieved or exceeded expectations, at all levels of achievement. While we are rightly proud of the overall balance of results, it is the many individual stories of accomplishment and success that will stick longest in the memory – the personal, human dimension matters most. Not everyone achieves the highest grades, but a life changing and affirming education is open to all at BGS and value is added across the board in many ways both inside and outside of the classroom. This is an evidence based and informed statement grounded firmly on CEM analyses.
BGS is a selective day school and this characteristic, in part, underpins our exam profile; however, this is not the whole story. Our students work tremendously hard, with honest ambition and the steadying support of their families, and our expert and experienced teachers help them to achieve GCSE and A Level results in line with or above expectations. BGS adds significant value to cohorts of students every year.
At BGS, CEM baseline data is used to set realistic targets for students. Targets are published to students and parents and we report on progress against these benchmarks. This facilitates grounded commentary in written reports and at parents’ consultation evenings. On results days we get a genuine sense of whether or not students have done themselves justice and, using aggregated data sets for larger groups, whether or not BGS is keeping its side of the teaching and learning bargain over a course of years.
Clearly, CEM data presents schools with a useful formative analysis, a diagnostic lens, to identify areas of high performance and the opportunity to learn from these to fine tune and improve teaching across the organisation. Professor Dylan Williams has long argued that it is impossible to tell if a teacher is any good or not by simply watching them teach. Observation alone provides a relatively poor indication of the effectiveness of the learning interaction, which to all intents and purposes remains invisible, hidden inside people’s heads! That is not to say you can’t learn new and useful teaching methods by watching skilled and successful teachers in action. However, Professor Robert Coe, Director of CEM, argues persuasively that value added data is our best bet at getting a handle on the specifics of what works and what is less effective in the classroom. Value added data directs us where to look to find and extend effective pedagogy.
By accepting the principles and methods outlined above, and tempering all of that with a healthy dose of professional judgement and ‘reasonableness’, BGS models research-led, evidence-based practice when we evaluate our performance, as we have done recently during the autumn department reviews and as we continually examine and develop our pedagogy. This week, three colleagues are presenting at the Practical Pedagogies international teaching and learning conference in Cologne to highlight some of the things that we know work at BGS, and to learn from experts elsewhere in Europe to keep BGS moving forwards. CEM data is being employed as a useful tool to steer BGS as a whole school learning community, not just the efforts of our students.
On that note, and hopefully with some insights into the mysteries of value added revealed, it is time to go home. Did I mention a beer earlier? It is definitely time to go home.
“BGS is a selective day school and this characteristic, in part, underpins our exam profile; however, this is not the whole story.
Our students work tremendously hard, with honest ambition and the steadying support of their families, and our expert and experienced teachers help them to achieve GCSE and A Level results in line with or above expectations. BGS adds significant value to cohorts of students every year.”